Joanne Brundage’s story of being an isolated, new mom is a familiar one to most mothers.
It was 1987 and she had been a stay-at-home mom for about a year, but wasn’t entirely happy with her new lifestyle. She was experiencing many feelings most moms transitioning from working to staying home can relate to: loss of identity and self-esteem, isolation and guilt for not loving the life of a stay-at-home mom.
“I didn’t know quite what to do with myself and when I talked to neighbors, they didn’t reflect those same feelings, which just made me feel worse,” said Brundage, who was a former letter carrier for the Elmhurst, Ill. Post Office.
She wanted more. She wanted to connect with other mothers in her situation, so she took action by placing an ad in the local paper to announce the formation of a support group, originally titled FEMALE (Formerly Employed Mothers At Loose Ends) for “women having trouble making the transition from the paid workplace to at-home motherhood.”
Four women responded to that ad and they began meeting in each other’s homes. For that small group of women, it was comforting to know they weren’t alone. “Everyone was grieving a little bit for the life they used to have,” Brundage said.
By the end of 1987, they had 15 women, and then a meetings ad they placed in the Chicago Tribune piqued the interest of a Trib reporter, who then wrote an article about the group, resulting in 64 calls in 24 hours! Then Ms. Magazine published a letter written by Brundage about FEMALE in the March 1988 edition, and they were inundated with hundreds of letters from women across the country and Canada.
“It was amazing and shocking,” Brundage said of how many moms were also looking for support.
She described the late 1980s as the era of the “Superwoman,” able to work and be a mother – do it all. But those who left the workplace were invisible. So the concept of a mothers’ group for those struggling with staying home was groundbreaking. As a result, FEMALE became the authority on mothers’ issues over the course of the next 25 years, often quoted in the media including Newsweek and participating in national talk shows such as the Today Show, NBC Nightly News and CBS This Morning.
After the Letter to the Editor in Ms. Magazine garnered national level attention, the founding members in DuPage County developed a forum to communicate (monthly newsletter via mail) with moms across the country and were soon applying for tax exempt status and developing a network of chapters from coast to coast. In 2000, FEMALE became Mothers & More, after much deliberation and a contest to give the organization its new name.
Over the years, members have shared their personal stories of how they, too, felt isolated. It was joining Mothers & More that helped them connect and use their professional skills to help the organization and, for many, helped them return to or reinvent paid work into their lives. It is those stories that are most gratifying, Brundage says, knowing all too well those feelings she experienced nearly 30 years ago. “It’s so wonderful to find out that what you’re feeling is not unusual. And sometimes when you’re failing, or feel like you’re failing, it can be a touchpoint with others.”
Over the years, women have thanked Brundage. “I always feel humbled because when I started the group I was just doing something for myself. It’s amazing what one person’s desperation can lead to.”
And that “desperation” is now more than 1,800 members strong and 30 chapters wide.
Brundage resigned as Executive Director of Mothers & More in 2010 and is enjoying time with her family, including three grown children and three grandchildren. She still lives in DuPage County and considers herself a Mothers & More “lifer.”