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Postmaternity

  • By: Margaret Morganroth Gullette
  • In: Encyclopedia of Motherhood
  • Edited by: Andrea O'Reilly
  • Subject:Sociology of Gender, Parenting, Maternal Health

Postmaternity is a new term, coined by Margaret Morganroth Gullette, for a woman's situation in life after her offspring have become independent adults. Historically, the term responds to social changes that began in the late 19th century in the United States, starting with decreasing fertility. Given increasing longevity since then, postmaternity may now last for decades, far longer than the period of intensive child rearing. Within the family life course, it inaugurates new relationships with adult offspring.

Ideologically, the term attempts to provide an alternative and more positive life-course narrative to women exposed first to pronatalism and then to “empty nest” discourse, as well as bad mothering. In literature, the theme of midlife women's relations to adult offspring—a potent dramatic resource at least since Clytemnestra's ...

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