Why are mothers becoming moms?

Listening to the debate about motherhood in the last few days reminded me of something that’s been nagging me for a while: what does it mean that mothers are becoming moms?

On the Republican side, in his NRA speech Friday, Mitt Romney said, “I happen to believe that all moms are working moms.” (The right-wing radio personality Laura Schlesinger always said, by way of introduction, “I am my kids’ mom,” as the most salient piece of her identity.) On the other side, both Hilary Rosen and President Obama used mom as the toughest-job-in-the-world’s title.

Why is it mom? Back in the 90s, poor single women weren’t “welfare moms.”

Here’s the trend in “working mother” versus “working mom” from Google Ngrams – the occurrence of these terms in the Google Books database:


The same pattern appears with just mother versus mom.

I don’t know why this is happening or what it means. Do you?

16 thoughts on “Why are mothers becoming moms?

  1. Mother is generic and impersonal, a demographic fact. “I am my children’s mother” — well duh. Even a woman who abandoned her children can say that. But to say, “I am my kids’ mom” implies a real woman nurturing her children. You can be a bad mother; you can’t be a bad mom. I would image the difference is even greater in Britain — mother vs. mum.


    1. The ways we use words unquestionably reflect the ways we conceptualize our relationships.

      Jay, are you suggesting that “mom” implies a more authentic or caring relationship than “mother?”


    2. So I guess you could say that mom is from the child’s point of view, while mother is from a generic, objective point of view. So does the fact that this is happening now imply we are embracing children’s point of view? And is that good? Because this is happening at the time that gender equality trends are stalled, I am looking for an explanation that implies something bad about gender equality…


  2. Mothers don’t bake cookies. I don’t know about gender equality, but I think the language might have something to do with the “working” part. A “working mother” might be the woman who pursues her career at the expense of her kids. But a “working mom” is the woman who has a paying job, even a career, but is still a loving, nurturing cookie-baking mom to her kids.


  3. It’s pseudo-egalitarianism, an aggressive drive to the lowest common denominator. Exactly the same as overuse of the word “kids” instead of “children”. (I blame the 1960s, but that’s another story.)

    Also, “mom” tugs on the heart strings more than the more formal “mother”, analogous in media to “if it bleeds, it leads”.

    It irritates me to no end.


    1. It probably doesn’t make a big difference, but If someone were proposing more funding and goverenment effort to improve day-care, I’d rather hear them talking about it was necessary for “working moms” than for “working mothers.” Those moms care about their kids. But the working mothers are just self-serving, ambitious careerists seeking a handout from the taxpayers so they can slough off their kids on the government.


      1. Yes, it’s “appeal to emotion”, which I irritates me just as much.

        Our society needs more formality (and hypocricy — but that’s another story).


  4. Along with the “moms = more child-focused” effect, some of the “mom vs. mother” word-use dynamic must link to the internet – and the effort to present social science data to a non-academic community.
    Shorter words = shorter post = quicker read, + informal language perceived as more welcoming to wider readership. Similar shift must have occurred with dads vs fathers.


  5. I find it ugly and diminishing and it popped up decades ago. I’m 70 and I’ve never seen American mothers referred to as anything but Moms. Likewise Australian mothers are nearly always Mum, a much friendlier, inclusive term which contains love, informality, affection and respect. Mother is also used in slightly more formal situations but shows equal respect and affection in most cases.


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