is the founder and Executive Director of Mothers & More,
a non-profit organization dedicated to “improving the lives
of mothers through support, education and advocacy.” With
over 7,000 members in the U.S. and beyond, the group’s mission
is to “address the needs of mothers as individuals and members
of society,” and to promote the value of “all the work
mothers do.” According to the Mothers
& More web site, the organization strives “to raise
awareness about the fact that mothers live and work in a society
that presents significant barriers to their ability to succeed as
women, citizens, parents or participants in the workforce. By uniting
mothers to act on their own behalf, we seek to eliminate policies,
practices and attitudes that unfairly impact mothers as caregivers.”
Mothers & More provides a nationwide network of 175 chapters
for “mothers who are— by choice or circumstance—
altering their participation in the paid workplace over the course
of their active parenting years.” Local chapters vary greatly
in size and all have a unique personality, but each provides a range
of regular activities for members, from social nights out and open
discussions to structured presentations and consciousness-raising
workshops. Many chapters also plan daytime activities for members
and their children.
For many years, Mothers & More (formerly FEMALE—
Formerly Employed Mothers At the Leading Edge) struggled with
the perception— both internally and from outside the organization—
that the group’s main function was providing social support
for at-home moms. While slightly over half of all Mothers &
More members are non-employed, 45 percent are in the paid workforce,
although the majority of employed members work in reduced hour or
other non-standard arrangements. Since the late 1990s, Mothers &
More leaders have stressed that the organization was formed to address
the needs of “sequencing” mothers— mothers who,
at various points when their children are young, may reduce their
hours of paid work or exit the paid workforce entirely with the
intention of re-entering the labor market either full- or part-time
in a few months or years. Yet the organizational culture of Mothers
& More has always been characterized by a distinctive emphasis
on supporting the needs of mothers as women. The experience of individual
members varies, however, depending on the tenor of their local chapter.
In addition to assisting the development of new and existing chapters,
the national body of Mothers & More— which is headquartered
in Elmhurst, Illinois— produces a bi-monthly newsletter and
facilitates topic discussion in over 20 member-directed virtual
communities. Although national operations include several paid staff
members, teams of member volunteers are responsible for program
development, project management, implementation strategy, communications
and chapter support.
In its 17-year history, Mothers & More has also designed a
number of programs to raise awareness about conditions and practices
that disadvantage caregivers, both in and outside of the paid workforce.
Even so, the average Mothers & More member would probably describe
herself as family-centric— at least at the present point in
her work/life continuum— and the action items that top the
organization’s current advocacy
agenda generally reflect this orientation. Although Mothers
& More members espouse a diverse range of political and parenting
philosophies, they have been especially receptive to nationally-coordinated
programs and activities debunking the myth that there is only one
kind of “good” mother and that a “good”
mother always puts her own needs and desires last. Since 2003, Mothers
& More has also coordinated an annual Mother’s
Day Campaign to call attention to “real” mothers
and the real work they do to support their families and society.
The MMO spoke with Brundage about her many years of work with Mothers
& More and her vision for the organization’s role in the
emerging “mothers’ movement.”
founded FEMALE— now known as Mothers & More—
in 1987. What was happening in your life— and what societal
conditions were you aware of— that made you feel the timing
was right to bring mothers together in this way? What was your model?
Well, there was no vision, no comparative analysis, no strategic
plan that drove me to start a group called FEMALE (Formerly
Employed Mothers At Loose Ends) in the summer of 1987. It was
pure personal desperation on my part, after being home full-time
for a year with a very crazy, colicky infant and wondering if I’d
ever find another mother who was home and not in a total state of
bliss about it— someone who shared the ambivalence, the grieving,
and the guilt over the grieving I felt about leaving the paid workplace
to be home with my children.
Even though I wasn’t a “fast-tracker” and didn’t
think of my 10 years working as a letter carrier as a “career,”
I had never intended to leave my job to be home with my kids. I
loved my job and being economically self-sufficient meant a lot
In fact, when Zach was born in June of 1986, I’d been a “working
mom” for over six years. I’d returned to a 40-45 hour-a-week
work schedule after a 13-week-leave after our daughter Kerry was
born in late 1979 and felt everything was going great, at home and
But by then I didn’t have the same childcare options and
Zach had his own agenda, was a child only a parent could love, and
we were unsuccessful at finding a home daycare provider who we felt
could care for him as we would, given his constant crying/never
sleeping/having to be in constant motion (rocking, strolling, swinging,
The late ‘80s was really the zenith of the “Super Woman”
era, where we all were told, and believed, that we should make the
bacon, fry it up in the pan, make sure our husband felt like a man…and
be great moms. Even though at that time, the ratio of moms in the
paid workplace and home full-time was almost 50/50, culturally,
there was no such thing as “staying home” and certainly
no concept of “sequencing” (hence, the “formerly
employed” in our original name). Once you left the paid workplace,
you left for good— you were permanently retired, your goose
was cooked. So when I quit, I really did feel it was the death of
my life as a “working” woman. And not only did I feel
a sense of personal failure and loss, but I also felt I had let
down the sisterhood; that I just couldn’t cut it, and that
my actions just confirmed what employers suspected all along: women
just can’t cut it.
But once I resigned, I also felt a great sense of betrayal. Where
was the feminist movement for me now? Why didn’t my spouse
and I have the option to job share (we both worked in the same post
office) so we both could continue to work and care for our kids?
Why weren’t there more childcare options for me from the largest
employer in the country, the US Postal Service? I was angry. And
after going through months of private emotional turmoil, I became
determined to find a way to deal with my new life.
Since therapy wasn’t an option (we were dead broke after
I quit), I started looking around to see if there was a support
group for someone like me. I took out a book from the local library
about women’s groups, hoping to find a group in the listings.
Alas, the closest thing was the Displaced Homemakers Association
(for women compelled, after a spousal disability or death, or divorce,
to re-enter the workforce after years at home). The book also gave
suggestions for how to start your own group, which seemed to be
my last resort. My initial goal in starting a group, though, was
simply to find one or two other women who understood and shared
what I was feeling.
MMO: Over time, how
have the goals of the organization changed? Do you think social
and economic conditions that effect mothers have also changed since
the group was founded? Has the composition of the organization’s
membership also changed over the years?
J. Brundage: Once we got started, the group grew very quickly and almost effortlessly.
We started in August of 1987, in my living room, with just four
women. When we put a small blurb in the women’s section of
the Chicago Tribune in late December, we got calls from
64 women in 48 hours, from all over the Chicagoland area. And when
a letter to the editor describing the group was published in the
March 1988 issue of Ms. Magazine, we grew to hundreds of
members, across the country and beyond, literally overnight. Clearly,
we had touched on an unfulfilled need.
And in connecting with so many mothers across so many miles, it
became almost immediately apparent to all of us that the issues
we were dealing with were more than personal issues; that our society
and culture had a lot to do with what we were grappling with. It
really brought home the saying “the personal is political.”
By the time we filled our incorporation papers as a not-for-profit
in April of 1988, our stated purpose already integrated support
with advocacy. It stated that FEMALE’s purpose was as “a
support group for women who have interrupted their careers to raise
their families and as an advocacy group for employment and family issues.”
The goals of the organization over the past 17-plus years haven’t
changed, really, though we have worked over time to better articulate
them. But we have been more successful at providing support services
to mothers than at defining and advocating for societal change.
I think this is, in part, because Mothers & More was well ahead
of its time in thinking about the new “problem with no name”
that centered on mothers as a group. We struggled for years to define
our issues— we knew that such things as improved childcare
or FMLA just didn’t quite suffice as the answers to the problems
we “felt” but could not quite articulate.
However, the organization, from the beginning, has always attracted
the interest of the media (not your typical moms’ group, obviously)
and so we have always worked at and been fairly successful at partnering
with the media to bring mothers’ issues into the public discussion.
And, happily, with ground breaking books hitting the shelves in
recent years, starting with Unbending Gender by Joan Williams
in 2000 and The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden in
2001, the issues we have worked to define are finally coming into
sharper focus, and our culture is beginning to catch up with Mothers
In addition to these issues being better conceptualized and brought
to the fore, there have been other external changes over the years.
Now, the concept of sequencing is much more widely known and embraced.
The public discussion about women, work and family has definitely
and significantly changed. I only wish our paid workplace practices
and our public policies had changed in relation to these issues
as well. They haven’t.
Most interesting and apparent to me, today’s new mothers
are a different generation, with different priorities and expectations,
than the moms who first joined Mothers & More (then FEMALE).
Today’s “Gen-X” moms— who are the majority
of our members now— are markedly different from the “Boomer”
moms of our organization’s first generation. They are more
skeptical of feminism and, at the same time, have higher expectations
about being able (indeed, being entitled) to find the work/family
balance they want and need. But, I think today’s mothers are
even more likely to be blind sided by what Joan Williams has coined
“the motherhood wall,” because, unlike their Boomer
big sisters, up until they became mothers, these women did not experience
significant obstacles in higher education or in the workplace. Many
thought the feminist movement had leveled the playing field and
its work was done. But, this generation is also more self determining
and not as inclined to consider themselves political or part of
a movement. This is one of our challenges to mobilizing mothers
to come together as a group to advocate for change.
In terms of general
demographics, however, our membership has been amazingly stable.
Our typical member, from Day One, has been a mother in her mid-thirties,
with 2 children 5 years and under, living in a metropolitan area,
middle to upper middle family income, well educated and having had
a significant commitment to a paid career before children. The only
thing that has recently shifted is current workplace participation.
In all our member surveys, from 1989 through 1998, our membership
broke out, two thirds currently home full time, one third participating
in the paid workplace in some capacity (primarily something less
than full-time, full-year). But in our fall 2004 Member Survey,
that percentage shifted to 55 percent home full time, 45 percent
working for pay.