A mother (or mum/mom/mam) is a woman who has raised a child, given birth to a child, and/or supplied the egg which in union with a sperm grew into a child. The definition can also be extended to non-human animals and may then also include being the animal that donated a body cell which has resulted in a clone. Because of the complexity and differences of a mother's social, cultural, and religious definitions and roles, it is challenging to specify a universally acceptable definition for the term.
The male parallel is father.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Biological mother
- 3 Non-biological mother
- 4 Social role
- 5 Health and safety issues
- 6 Religious
- 7 Mother-offspring conflict
- 8 Mothers in art
- 9 Synonyms and translations
- 10 Famous motherhood figures
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
The modern English word is from Middle English moder, from Old English mōdor, from Proto-Germanic *mōdēr (cf. East Frisian muur, Dutch moeder, German Mutter), from Proto-Indo-European *méh₂tēr (cf. Irish máthair, Tocharian A mācar, B mācer, Lithuanian mótė). Other cognates include Latin māter, Greek μήτηρ, Common Slavic *mati (thence Russian мать (mat’)), Persian مادر (madar), and Sanskrit मातृ (mātṛ).
In the case of a mammal such as a human, a pregnant woman gestates a fertilized ovum (the "egg"). A fetus develops from the viable fertilized ovum, resulting in an embryo. Gestation occurs in the woman's uterus from conception until the fetus (assuming it is carried to term) is sufficiently developed to be born. The woman experiences labor and gives birth. Usually, once the baby is born, the mother produces milk via the lactation process. The mother's breast milk is the source of anti-bodies for the infant's immune system and commonly the sole source of nutrition for the first year or more of the child's life.
Mother can often apply to a woman other than the biological parent, especially if she fulfills the main social role in raising the child. This is commonly either an adoptive mother or a stepmother (the biologically unrelated wife of a child's father). The term "othermother" or "other mother" is also used in some contexts for women who provide care for a child not biologically their own in addition to the child's primary mother.
Adoption, in various forms, has been practiced throughout history. Modern systems of adoption, arising in the 20th century, tend to be governed by comprehensive statutes and regulations. In recent decades, international adoptions have become more and more common.
Adoption in the United States is common and relatively easy from a legal point of view (compared to other Western countries). In 2001, with over 127,000 adoptions, the US accounted for nearly half of the total number of adoptions worldwide.
A surrogate mother is, commonly, a woman who bears an embryo, that is from another woman's fertilized ovum, to term for a couple biologically unable to have children. Thus, she carries and gives birth to a child that is she not the biological mother of. Note that this is different from a woman who becomes pregnant via in vitro fertilization.
Currently, with advances in reproductive technologies, the function of biological motherhood can be split between the genetic mother (who provides the ovum) and the gestational (commonly known as a surrogate) mother (who carries the pregnancy).
Motherhood in same-sex relationships
The possibility for lesbian and bisexual women in same-sex relationships (or without a partner) to become mothers has increased over the past few decades thanks to new technology. Modern lesbian parenting (a term that somewhat erases the bisexual case) originated with women who were in heterosexual relationships who later identified as lesbian or bisexual, as changing attitudes provided more acceptance for non-heterosexual relationships. Another way for such women to become mothers is through adopting and/or foster parenting. There is also the option of self-insemination and clinically assisted donor insemination, forms of artificial insemination. As fertility technology has advanced, more women not in a heterosexual relationship have become mothers through in vitro fertilization.
Historically, the role of women was confined to some extent to being a mother and wife, with women being expected to dedicate most of their energy to these roles, and to spend most of their time taking care of the home. In many cultures, women received significant help in performing these tasks from older female relatives, such as mothers in law or their own mothers.
Mothers have historically fulfilled the primary role in raising children, but since the late 20th century, the role of the father in child care has been given greater prominence and social acceptance in some Western countries. The 20th century also saw more and more women entering paid work.
The social role and experience of motherhood varies greatly depending upon location. Mothers are more likely than fathers to encourage assimilative and communion-enhancing patterns in their children. Mothers are more likely than fathers to acknowledge their children's contributions in conversation. The way mothers speak to their children ("motherese") is better suited to support very young children in their efforts to understand speech (in context of the reference English) than fathers.
Since the 1970s, in vitro fertilization has made pregnancy possible at ages well beyond "natural" limits, generating ethical controversy and forcing significant changes in the social meaning of motherhood. This is, however a position highly biased by Western world locality: outside the Western world, in-vitro fertilization has far less prominence, importance or currency compared to primary, basic healthcare, women's basic health, reducing infant mortality and the prevention of life-threatening diseases such as polio, typhus and malaria.
Traditionally, and still in most parts of the world today, a mother was expected to be a married woman, with birth outside of marriage carrying a strong social stigma. Historically, this stigma not only applied to the mother, but also to her child. This continues to be the case in many parts of the developing world today, but in many Western countries the situation has changed radically, with single motherhood being much more socially acceptable now. For more details on these subjects, see legitimacy (law) and single parent.
The total fertility rate (TFR), that is, the number of children born per woman, differs greatly from country to country. The TFR in 2013 was estimated to be highest in Niger (7.03 children born per woman) and lowest in Singapore (0.79 children/woman).
Health and safety issues
A maternal death is defined by WHO as "the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes".
In 2006, the organization Save the Children has ranked the countries of the world, and found that Scandinavian countries are the safest places to give birth, whereas countries in sub-Saharan Africa are the least safe to give birth. This study argues a mother in the bottom ten ranked countries is over 750 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a mother in the top ten ranked countries, and a mother in the bottom ten ranked countries is 28 times more likely to see her child die before reaching their first birthday.
The most recent data suggests that Italy, Sweden and Luxembourg are the safest countries in terms of maternal death and Afghanistan, Central African Republic and Malawi are the most dangerous.
Childbirth is an inherently dangerous and risky procedure, subject to many complications. The "natural" mortality rate of childbirth—where nothing is done to avert maternal death—has been estimated as being 1500 deaths per 100,000 births. Modern medicine has greatly alleviated the risk of childbirth. In modern Western countries the current maternal mortality rate is around 10 deaths per 100,000 births.
Nearly all world religions define tasks or roles for mothers through either religious law or through the glorification of mothers who served in substantial religious events. There are many examples of religious law relating to mothers and women.
Major world religions which have specific religious law or scriptural canon regarding mothers include: Christianity, Jedaism, and Islam. Some examples of honoring motherhood include the Madonna or Blessed Virgin Mother Mary for Catholics, and the multiple positive references to active womanhood as a mother in the book of Proverbs.
In early human history there have been many instances of mother-offspring conflicts. For example:
- Amastris, queen of Heraclea, was drowned by her two sons in 284 BC.
- Cleopatra III of Egypt was assassinated in 101 BC by order of her son, Ptolemy X, for her conspiring.
- In AD 59, the Roman Emperor Nero is said to have ordered the murder of his mother Agrippina the Younger, supposedly because she was conspiring against him.
- Mary Ann Lamb, the mentally ill sister of essayist Charles Lamb, killed their invalid mother during an episode of mania in 1796.
In modern history here have also been cases of mother-offspring conflicts:
- Kip Kinkel (1982- ), an Oregon boy who was convicted of killing both parents as well as killing two students at his school on May 20, 1998.
- Dr. I. Kathleen Hagen, a prominent urologist, killed her mother and her father in August 2000 and was acquitted on the grounds of insanity.
- Yukio Yamaji, a 16 year old living in Japan, killed his mother in 2000. After his release, he raped and murdered a woman and her sister in 2005. He was executed by hanging in 2009.
- Dipendra of Nepal (1971–2001) reportedly massacred much of his family at a royal dinner on June 1, 2001, including his mother Queen Aiswarya, father, brother, and sister.
- Erika di Nardo killed her mother and brother in 2001. See Novi Ligure Murder
- Sarah Marie Johnson (1987- ), an Idaho girl who was convicted of killing both parents on the morning of 2 September 2003.
Mothers in art
Throughout history mothers with their children have often been the subject of artistic works, such as paintings, sculptures or writings.
Paintings of mothers with their children have a long tradition in France. In the 18th century, these works embodied the Enlightenment's preoccupation with strong family bonds and the relation between mothers and children.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Mary Cassatt was a painter well known for her portraits of mothers.
Many contemporary movies portray mothers.
Synonyms and translations
The proverbial "first word" of an infant often sounds like "ma" or "mama". This strong association of that sound with "mother" has persisted in nearly every language on earth, countering the natural localization of language.
Familiar or colloquial terms for mother in English are:
- Mom and mommy are used in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Philippines, India and parts of the West Midlands including Birmingham in the United Kingdom.
- Mum and mummy are used in the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Ireland. Charles, Prince of Wales publicly addressed his mother Queen Elizabeth II as "Mummy" on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.
- Ma, mam, and mammy are used in Netherlands, Ireland, the Northern areas of the United Kingdom, and Wales; it is also used in some areas of the United States.
In many other languages, similar pronunciations apply:
- Maa, aai, amma, and mata are used in India
- Mamá, mama, ma, and mami in Spanish
- Mama in Polish, German, Russian and Slovak
- Māma (妈妈/媽媽) in Chinese
- Máma in Czech and in Ukrainian
- Maman in French and Persian
- Ma, mama in Indonesian
- Mamaí, mam in Irish
- Mamma in Italian, Icelandic, Latvian and Swedish
- Mamãe or mãe in Portuguese
- Mā̃ (ਮਾਂ) in Punjabi
- Mama in Swahili
- Em (אם) in Hebrew
- Ima (אמא) in Aramaic
- Má or mẹ in Vietnamese
- Mam in Welsh
- Eomma (엄마, pronounced [ʌmma]) in Korean
- In many south Asian cultures and the Middle East, the mother is known as amma, oma, ammi or "ummi", or variations thereof. Many times, these terms denote affection or a maternal role in a child's life.
Famous motherhood figures
- Dewi Sri
- Kwan Yin
- Queen Maya
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- Attachment parenting
- Blessed Virgin Mary
- Jungian archetypes
- Maternal bond
- Matrilocal residence
- Mother goddess
- Mother Goose
- Mother insult
- Mother ship
- Mother's Day
- Mothers in space
- Mothers rights
- Nuclear family
- Oedipus complex
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- "mother n. & v.". The Oxford American Dictionary of Current English. Oxford University Press.
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- "Dhushara.com". Dhushara.com. Retrieved 2011-10-27.
- Growth and Development
- Chapter 46 Animal Reproduction
- Barbara Melosh, the American Way of Adoption page 10
- Jardine, Cassandra (31 Oct 2007). "Why adoption is so easy in America". Telegraph.
- "Lesbian parenting: issues, strengths and challenges". Retrieved 2011-01-25.
- Mezey, Nancy J (2008). New Choices, New Families: How Lesbians Decide about Motherhood. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-9000-0.
- "In most Western countries the family model of a sole male breadwinner is in full retreat." Accessed 19 September 2007.
- Why Are Fathers Important? Interview with Dr. Ross Parke, professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside, author of Fatherhood (1966) and co-author of Throwaway Dads (1999). Accessed 19 September 2007.
- Ann M. Berghout Austin1 and T.J. Braeger2 (1990-10-01). "Gendered differences in parents' encouragement of sibling interaction: implications for the construction of a personal premise system". Fla.sagepub.com. Retrieved 2011-10-27.
- "Fathers' speech to their children: perfect pitch or tin ear?". Thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved 2011-10-27.
- Hladik, E., & Edwards, H. (1984). A comparison of mother-father speech in the naturalistic home environment. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 13, 321–332.
- Leaper, C., Anderson, K., & Sanders, P. (1998). Moderators of gender effects on parents' talk to their children: A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 34, 3–27.
- Mannle, S., & Tomasello, M. (1987). Fathers, siblings, and the bridge hypothesis. In K.E. Nelson & A. vanKleeck (Eds.), Children's language, Vol. 6, (pp. 23–42). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Motherhood: Is It Ever Too Late?, July 15, 2009
- Getting Pregnant After 50: Risks, Rewards July 17, 2009
- Save the Children, State of the World's Mothers Report 2006.
- Rogers, Simon (2010-04-13). "Maternal mortality: how many women die in childbirth in your country?". The Guardian.
- Van Lerberghe W, De Brouwere V. Of blind alleys and things that have worked: history’s lessons on reducing maternal mortality. In: De Brouwere V, Van Lerberghe W, eds. Safe motherhood strategies: a review of the evidence. Antwerp, ITG Press, 2001 (Studies in Health Services Organisation and Policy, 17:7–33). "Where nothing effective is done to avert maternal death, “natural” mortality is probably of the order of magnitude of 1,500/100,000."
- ibid, p10
- "What The Bible Says About Mother". Mothers Day World. Retrieved 2008-11-24.
- Katz, Lisa. "Religious Obligations of Jewish women". About.com. Retrieved 2008-11-24.
- 'Ali Al-Hashimi, Muhammad. The Ideal Muslimah: The True Islâmic Personality of the Muslim Woman as Defined in the Qur'ân and Sunnah. Wisdom Enrichment Foundation, Inc. Retrieved 2008-11-24.[dead link]
- "Prince Charles pays tribute to 'Mummy'". ITN website. 5 June 2012. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
- Thornhill, Randy; Gangestad, Steven W. The Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality.
- Manne, Anne. Motherhood – How should we care for our children?.
- Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. Mother nature: maternal instincts and how they shape the human species.