"Perhaps reviving the conceptual term matrescence, coined by and borrowed from the anthropologist Dana Raphael (1975), would be most apt within the landscape of maternity. Much like adolescence, but nested in the niche of mid-life, it is an experience of dis-orientation and re-orientation marked by an acceleration of changes in multiple domains: physical (changes in body, hormonal fluctuations); psychological (e.g., identity, personality, defensive structure, self-esteem); social (e.g., re-evaluation of friendships, forgiveness of loved ones, gains in social status, or loss of professional status), and spiritual (e.g., existential questioning, re-commitment to faith, increased religious/spiritual practices). We are indeed indebted to the early ‘‘maternal developmentalists’’ who aptly characterized motherhood in its multi-dimension and dynamism, both the oppressive and the liberating—the dichotomous phenomena that are often the hallmark of any major life transition. Their perspectives equalized and served to normalize, rather than pathologize, the ‘‘mixed-feelings’’ of women." - Aurelie Athan, Feminism & Psychology (Feb, 2015)
Spread the WorD
Why wait another 20 years to deconstruct outdated paradigms or revive classic ones? Start using the word matrescence today and teach someone about this concept. As an educator, Dr. Aurélie Athan knows the power of words to help people understand things in a new way. Read some of her conversations on the lack of language and paradigms for mothers to describe their psychological and physiological experiences.
Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City offers the first State approved certificate program - a world-renowned training ground for those interested in learning the next wave of theories and practices to improve the lives of parents and mothers. The specialization track on Reproductive & Maternal Well-being will prepare researchers, educators, practitioners and activists through online and in person course work in Matrescence: Developmental & Clinical Implications, Perinatal Mental Health, Women & Mental Health, and Helping Professionals Working with LGBT Families.
The subject of matrescence has spurred publications that honor the psychological experiences of mothers through qualitative or quantitative research methods as well as discussions on other topics related to gender roles, reproductive life, spirituality and sex education.
A Laboratory is Born
In 2012, the Maternal Psychology laboratory was started with no funding and a small, dedicated group of graduate students who came together with a common goal: study mothers as a subject of interest in their own right through a research agenda. The students began to familiarize themselves with previous scholarship in maternal mental health and then generated research questions of their own under the guidance of Dr. Aurelie Athan. They found an overemphasis on perinatal distress and psychopathology with few articles written on normative adjustment during the transition to motherhood. The laboratory instead became committed to illuminating examples of resilience in addition to risk during the perinatal window and advanced the term matrescence. Matrescence, like adolescence, is a developmental window characterized by a marked shift in bio-psycho-social-spiritual factors from hormones to identity factors.
First Course of Its Kind
In 2010, the first course solely dedicated to matrescence was originally launched under the name Mother-Child Matrix. Ten students signed up thinking it would be a class on maternal-child attachment theory. After their surprise that it would solely focus on the psychology of mothers, they began the journey in earnest learning this nascent field of Reproductive & Maternal Psychology. Eight years later, the course is offered every semester to large enrollments and has graduated hundreds of students -- many of whom have placed the mother at the center of their professional interests and work. This remains the first graduate level course of its kind nationally on the psychology of mothers from a developmental perspective.