Address given by Anne-Claire de Liedekerke to Full Time Mothers on 15 November 2010
Realities of Mothers in Europe
Anne-Claire de Liedekerke came from Brussels to tell us of the extremely important work which the Mouvement Mondial des Mères (MMM) is doing to raise the profile of mothers both within the European Union and at the United Nations. Anne-Claire is President of the European Delegation of MMM (MMMEurope) and was explaining to us their ground-breaking report “Realities of Mothers in Europe” which surveys the current position of mothers in Europe in their own words, their aspirations and difficulties and the policy decisions which they perceive as necessary to support them.
She explained that MMM has its roots in the devastation of the Second World War. Mothers saw themselves as society’s healers, able to lead the world from the grassroots upwards back to a civilisation of peace and good neighbourliness. MMM was the first non-governmental organisation to be accredited to the United Nations (1947). Members remain volunteers and their energy, working through many local, national and international associations, has left an indelible print for good on the world.
Family matters in Europe today remain the responsibility of national governments but they are heavily influenced by policy decisions taken at a pan European level. It therefore makes sense to study motherhood across the EU. Anne-Claire explained that the European Commission (EC) is now sufficiently worried about the dropping birth-rate in Europe to have set up a new FAMILY PLATFORM. This body is charged with evaluating current knowledge of the family and pursing further research in order to come up with new evidence-based policy proposals for the EU.
MMMEurope was invited to join the FAMILY PLATFORM (as one of twelve member organisations) and undertook the “Realities of Mothers in Europe” survey as a contribution to the PLATFORM’s work. The depth of the study, the documents and the number of organisations which were involved is all the more impressive given that MMM is a voluntary body. The heart of the report comes from a survey of over 11,000 mothers from 16 countries who answered standard questions but were also invited to make comments so that their individual voices could be heard. Evaluating these comments and drawing them together using various grids has been very informative but is a remarkable labour of love!
Women have available to them today more choices than ever before. However, the survey revealed that those women who actually become mothers continue to share much in common. The Report sticks to their specific concerns, all the more important since they are rarely able to speak as a group with a cogent voice for themselves. A constant refrain was that motherhood is life-changing and cannot be fully understood by those who haven’t experienced it. The survey took an open approach to the questions raised, so that answers came from the heart.
Catherine Hakim’s well-known research on how women wish to divide their time between a career, motherhood and mixing the two has been taken a step further. The Report looks not at women in general but at mothers and shows how their desired patterns of work correlate with the ages of their children. Very few with infants under the age of one want to work at all. After that, a gently growing number want to work part-time (few before their children reach 3, more after they start school) but, whatever the ages of their children, it is always important to mothers that their work can wrap around the needs of the family, increasing the hours as the children get older. Most interestingly, a full 83% of mothers think teenagers can’t look after themselves and need to have their mothers around. Few want to work full-time while there are any school-age children at home.
Mothers unite in thinking that happiness comes chiefly from dependable relationships, rather than from their work. They tend to think of themselves first in an intergenerational dimension, rather than as individuals. They wish to have both quantity and quality time with their children – and consider the two inextricable. They want the fathers to be involved too, but in such a way that the roles of men and women evolve naturally and freely – they want to be recognised as mothers rather than just “parents”. They do not as a group support the social engineering which goes into gender equality, an issue which obsesses Europe. In fact, if there are three specific things which mothers say they need it is: recognition for the role of mothering, time and true choice.
Having put the Report together, MMM is targeting policy makers at the highest level. MMM has been invited by the head of the FAMILY PLATFORM to report on their work in January. At the end of March/April, they will be presenting the Report to the whole European Parliament, from where it is hoped that member states will pick it up and make use of it. The data collected is freely available to anybody and will, MMM hopes, be included in Eurostatistics.
The question remains as to how the Report’s recommendations, that mothers be given greater recognition, time and choice, can be implemented. Insisting on evaluating the role of mothering in economic terms is one way: children are an investment in a country’s future and finding a way to express this in GDP is important. More can be done to show policy makers that there are seasons in family life which must be respected – women need not be out of the workplace forever, and can bring back into it valuable skills honed in managing their families and running their homes. European governments should promote respect for parents who return to work and to their studies as their children leave them freer, valuing them as mature and dependable members of the workforce. The media can also be penetrated to show that family is good for people as individuals and for society as a whole. Parents should also be given due social rights, especially with regard to pensions.
Much that mothers do will never be evaluated in financial terms. The idea of paying mothers to stay at home will never be financially viable. What was encouraging from the Report was quite how much satisfaction mothers have in being mothers – this is something to promote.
MMM Website: . http://www.mouvement-mondial-des-meres.org/eng/index_gb.html
MMMEurope Website: http://www.mmmeurope.org/2
“Realities of Mothers in Europe” makes excellent and very encouraging reading. Do please try to read it for yourselves and pass it on to others. It can also be found on the FTM website at: http://ftmuk.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/wp2_mmm_realities_of_mothers_in_europe1.pd
CAN MOTHERHOOD BE A CAREER?
Francis Phillips introduced herself as another mother speaking among mothers. She has eight children and has been a long-standing member of our organization, first founded to give hands-on mothers their own voice. She is also a journalist, book reviewer and blogger.
She spoke on being invited earlier in the year by her old Cambridge College to a workshop entitled “Life After the Main Career”. She had never had a “career” as such, unless motherhood can be thought of as a career. Surely, it’s much more than this, or are children no more than their parents’ project? She remembered a social occasion in Oxford when, having said that she was the mother of three children, she received the response, familiar to many mothers, “That’s very nice, but what do you do?”. Motherhood is about being, not doing, though she supposed that “career” is better than “interlude”, between one career and the next.
Francis suggested that motherhood is a vocation – a serious undertaking, involving skills of nurturing, empathy, patience, and multi-tasking. If you don’t have children of your own, you can still have the gift of spiritual maternity. The mothering instinct is exactly that, instinctive to a woman. If it is ignored, it is at society’s peril and to the detriment of the women themselves. So many young women are led astray. Later on, they’ll realize that they are not as fulfilled as they could have been and regret it.
Motherhood is a call to do something deep, profound and life-changing. And it is for life. That is part of its supreme value. It requires sacrifice, a word that society doesn’t like. You have to give up things that you want; freedom, time to oneself and often, a disposable income! But in return you receive something greater and more satisfying – the gift of unconditional love. Francis beautifully described this as having to die to your old self, only to be reborn as a new person, a better, more generous one.
It also changes you fundamentally. Francis remembered being impressed when a former young gad-about commented to her: “I adore being a mother. It is the greatest work of art, shaping your family, raising children.” She herself loved being at home. It’s very important to be happy there, and to dismiss those who will tell you that it’s “boring”. Being at home changes the whole atmosphere of the place.
Related to this are the terms “quantity” and “quality” time, which don’t make sense to a child. Playing alongside you can for them be “quality” time, even if few words are exchanged. Quantity time is quality time – and children take up a lot of time.
There usually isn’t enough. Many women have to go out to work and balance their home life round it. Even for those at home, life can become frazzled, especially when there are several children with competing demands. Inserting into the day the disciplines that children need, good manners, self-control, sociability, sharing, is hard work and again there are no short-cuts. Mothers do it best and without sufficient numbers of them acting with confidence in their own homes, we are losing the art of bringing up children and instead acquiring of spoilt generation which hasn’t learn to know boundaries.
There is no such thing as “superwoman”, a Nicola Horlick as she was portrayed in the media. A Sunday Telegraph article interviewed four women who had combined prominent roles with bringing up children. Baroness Warnock, Fay Weldon and Barbara Milnes all described the frenzy in which they lived. Putting their lives into separate compartments led to a schizophrenic existence which they admitted did neither them nor the children any good. Only Shirley Hughes appeared to be happy with her combined role. As an illustrator of children’s books, she worked from home, learning to make use of 20 minute snatches and often taking her inspiration from the scenes around her.
Often creativity and children go hand in hand, because they themselves are so inspiring. They say wonderful things which feed our imagination. They also bring the best out of us because they depend on us. This point drew an anecdote form the floor: a mother was heard to say that she couldn’t be afraid “because I had the children with me”. They in turn felt quite sure because Mummy was there.
Children are to be enjoyed as they are. Bringing them up uses the whole of us, every skill we have and many that we didn’t know we had. They keep us same (if they are not driving us mad). No degree is adequate to prepare us for this. A degree trains only the mind, whereas children demand your body, your heart, your mind, everything. But, because of the intensity of the role, mothering is a role which is very hard to complete on your own. You need support, and you need breaks, times when somebody else will take over.
Francis also reminded us all that it doesn’t go on forever. There will be lots of time to get involved with other things, and, even if you surrender the chance to become a High Court judge, you will have achieved something much more precious.