Motherhood has changed, but some things remain the same

By Sally Friedman

It’s after midnight, and the phone rings. “Hi mom,” says our middle daughter, Amy, sounding perfectly fine. Amy is calling, she reports, on her cell phone on her way home from her office. Yes, after midnight.

So we talk at the witching hour instead of during a more conventional time because this, it turns out, is the “new normal” with this daughter, a working mom who has a career, a husband, a quirky old home and two daughters, now in their early teens.

I cannot imagine her life, any more than Amy can imagine the one I lived at her age. At 52, Amy’s age, I had two daughters in college, and one poised to go soon, while Amy herself is in the grade school milieu. Late marriage. Even later childbirth. A sign of the times.

Yes, the world of mothers has changed. Profoundly, dramatically and perhaps irrevocably. My daughters will not likely be returning to the world of their mother, one defined by a vastly different social landscape.

This new landscape is still startling to those of us who bought into the last gasp of Donna Reed and mom in the kitchen making meatloaf. But we’re certainly learning about this other world from our valiant daughters.

My three daughters had a mother who was there, at least physically, during all the tempests of their coming of age. I honestly served milk and cookies to them after school most days. Did that mean I was always and perennially a happy, chirpy mom? Hardly!

There were times when the cries of, “I hate her!” and, “She messed up my stuff!” would leave me yearning for something — anything — beyond the walls of home. But I always felt awful about that yearning, because moms were supposed to be delighted to be — well, moms.

Back then, parent-teacher conferences were scheduled to suit mainstream families. Whoever heard of a conference at 8 p.m., the time Amy recently met with her middle school daughter Emily’s teachers? When I expressed surprise, Amy gave me one of those “Mom!” looks. Of course, conferences were scheduled at night for working parents.

Jill, Amy and Nancy played. They didn’t have “play dates.” My husband was out there slaying the dragons, and rarely, if ever, cooked a meal or did the laundry.

Today, my three daughters work, and their husbands also cook and clean. As women, they are accomplished — and exhausted. But my daughters have that Freudian duality: love and work.

But here’s where the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When those babies came, my daughters greeted them with the same awe, wonderment and surrender that women have for centuries. In so many ways, each of our daughters has shown a new and unexpected side of herself in mothering. So in joyously welcoming our seven grandchildren, I have also re-met their mothers, my daughters.

Despite their predictable fears and anxieties, I have seen in them strength and courage that I never knew was there. I have seen stamina and commitment, self-sacrifice and incredible energy.

I never balanced motherhood and career as they are doing. I never lived so close to the edge that there seemed the ever-present danger of simply falling off into total and absolute exhaustion.

Sometimes, as I watch them, I think my heart will burst wide open.

Yes, it’s a different world. But the basics of motherhood — the pure, unconditional love, the overwhelming joy twinned with hope — those remain eternally the same. ••

Sally Friedman can be reached at