Maternal strength as power

Those who nurture can be a real force for change, book says

July 28, 2002|By Dawn Fallik | By Dawn Fallik,Special to the Sun

No one doubts that mothers have unique powers when it comes to taking care of family.

But the author of a new book believes women can use their nurturing, maternal powers to take care of the world at large.

In Mother Power (Sourcebooks, $14.95), psychologist Jacqueline Hornor Plumez says it's time for women to realize that being kind and patient and maternal is part of being powerful as well.

"Mother power is the internal strength and power that every maternal woman has, whether she knows it or not," said Plumez.

Plumez, who grew up in Baltimore and now lives in Larchmont, N.Y., got the idea for the book after her son was diagnosed with cancer. She decided to take a week off and travel to Argentina in 1998. During her visit, she saw hundreds of mothers sitting outside the palace, protesting the disappearance of their children. The police had done nothing, the politicians had done nothing, but the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo brought attention to their cause, and the regime eventually toppled.

The strength of these women, women without money or well-connected friends or advanced education, inspired Plumez.

When her son died in his mid-20s, Plumez found strength in the women she had met.

"These frail old ladies, some of whom could hardly do a half-hour march in the sun, and they were the strongest people I'd ever seen," she said. "I was thinking -- how could this group of women be brave enough to risk their lives when more conventional powers were silenced.

"And then I realized, of course, they're mothers. If you knew your child was kidnapped and tortured and killed, you'd have two choices: You could either be depressed and stay at home, or you could take action."

Plumez felt other women could be inspired by the story of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and started searching for other mothers who changed the world with a maternal arm rather than a business plan. In talking to more than 60 women about their lives, she found that not all mothers have a nurturing instinct -- and not all those with mother power were necessarily mothers. They don't even have to be women.

"My dad was jammed full of it [mother power]," said Plumez, who also has a daughter.

"Paternalism has gotten a bad name these days, but there are many men who offer the love and the caring and the protectiveness of good fathers."

All these people had the ability to make a difference with patience, kindness and a gentle nudge now and again.

"As long as they're maternal, they've got mother power, too," she said. "Look at Mother Theresa; she didn't have kids. People who knew her when she was a young nun say she was ordinary, if not shy. But she tapped into her mother power when she saw the street people in India and showed a real maternal caring for them and turned into an energetic dynamo."

While researching stories for her book, Plumez heard about Baltimorean Mary Ann Cricchio, who helps run Da Mimmo's restaurant in Little Italy, helped create Little Italy's summer film festival and serves on several restaurant and tourism boards. She is also a wife and mother.

"Mary Ann has that mother-power management approach," said Plumez. "She does very well, and she has that nurturing and caring approach to her employees, and that makes people very loyal."

Cricchio, who has an 11-year-old son, Mimmo Jr., said she has no problem calling herself the mother of Da Mimmo's.

"There are 33 different employees, and you have to take care of them just as a mother takes care of her children," Cricchio said. "Each one of those 33 different employees has needs and personalities."

Both Cricchio and Plumez say the days of women having to act like men to get ahead in the workplace are a thing of the past.

"There's a stereotype of a woman having to be like a man or act like a man to be a success," said Cricchio, 40. "Now it's more about how we can be individuals."

The Little Italy resident said that while her husband, Mimmo, stays in the kitchen and cooks, she's better at handling the personal side of the business.

"Something will come up, you'll have an employee who needs a certain day off, say, for prom," she said. "Because you're organized, you'll have others in line that you can get to work for that person and resolve the situation. You can't say "No, it's Saturday night at 8 and you can't have off.' This prom and this person's life are what's most important to them right now."

Plumez said she speaks to many women, mostly stay-at-home mothers, who feel that they don't have anything to offer the world, now that they've left the workplace. She wants her book to inspire women to take a look around their world and see how they can make changes with the knowledge they already have. Plumez tells tales of small goals -- whether it is one woman creating a conflict-resolution program in an elementary school or another who wrote a book about coming to terms with her son's sexual orientation.

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