Mothers' Ecological Awakening and the "Good Green Mother"Nov 08, 2021
The desire for a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle becomes particularly pertinent for mothers during the transition to motherhood. They want what is best for their children and the world in which they will live. The transition into motherhood increases a mother's tendency toward a green lifestyle, a growth push known as the "inheritance factor (Carey, Shaw, & Shui, 2018). Mothers report being "awakened" to the ethical consequences of their choices upon the birth or adoption of their first child (Carey et al., 2008), while also emphasizing how social pressures play a part in adopting elements of a green lifestyle in motherhood. Environmental concern awakened in mothers through the transition to motherhood is relational and social but often centers on the child.
"Green motherhood," a term used to describe this shift towards a green lifestyle and associated values as a part of mother work (Atkinson, 2014), is one of the predominant forms of mothering ideology in Western middle-class culture (although research shows the pressures cross class barriers). Green mothering is both an identity and a set of mothering practices carrying the labor-intensive, time consuming, emotionally draining, and costly methods central to Susan Hay's description of "intensive mothering" (1996). For instance, many intensive mothering practices, such as breastfeeding and cloth diapering, present a double bind for mothers. They encourage mothers to do what is best for their children by suppressing their needs and reinforcing their isolation and relegation to the private sphere.
"Good Green Mother"
Prescriptions around green motherhood emphasize a return to domesticity. The 20th-century movement towards "natural" mothering practices, critiqued as a form of disciplinary power in which mothers pursue intensive standards of mother work that relegate them to a highly gendered domestic sphere at the expense of fulfilling their potential in the public sphere (Badinter, 2011), heavily influences more recent iterations of green motherhood. Within green motherhood, past and present, behaviors that center self-sacrifice to the vulnerable child rather than something innate to a particular type of relational care work produces a mother's identity. As it emphasizes intensive mothering, the green mother construction erases the mother and reinforces a hegemonic form of motherhood that creates deviance out of difference.
Mental Health Risks
The "good green mother" ideology produces mental health risks for mothers. Pressure to be a good mother increases maternal guilt, lowers self-efficacy beliefs, and increases stress levels - even when mothers do not hold intensive mothering beliefs themselves (Rotkirch and Janhunen, 2009; Henderson et al., 2016; Borelli et al., 2017). These practice-based ideologies put mothers at risk for experiencing increased stress, anxiety, and burnout from regulating the high internal and external expectations. (Meeussen & Larry, 2018). Internalizing the pressure to be a good green mother is detrimental for mothers regardless of whether or not they subscribe to intensive motherhood ideologies.
Advertising and consumer studies have long acknowledged this "awakening" (and how advertisers can better market to this segment). How might a psychoecolgoical lens reframe this experience and offer a way through harmful green motherhood to a more empowering experience? How might the energy of awakening be channeled to promote maternal mental health and wellness and planetary wellness?
I think through these questions in many aspects of my work, but you can get a quick primer with my free e-book, The Ecological Awakening of Motherhood, at the link below.
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