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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: A Mother’s Perspective
May 8, 2014 - 5:30pm

A few years ago, I reviewed a book about Statistics that proposed what were actually some pretty radical ideas. Noting  that data had more to tell us than could be found from  just hypothesis tests about what a “true mean” might be, it presented a whole new way of looking at data, one that intrigued me and often finds its way into my statistics courses. I was particularly interested in the fact that the author used  a quote on the first page of the text, a quote from the scientist Carl Sagan. I found myself thinking of this in the last few months as I have been glued to the TV watching episodes of the re-make of the series originally presented by Carl Sagan. It was, and is, called “Cosmos.”

In the most recent episode of this series, the narrator talks about the many times that life on earth has been almost eliminated. This sometimes occurred because of changes in geography or weather or even the arrival of an asteroid. He leaves us with the thought that humans alive now must be aware of the frightening possibility of damaging the Earth so much as to cause another mass extinction. The seriousness of this responsibility reminded me of the original reason for Mother’s Day.

Proposed in the years after the American Civil War, what has become a profitable day for greeting card companies was originally intended to be a day to work for peace, when mothers would recognize the stake they have in working for peaceful future for the world.  I have a copy of the original proposal, written by Juliet Ward Howe, on my office door. It urges mothers to come together to work for peace. I am always moved by the line that notes “We women of one country/ Will be too tender of those of another country/  To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs." I could not help but think of this perspective when I was reminded of our mutual responsibility for the well-being of the Earth, as I have sometimes heard it say that the Earth is “borrowed from our children.”

Mother’s Day could often be difficult in the years before I became a mother, but I recall one particularly miserable Mother’s Day when I was still single. I visited a church I did not normally attend, and the priest there spoke in his homily about the fact that many women choose to work in the paid labor market instead of being full-time mothers. I was single at the time, and, of course, working to support myself. I was therefore particularly annoyed when he made the statement that he did not know why a woman would want to be a “C.E.O.” when she could be a “M.O.M.” I found this comment to be very insulting, especially to single women.

The comment is particularly disturbing since I am convinced that those who “mother” in any way have important insights to bring into the labor market and the public sphere in general, insights that are derived from a perception of a special responsibility for the world and its future. And so, as we celebrate Mother’s Day this year, I ask my readers , especially fellow mothers and those who “mother” in any way; What special perspective do you bring in making decisions about the future of the world?

Wishing all of my readers a very Happy Mother’s Day!


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