Speaker passionate on the 'Changing Role of Women and Motherhood'
by Sandy Lindsay

April 19, 2016

Women Today

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Dr. Andrea O'Reilly, PhD., guest speaker at CFUW meeting

She was articulate and funny and most in the capacity audience nodded in agreement with many of her talking points on The Changing Role of Motherhood.

Dr. Andrea O'Reilly, PhD. was the recent guest speaker invited by the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Southport Chapter to their meeting at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre (Southampton).

O'Reilly, a long-time visitor to Southampton on Lake Huron and whose sister, Jennifer (Jen), and mother, Jean, still live in community, is a professor at York University in Toronto, a lecturer and the author of several books.

(L) Dr. Andrea O'Reilly, mother Jean and sister, Jen O'Reilly

According to O'Reilly, there have been three moments in history that have impacted the accepted role of motherhood ... move from agriculture to urbanization in the 1800s; World War II and beyond; and the rise of intensive motherhood.

"When people moved from agricultural to urban living, motherhood changed with it.  Motherhood is a state that is culturally invented," said O'Reilly.  When World War II happened, mothers were required to work outside the home in jobs that were filled by men who were needed overseas.  "Daycares today are not a new thing," explained O'Reilly.  "When women had to go to work in factories during the war, daycares were set up on-site and children went with their mothers for the day."

When the war ended and the men returned, women had to give up their jobs and return to the home.  It was then that motherhood became 'glamorized' and ideology was used to coerce women back into a more 'maternal' role as the 'stay-at-home' mother.

Today, says O'Reilly, the 'custodial mother' has come into being.  A popular trend is that children's parents are now their best friends, with which O'Reilly strongly disagrees. 

"Parents are not best friends," said O'Reilly, "other children are best friends."  She went on to say that today's parents, in general, are micro-managing their children.  "They drive them around to every conceivable sport and activity so that children are over-regulated and they are not allowed to make mistakes.  This Intensive Mothering phenomenon is seeing mothers who think they have to be with their children all the time and who are completely invested in their children every day, all day."

O'Reilly explained that women are having children later in life at 30 years or more and that they often wait until they are established in careers.  From 'outside' career validation for their achievements, they are moving into 'home and mothering' validation. "In other words," says O'Reilly, "I believe that this shift in 'intensive mothering' is a backlash to feminism. Intensive mothering for working mothers who are trying to do it all can cause burn-out, health issues and even mental illness."

Intensive mothering, according to O'Reilly, is the re-domestication of women who are giving up careers.  "This worries me deeply," she reiterated, "as it is putting us (women) back in the home.  We are also developing a
demographic of children who are coddled, who have no initiative, no imagination and who feel they have a sense of entitlement.

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As a professor, O'Reilly said that she sees the results every day with students in university.  "Often these students are a wreck and stressed out and don't know how to deal with life," she said. "Parents have been set up to give up their own identities and both children and mothers are suffering from this ... intensive motherhood."

While O'Reilly's talk had a serious undertone, it was interspersed with humour and interaction with the audience.

CFUW's Pat Sanagan (L) thanked Dr. O'Reilly for her "enlightening talk"

From times past, she recounted her own days of growing up and what childhood and motherhood meant:

"We went outside after school and played ... our mother said ... 'Come home when the streetlights come on' ...

"When we fell or hurt ourselves ... 'Are you bleeding?  If not get back outside and play ...

IF we said we were bored, we heard ... "Bored? I have lots of chores for you to do! ...

It was a talk, that by all indications of the gales of laughter that erupted, struck close to home for many.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016