Shattering the Stigma of Motherhood

Five outdated, hurtful phrases we need to stop using about mothers.

If the saying rings true that behind every great man is a greater woman, it would be remiss to go without professing behind every great man, woman and child is a great mother.

Every year on the second Sunday in May we do our very best to honor the women who we don’t honor nearly enough — our moms.

Mother’s Day is a time to show these women just how much we appreciate all they have done and will continue to do for us. So this Mother’s Day, we reflected on what we hear about moms. Usually, mothers get (and deserve) compliments and respect. But we noticed a few phrases about mothers are actually quite sexist and disrespectful, inspiring us to bring them to light and perhaps reframe the way we present mothers in business.

1. Working Mother

According to a study by the Pew Research Center 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are the sole or primary breadwinners. This is a national record, and a stark contrast to only 11% of households in 1960.

But in spite of this, women who work outside the home are still many times referred to as “working mothers.”

While raising children is a full-time job in and of itself, why do we speak about mothers in this way? Fathers are almost never called “dadpreneurs” but the phrase “mompreneur” is common, and one that mothers have tried to use themselves to explain their life en sum.

2. What do I look like, your mother?

Mothers are judgmental, nosey, and stifling — at least according to this phrase.

New Zealand bank Westpac has an ad that reads: “Come chat. We won’t judge. We’re your bank. Not your Mum.” The cheeky poster suggests that mothers will judge you for your choices if you speak openly.

While mothers take on many roles in the home from cook to housekeeper to nurse, they also take on the role of advisor — and no one will shoot it to you straight quite like your mother.

This is hard to believe, but before you were born, your mother lived a life full of experience — and raising her children has only added to that plethora of understanding.

Instead of shying away from our mothers’ opinions, we should work to place value on their guidance and reflect that sentiment in the words and phrases (and advertising) we use.

3. Who wears the pants in the family?

The age-old power struggle between partners is an antiquated notion we need to eliminate, especially when referring to the dynamic between mothers and fathers.

There’s no reason to tear someone else down to build yourself up, and the same can be said about mothers speaking up and having a more equivalent role in the household to her male counterpart. A healthy dynamic comes when mothers are free to speak their mind and share their feelings without being seen as controlling and domineering (the same can be said in business).

Eliminating the stigma that there needs to be a dominating partner can promote more equality and balance in a home, helping children to perpetuate this in their own families in the future. After all, there’s nothing bossy about having an opinion.

4. How would you explain it to your mom?

This expression — often used in business — is particularly harmful to a mother’s worth. The basic idea: explain this complex thought or problem in an easy to understand and deconstructed way so that even your mother could comprehend.

This phrase suggests mothers are uneducated, but according to the U.S. Department of Education, women make up 55% of undergraduates enrolled in four year colleges. The gap has been widening at a staggering rate between the male to female college ratio for some time, and many project it will continue.

Additionally, the Institute for Policy Research found that 26% of all undergraduate students are raising dependent children, and of them, 71% are mothers, and 43% are single mothers.

Mothers are changing their role in education, and its about time we change the way we speak to them.

5. She’s pregnant, you know how women get.

Pregnancy is different for every mother, but many times women are treated as if they are fragile beings whose hormone levels can turn them into a puddle at any moment. Of course, women are stronger than they are often given credit for.

Pregnancy is a time when a woman is growing another human inside of her, so perhaps we should have empathy and ask how we can help her instead of judging her.

By supporting women’s strengths rather than their weaknesses we can begin to shift the way women, particularly mothers, view their power.

Compliments based on stereotypes rather than insults can still have a negative impact on mothers and women in business. This benevolent sexism, while seemingly supportive, can affect a woman’s self-worth in the long run.

So while we embrace our mothers this Mother’s Day, let us not take for granted their selflessness or forget they are powerful strong women deserving of a full life beyond their roles as mothers.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there doing your best. Thank you for all you do.