Unbecoming Mothers: The Social Production of Maternal Absence

Edited by Dr. Diana L. Gustafson

Unbecoming Mothers: The Social Production of Maternal Absence

After speaking at a Women’s Day conference a few years ago, Dr. Diana Gustafson, Community Health, started thinking about the societal concept of what becoming a mother means. “I was reminded that becoming a mother is connected to the notion of becoming an adult woman, so much so that to be a real woman means to also become a mother. Then I started to think about what it was like to ‘unbecome’ a mother - that is to be a biological mother but live apart from one’s children.”

This line of thought resulted in the anthology Unbecoming Mothers: The Social Production of Maternal Absence, published by The Haworth Press Inc. Dr. Gustafson said that few mothers are more stigmatized than those who are perceived as having given up, surrendered, or abandoned their birth children. “There are a number of reasons why women live apart from their children and the whole choice-making is constructed as easy to do, but for some women the range of choices in their lives is so narrow that there are no good choices and so they opt for the least damaging choice.”

Dr. Diana L. Gustafson

Unbecoming Mothers looks at how women experience this separation. “We examine the unrealistic ideal of the ‘good mother’ and challenge the notion that motherhood is an unchanging reality. What it means to be a mother has changed over the last 150 years and the understandings of a ‘bad mother’ are constructed through institutions like religion, the courts and popular culture.”

The 11 chapters in Unbecoming Mothers examine a wide range of issues including adoption, individual stories, Quaker mothers, contradictions and challenges for young mothers in care and the perspectives of substance-using women.