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?
J. Brundage: 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.
MMO: In 2002, Mothers & More revised its mission statement
from “supporting sequencing women” and addressing “women’s
personal needs and interests during their active parenting years”
to “improving the lives of mothers through support, education
and advocacy.” Why?
J. Brundage: Just
as we gradually moved from a very distinct and detailed name to
a broader one (Formerly Employed Mothers At Loose Ends in 1987 to Formerly Employed Mothers At the Leading Edge in 1991 to Mothers & More in 2000), we have worked over the
course of years to refine our mission statement to better reflect
our work, beliefs and long term goals, and to give us more room
to move as the external environment changes.
In 2002, specifically, I think we felt that some of the terminology
in our mission statement lent itself to confusion (i.e., what, exactly,
is a sequencing woman? An at-home mom? A mother trying to re-enter
the workforce?? Members thought it was either one of these or something
entirely different) and some of it was limiting in its scope.
In addition, our mission statement at that time was very long,
wordy and overly detailed. So our goals were to clarify, simplify
and broaden, all at the same time. We went from an 81-word paragraph
mission statement to a 39-word, 2-sentence mission statement. We
also created a set of beliefs to provide more detail, but in a better
place and way.
We went through over six months of work, engaging our volunteer
leadership, local and national, and our membership overall, in this
The spirit of our mission remained intact, I believe, but was better
stated for all to understand.
& More released the organization’s first formal advocacy
statement— the POWER Plan— in 2003. The Plan
spells out specific advocacy and direct action objectives, such
as advocating that “unpaid caregiving work” be acknowledged
as “equal in value to paid work” and “that the
value of unpaid caregiving work be considered and reflected in any
reforms to retirement savings plans, Social Security and disability
insurance,” as well as taking action to “support legislation
at the state and federal levels that ensures proportional pay, benefits
and advancement for part-time and contingent workers.” Why
doesn’t the Mothers & More advocacy agenda address other
policy issues that affect the well-being of mothers in the U.S.,
such as guaranteed sick leave for all workers, access to affordable,
high quality child care, and paid parental leave?
J. Brundage: Actually, the POWER Plan was the second time we had formulated
and presented an advocacy statement and plan. The first time was
in May of 1999, where, in our member publication, Forum,
we rolled out a set of beliefs and a set of three action objectives.
There was a more focused emphasis on sequencing and sequencing mothers
in that first round (the article was entitled “FEMALE’s
Perspective on Sequencing Women’s Rights”), but much
of what was in that first “National Advocacy Plan” is
reflected in our current beliefs and in the POWER Plan.
But, just as with the clarification of our mission and beliefs,
we tackled the formulation of the POWER Plan in a very
deliberate, strategic, practical and member-involved way. Our Advocacy
Department team developed a detailed collection of criteria for
determining issue selection and support, which included alignment
with our mission and values as well as practical considerations
(for example, is the issue easy to understand and explain, are other
organizations working on it, would it resonate with our members,
etc.), economic considerations (how many/which groups of mothers
would it benefit and would there be economic downsides businesses
or taxpayers) and whether it would help shift cultural perceptions
and expectations about mothers and the work they do.
Initially, we identified 25 issues for consideration. Using the
criteria we’d developed, we went through several rounds of
evaluation and elimination until we were down to just seven (access
to affordable, high quality child care did not make the cut in this
process). These included expanding the child care tax credit so
that it covers more of the real costs of child care today, is refundable
and is directed toward the work of caregiving whether that care
is provided in the marketplace or is unpaid; inlcuding unpaid caregiving
work in the GDP accounts; providing credits in the Social Security
system for unpaid caregiving work; ending the exclusion of unpaid
caregivers from other social insurance programs such as disability
insurance, tax subsidized pension and retirement programs, and worker
training; expanding options for parents to obtain part-time work,
which might include restructuring tax law and incentives for employers
and mandating proportional pay, benefits and advancement for part-time
workers; relieving the payroll tax burden borne by secondary wage
and allowing married couples to file individually, which lowers
the tax burden on secondary wage earners and dual earner families;
and giving employees 6 or more weeks of paid leave for a birth,
adoption or family illness
We prepared issues briefs and presented them with an online member
survey, and members were asked to first read all the briefs, and
then answer the questions on the survey, based on their opinion
of the issue. The issues that bubbled to the top in this round were,
in order, part time work options, childcare tax credits, Social
Security reform and paid leave.
The POWER Plan was created not so much as a prioritized
laundry list of external issues that we would then immediately tackle,
one by one, however. Rather, it takes a broader perspective, delineating
how we will begin to translate our mission and beliefs into action,
and referencing these particular issues as opportunities we may
seize when the time is right. But first and foremost, this plan
took us to the next step in defining how and in which way we would
continue to educate and raise consciousness within and beyond the organization.
MMO: What programs or
projects do you have underway that support your current mission
and advocacy goals?
J. Brudage: We have a number of active programs and projects that support our
mission and goals.
We have a national network of chapters that provide face-to-face
programs and activities to support, educate and advocate for mothers.
We also have a bimonthly member publication, Forum, which
contains features on the issues mothers face, personal and bigger
picture, personal essays from members about their daily life realities
and issues, and organizational news.
We have a website that contains a lot of information for the public
on not only on member
benefits, but also lots of information and articles about mothers’
issues, and what Mothers & More is doing about them. We also
have a separate members only section where members can access additional
organizational information as well as view and apply for national
level volunteer staff positions. In fact, we consider our unpaid
staff opportunities and the virtual workplace we have created to
do our work to be a significant member benefit/opportunity. And
we have a separate website and 10 departmental email loops just
to facilitate that work and give our member staff resources and
professional development opportunities to do that work.
We also have over 20 member email loops, which are created and
moderated by members, in whatever areas of interest they want and
In terms of advocacy-oriented programs and projects, we have one
very distinct member email loop, our “POWER Loop,” where
members across the country can discuss the meatier issues we all
face in society as caregivers. It is one of our most popular and
active loops. We often have guest speakers on that loop as well—
just about any author you could name that has written about mothers’
issues in the recent years, such as Joan Williams, Ann Crittenden,
Faulkner Fox, Andi Buchanan, Judith Warner, Susan Douglas and Meredith
Michaels— and the list goes on and on.
We have something we call our “Apple Pie in the Face”
Award, which is an “honor” we bestow to entities from
time to time to call attention to acts that divide mothers or trivialize
the struggles mothers face in balancing caregiving with their other
needs and responsibilities. For instance, this award was given to
the Dr. Phil Show for doing a two-part show, Mom vs. Mom,
which pitted at-home moms against working moms, and to the marketing
and communications firm Euro RSCG Worldwide for its “Five
New Categories of Modern-Day Moms” which defined a whole new,
overwhelmingly negative and dismissive set of stereotypes that all
mothers presumably fit into.
Finally, we are just
about to go into our third annual Mother’s Day Campaign, which
is an event we hold every April and May to spotlight mothers’
issues, hold local chapter activities around those issues, and encourage
mothers across the country— members and non-members alike—
to share their real stories with one another. This year’s
theme is “Mothers: the Real Story. It’s About Time,”
referring to the need to recognize that caregiving takes real time
and energy to perform, that we all need more and better options
to fit the time to care in with all the other things we have to
do, and that time spent caregiving should not carry unfair social
and economic penalties. And we’re very excited by a new campaign
activity this year: several mothers will be blogging about and during
the campaign, via our website.
MMO: As the founder and Executive Director of Mothers & More, you’ve
had a number of opportunities to interact with the media. In general,
do you feel mainstream media coverage of mothers’ issues is
fair and accurate?
Brundage: Overall, I consider the media to be one of Mothers & More’s
most effective partners in giving voice to mothers’ issues.
And perhaps that is not all that surprising, given that so many
mothers work in journalism. These issues really resonate with many
of them and are of personal interest. They “get it”
because a lot of them live it. (In fact, on several occasions, journalists
who have written about Mothers & More subsequently joined as
members.) Overall, print media (including “virtual”
print) especially, and newspapers specifically, do a great job of
covering and accurately representing our issues and concerns.
And in the last couple years, the media inquiries Mothers &
More has received have been more and more focused on the meatier
issues concerning mothers. Our board president, Kristin Maschka,
has also been asked to give more and more radio interviews, again,
often to talk about the complexity of mothers’ issues.
The only medium that still falls short of the mark on a regular
basis is mainstream television. This seems to be the last bastion
of sensationalism, oversimplification and resistance to delving
into issues in any depth. And that is really too bad, because like
it or not, America is a TV viewing society. If the content and depth
in lots of the better print articles we’ve been involved with
ever made it on a TV show like Oprah, we might be talking tipping
point. But we’re not sitting by the phone, waiting for her
Once in awhile a news show or news magazine will do a fairly good
piece, but that’s the exception to the rule. And, other than
PBS, is there a single talk show that makes any attempt to deal
in depth with complex issues? And, not coincidentally, television
producers that are actually mothers themselves are few and far between.
Almost every producer I’ve ever talked with over the years
was a single, childless woman in her mid to late twenties. And no
wonder. Sounds like television production is a grueling, 24/7 job
itself— there’s no room for anyone who has caregiving responsibilities.
So, in a nutshell, fair and accurate? In print and radio, pretty
good. In television, no way.
her new book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety,
journalist Judith Warner describes Mothers & More as part of
a “burgeoning motherhood movement.” She also suggests
“Too much energy is being expended on seeking validation—
a recognition of mothers’ ‘value’… and of
motherhood as ‘the most important job in the world’.”
In your mind, is there a distinction between the “motherhood
movement” and the “mothers’ movement”? Are
the core beliefs and values of your organization “pro-motherhood,”
J. Brundage: It seems like there are two perspectives on mothers’ activism.
One is the motherhood-focused way, to position mothers’ work
as morally and spiritually superior and not to be sullied by comparisons
with market work. And at the same time, this perspective ties the
value of mothers’ work to judgments about the right and wrong
way to raise children, and focuses primarily on “what’s
best” for children. So, mothers are put on a pedestal at the
same time as they are valued only in relation to how much or how
well they “mother.”
Mothers & More takes a very different approach, which you might
call the “mothers’ movement” or “pro-mother”
approach. We do not assert that mothers have intrinsic value as
mothers, but rather, that the work they do as mothers, does. We
look at mothers’ unpaid caregiving work as equal in social
and economic value to market (paid) work and recognize mothers as
a group of individuals who pay unfair social and economic penalties
for doing this work.
We look at the work of caring for children as important societal
work that deserves tangible recognition and support from our public
policies, from workplace structures, from community support systems,
so that the individuals who do this work— primarily mothers—
have a fighting chance to accomplish their caregiving work along
with everything else they want and need to do to take care of themselves
and their families.
So, this is an important distinction and one that we, who desire
positive change in this area, must make clear.
To me, this is a painfully simple concept (which, however, is completely
counter to our cultural perceptions)— that unpaid caregiving
work is real work of great social and economic value. I believe
that if we all really and truly “got” that; believed
that, our society could not help but make a substantial shift to
a better place. Sort of like waking up one day and realizing the
world was round, not flat. Kind of changed everything.
MMO: What are some
of the challenges you’ve encounter in your efforts to mobilize
Mothers & More members to take action on their own behalf? What
are the predictable points of resistance, and how do you think they
can be overcome? Do you think it will ever be possible to get a
full-scale grass roots mothers’ movement off the ground?
J. Brundage: I’ve
touched a bit on that in my previous answers. As noted before, a
lot of our members feel that they are personally and completely
in charge of and responsible for their lives. And they are loathe
to accept any intimation that they may be “victims.”
So we’ve found that many members are open to sharing resources
and ideas for improving their lives, one mother at a time, but are
uncomfortable with the idea of advocating for themselves as a part
of a bigger group, or when that work may be considered “political,”
even if it’s just political with a small “p.”
Then, even among those members who acknowledge there are external
things that need fixing, many worry that tackling these issues will
create differences of opinion and friction within the membership.
Women don’t want to threaten the friendships with the women
they have met and bonded with. And a related issue, some members
just feel it’s “unseemly” to do or say anything
externally that may be perceived as negative or bitchy or whiney.
It’s one thing for members to share their “real stories”
with one another, but many members are not comfortable going public
with these feelings and experiences.
And then there’s that overall, deeply-ingrained cultural
“given” that I think we all share, consciously or unconsciously,
that mothers must be selfless and put themselves last. To do otherwise—
in other words, to advocate for one’s own needs at the same
time as we care for our children— is almost unthinkable. Somehow,
being a “good” mother and taking care of our own wants
and needs seem mutually exclusive. This is why, within Mothers &
More, we have spent a lot of time and energy on consciousness raising
(by reinforcing a positive message that you can be a loving mother
and still look out for yourself) over issues identification.
Still, our membership is in a decidedly different place in its
interest level in, awareness of and comfort with these issues than
just a couple of years ago. Many of us ask one another, “what
is the tipping point?” but none of us have come up with an
answer. Sometimes, I think we’re so close to this that we
just can’t see it.
If I didn’t think this grass roots movement was inevitable,
I wouldn’t be in this job. I’m in it for the long haul,
and so is Mothers & More. When I’m feeling pessimistic,
I think about Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who spent
most of their lives working to get women the vote, and didn’t
live to see the day. Yet, it did finally happen. Now, I am not so
patient that I’m okay with the possibility that I won’t
live to see this happen. But I am committed to continuing to work
on it as long as there’s breath in my body. And I am utterly
convinced it will happen. It has to.
MMO: In your opinion,
what’s the next big step for the mothers’ movement,
and what role will Mothers & More have in the movement’s future?
J. Brundage: Ah, the next big step! That’s the $64,000 question. I don’t
know what the next step will be. All I can say is, the wave just
continues to climb higher and higher. There is clear acceleration
in the number of books and articles and public dialog about this
new “problem with no name.” The public seems insatiable
for discussion and reflection about the state of mothers and motherhood.
Even some seemingly “fluffy” signs, such as the great
popularity of the TV show “Desperate Housewives” is
an indicator. And it is notable that an article like “The
Opt Out Generation” by Lisa Belkin in the New York Times got the most letters to the editor in response that the Times
has ever seen. Likewise, the recent Newsweek cover story
featuring Judith Warner’s new book, Perfect Madness,
received over 600 letters. Something is afoot and it’s only
Our hope is that Mothers
& More is one of the drivers, if not the sole driver, of the
movement. We feel we are uniquely positioned, as the only nationally-coordinated
membership organization addressing the needs of mothers, to provide
the structure and the womanpower that will be needed to initiate,
support and sustain such an effort. As is clear from the way we
have made decisions in this area in the past few years, though,
we feel it is critical for this to happen from the bottom up rather
than the top down— as a grass roots initiative. But we would love to have some company in moving this forward, from
individuals and organizations. A social movement is bigger than
any single organization involved in it, no matter how central its
mmo : march 2005