Erasing The Mother’s Name

I was reading an article this morning in Time Magazine (the March 14/March 21 2022 issue) by Aubrey Hirsch titled “Why my children have their mom’s last name.” She describes all of the complications this has raised in their family’s lives. When I conceived my oldest son, my husband strongly wanted my name added to our son’s names and so both of my son’s have my maiden name as their middle names (which in this patrilineal society causes us not the confusion this woman and her husband’s choice has caused). What is a bit strange in our case is that both of my parent’s were adopted and so my maiden name links us not at all in genealogical terms to my family. Even trying to concoct an honest family tree at Ancestry is going to be a challenge (one that I only started but still need to complete).

My dad was given his mother’s maiden name as a surname because she was unwed at the time she gave birth and even though she knew full well who his father was (as I have since discovered in my own adoption story journey and am grateful for the breadcrumbs to my paternal grandfather’s identity that she left me) she did not name him on my dad’s original birth certificate and of course, because he was adopted, his birth certificate has the names of his adoptive parents. And because his adoptive mother later divorced the first adoptive father and remarried, my dad was adopted twice and his birth certificate as well as his first name was changed twice. It was all very patrilineal because his “new” (one could say he spent his entire life as many adoptees do living under an assumed identity) first name was the name of the adoptive father each time as well as the surname for each of these adoptive fathers. I can imagine what this might have felt like to his 8 year old self when the second one occurred.

The woman who wrote that personal essay for Time magazine laments how she has been pushing back against her children having her last name and not the father’s since they were born. Is it true that babies must take their father’s last name ? Well only if the mother identifies who the father was, I suppose, in most circumstances. Studies have shown that 95% of the time, heterosexual married couples give the baby the father’s name.

Ms Hirsch makes a good argument for her choice, she says – women do the hard work of pregnancy and childbirth. They also do the vast majority of the actual parenting (generally about twice as much). And she also points to the circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic 80% of US adults who were not working were women who were caring for children not in formal school or day care.

I agree also that our society simply does not support mothers and their children enough. Note that any attempt to pass more social supports for working parents, like paid family and medical leave, subsidized day care, and universal preschool, have stalled. It is mothers who will be shouldering the bulk of these burdens, forced to give up their jobs along with their names. And it is the male dominated society we live in that is mostly to blame. In general, women are not valued as highly as men, only make about 75% as much in the same jobs in most cases.

The issue of names shown on birth certificates is one that most adoptees are very sensitive to for understandable reasons. Even so, this woman bucked the tradition. She is proud of her family heritage and it is true that marriage erases the family connection for women 95% of the time (though some women today do keep their maiden names in marriage or hyphenate them). For this woman, her family name will be part of her genealogy and not erased as most women’s connections to the family of their birth are.

Whatever Happened To The Village ?

Modern life can be very isolating.  In adoption circles, it is recognized that the reason many parents, and especially single mothers, lose custody of their child is a lack of support – financial, familial and mental health.

It is more difficult for some parents to tap into support than others. Parents who may be new to a particular community; parents who are raising a child with some sort of mental health or behavioral challenge or health concern; parents who are barely scrapping by from pay check to pay check and who may not have the financial resources to sign their kids up for extra-curricular activities that might otherwise bring them into the orbit of other families; parents who are working unpredictable schedules that make it hard to make plans. All those factors can make it extra challenging to find – let alone connect with – your “village.”

If you’re a parent who is finding it hard to find support in your community, start out by looking for that support online.  Online social networking has been a godsend for me because we live a rural wilderness isolated existence.  Therefore, my mom’s group (formed 17 years ago) keeps me in contact with other mothers sharing some unique and similar impacts of daily living.  Our children are all turning 16 this year and our group started as email exchange threads and eventually migrated to Facebook.  Another useful group for me as I discover the effects that rampant adoption has had on my family is a group that is made up of mothers who lost custody, adoptees, former foster care youth and adoptive parents.  This group is especially helpful for unwed mothers considering the surrender of their baby to adoption after birth.

Once you’ve tapped into online support, you may also find groups focused in your own town, city, county or state that bring with them opportunities to create in person relationships in your community. Maybe you can find an online group for parents and kids in your local vicinity – this offers the best of both worlds.  There you may find instantly accessible online support when you’re looking for that.  And advice in the midst of a really bad day (or even longer night!) which every parent faces at times.  You may find in person events, get-togethers that provide opportunities to meet online acquaintances face-to-face.

For many people, that village of yesteryear simply no longer exists.  Happily for many of us, we have discovered that modern technology is allowing us to find a new way.  Even in dire financial emergencies, there are now online methods of fund raising.  In smaller communities, such as the one I live in there are often jars set up near the cash registers of sympathetic businesses to help some local cause.  In community Facebook pages, one can even inquire about jobs or temporary needs for furniture, appliances, clothing etc after an unfortunate event in a family’s life.

All this to say – it is still out there – support for families in need.  It just looks different now.