The motherlode: an interdisciplinary mothering conference

More and more, fathers are deciding to stay at home and care for their children rather than work full-time outside of the home. More and more, Canadian families are led by single fathers. Shining a spotlight on the lives of stay at home dads and single fathers, the book Do Men Mother? provides groundbreaking evidence of dramatic changes in mothering and fathering in Canada.

Using evidence gathered in a four-year in-depth qualitative study, including interviews with over 100 fathers – from truck drivers to insurance salesmen, physicians to artists – Carleton University professor and York University alumna Andrea Doucet  (BA ‘82) will speak about her innovative research at the world’s largest conference on mothering, which begins Thursday in Toronto. “The Motherlode: A Complete Celebration of Motherhood” is an interdisciplinary conference that examines mothering in all its dimensions.

Right: Andrea Doucet              

The conference is also a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the first international conference on motherhood organized in 1997 by Professors Andrea O’Reilly and Nancy Mandell of York University’s Centre for Feminist Research. The response to that first conference led to the establishment of the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM), based at York, which now has more than 600 members in two dozen countries.

Left: Andrea O’Reilly

While previous ARM conferences focused on a particular motherhood theme or issue, the Motherlode conference will consider every imaginable motherhood issue, said O’Reilly, director of the association. This year’s conference will examine a myriad of mothering topics including how fathers navigate through the “maternal worlds” of mothers and infants; lesbian mothering; mothering a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; breastfeeding; working mothers; new challenges in mothering; mothering and the media; and, mothering transgendered children, to name just a few. 

“This conference is very much interdisciplinary, with scholars from fields as varied as women’s studies, business and the visual arts. We will have academics and activists discussing how best to meet the needs of mothers – particularly those who are disadvantaged,” says O’Reilly.” We will also be addressing topics that have not been researched enough – for example, mothers and HIV, mothering children with disabilities, reproductive health, teen mothers, and raising bi-racial children.”

ARM, which was founded in 1998, has since established both a journal and, more recently, the first feminist scholarly press on motherhood, and it has hosted annual conferences focused on topics such as mothering and work, and motherhood and sexuality.

This year’s conference will not only consolidate motherhood studies as a vibrant academic discipline, but will take it up a notch, says O’Reilly. There are 200 academics and activists from more than 10 countries scheduled to speak at the conference, on topics ranging from concepts of motherhood in rural Brazil to blogs about motherhood. More than 20 visual and performance artists, poets, writers and storytellers will present their work during a gala literary night, and there are a number of interesting plenary sessions planned, including “Motherhood, Representation and Public Policy” for example, and “Motherwork: Challenging the Status Quo.”

In addition to Doucet, other keynote presenters include Ann Douglas (left), author of 28 books, many of which focus on pregnancy and parenting; O’Reilly, author of Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Feminism, Motherhood and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering; and Ann Crittenden (right), a former economics reporter for the New York Times, author of The Price of Motherhood and a Pulitzer Prize nominee.

Academics, social workers, activists, midwives, policymakers and others will take part in the conference, discussing experiences of motherhood in countries as varied as China, Uganda, India, France and Australia.

The Motherlode, 10th anniversary conference on mothering takes place Oct. 26 to 29, at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, at the corner of Yonge and Carlton in downtown Toronto. For more information or to view a full conference program, click here.