Going Back to School, Mom?

May 2, 1997


Imagine juggling all the responsibilities of motherhood while attending lectures and doing homework. As the number of mothers returning to college continues to rise, the U-M Center for the Education of Women (CEW) meets their needs. Susan Kaufmann, CEW associate director, says staff members at CEW “are continuously counseling and helping women who want to go back to school, back to work, or who are looking for a change of career.”

Among CEW programs are scholarships for women whose education was interrupted for at least three years. The Center also conducts research on the status of women at the University, offers numerous workshops on subjects of interest to women at all levels, provides an on-site library of job search and career information, and sponsors the Women in Science and Engineering program. For more information on CEW and its free, public programs, contact Kaufmann at (313) 998-7250.

Divine Goddesses

“The abstract principles of motherhood are worshipped, but often by male ritual specialists,” says Sarah Caldwell, U-M professor of anthropology and religion. Caldwell says men usually have found the childbearing aspect of motherhood fascinating yet threatening. In most religions, goddesses are divinized figures who embody qualities men would like to see in women—devotion, obedience, understanding, giving, and nurturing. She notes in Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, human women are identified with pollution, sin, and suffering. Their ideology often denies divinity to the physical aspects of motherhood such as pregnancy, menstruation and childbirth. According to Caldwell, the Virgin Mary acts as a role model for Catholic women mainly as an example of a symbolic, suffering mother figure. “Perhaps the male-centered religions will change as women rediscover the seeds of feminine divinity within their traditions and reinterpret them for their own uses and understandings,” Caldwell says. For more information, contact Caldwell at (313) 975-0157 or [email protected]

Counting Crows

Contrary to delegating “mothering” duties to non-family members such as au pairs, nannies and day-care centers, crows appear to enlist the help of their own offspring in nurturing and raising the younger members of the family. In her research on crows in Ann Arbor, U-M doctoral candidate Cynthia Sims Parr has found that the eastern American crow, Corvus brachyhynchos, form “nesting families” where the brothers and sisters help feed their parents’ next set of chicks. Parr has observed the helpers preening their younger siblings, feeding them, cleaning the nests, or merely perching within one body length of the nest, sort of “on alert.” If needed, the helpers will assist in mobbing predators and chasing extra-territorial crows from their home area. Parr’s study found that the number of male and female helpers was about equal during the family’s first season, but that the male helpers tend to remain with the family for two to three years, while the females do not. The added benefit of care-giving experience, according to Parr, may allow these helpers more success in their own parenting efforts.

Aging Moms

As more people are living past the age of 80, changing parent/adult children roles are more considerable. Ruth Campbell, associate director for special work and community programs at U-M Turner-Geriatric Clinic, says, “for the parents, a lot of times it’s a balance between wanting independence and needing help.” According to Campbell, parents and their adult children often have different expectations about their evolving roles. “Most older people want to maintain independence as long as possible and fear their children being able to boss them around,” Campbell says. “Yet at the same time, they prefer help from their children above other forms of assistance such as nursing homes.” According to Campbell, a study conducted by the Elder Plan, a New York HMO, found a larger number of adult daughters reported spending more time with their elderly mothers than what the mothers reported. “This may be due to differences in expectations and life styles,” says Campbell. “With the increase in working women, daughters and daughters-in-law are often busy juggling work and family. If they take two hours off from work to take their mother to a doctor’s appointment it seems like a lot of time to them. To the mother, however, it may seem as if the daughter is always rushing off.” The key to recognizing mothers and daughters are in different stages with different expectations and demands is communicating openly about the changes in the lives of both generations, Campbell says. The Turner Geriatrics Clinic offers a support group for adult children caring for elderly parents. For more information, call (313) 764-2556.

Uterine Power

The spirit of the womb, captured in uterine amulets worn by women of ancient Greece and Rome, was often thought to prevent various ailments. “Beginning in about 300 B.C. amulets were widely used for all kinds of reasons,” says Ann Ellis Hanson, a U-M classicist who specializes in the history of medicine. Among the most common reasons: to help women conceive, prevent miscarriage, facilitate childbirth and protect against gynecological problems. Amulets, made of bloodstone, often depict the uterus with a lock at the mouth, encircled by the Egyptian symbol for regeneration and eternity—a snake devouring its own tail. According to Hanson, the Greek physician Soranos advised physicians that the use of amulets should not be forbidden, since the hope they provide possibly makes the woman more cheerful. Uterine amulets from the U-M Taubman Medical Library are among the objects displayed at the U-M Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in the exhibit “Women and Gender in Ancient Egypt: From Prehistory to Late Antiquity,” through June 15.

E-Mail: [email protected]

Center for the Education of WomenWomen in Science and Engineering[email protected]Turner-Geriatric ClinicclassicistTaubman Medical Library[email protected]