Not too long ago, Mom was the norm. She played the role so elegantly, first in pearls opening the door to greet the Beav, then with a shag do, blissfully managing her combined family, three from his, three from hers. Soon, she was newly single, managing life "One Day at a Time." By the 90s, she was berated by the vice president for giving birth out of wedlock, and then by the new millennium, Rachel and Miranda seemed the norm. Now NBC's "Parenthood," a show about parenthood, stars four women who are not mothers in real life -- another true reflection of the American landscape.
Motherhood in America has changed. In fact, nearly 50 percent of American women are not moms, up from 35 percent in 1976. Forty-six percent of women ages 25 to 29 don't have children, a steep rise from 31 percent in the mid 70s. And nearly one-fifth of women ages 40 to 44 have not given birth, nearly double the rate of 10 percent that we saw 35 years ago.
While the hard Census data does not qualify this radical change in the adult female landscape, we do know that it's not an assault on so-called family values. Modern women don't have children, or have them later in life, for a variety of valid reasons, most of which have to do with choice. Some are waiting for love. Some are not in love with men. Some believe motherhood is not for them. Some are on the fence. And others are just not there yet. Of course, for some, fertility is not a choice within their control. But rarely are women not mothers because they don't believe in family.
It's time for a remix. If we look with a modern eye at family the way it was just a few centuries ago, when grandmothers, aunts, cousins and other villagers helped raise the village's children, we'd see clearly that while half of America's women have not begun immediate families of their own, they are contributing invaluably to families around them.
Ironically, it's TV-star moms who are beginning to see what really shapes the family landscape in America. Tori Spelling, mother, actress , bestselling author and star of a series about family on the Oxygen Network, was literally brought to tears when I asked her last year about how important the aunts and "Guncles" are to her family. She doesn't know what she would do without the adoring grown-ups in her children's lives, she told me.
And just recently, Amy Poehler, working mom and star of NBC's "Parks and Recreation," got uncharacteristically serious for a moment at the end of her Time 100 acceptance speech at the Gala on April 26. She took time to recognize the women in her life, her village:
And for you working women ... who get to do what you get to do because there are wonderful people who help you ... Those are people who love your children as much as you do, and who inspire them and influence them, and on behalf of every sister ... and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child, I say 'thank you,' and I celebrate you tonight.
Half of American women were celebrated that night, thanks to Amy.
Just about every woman has a child in her life, by relation or by choice, whom she loves and adores. Every boo-boo she kisses, every little hand she holds, every hug she gives is a gift to that family. And every time a PANK® (Professional Aunt No Kids) stays late so a mom can leave early to attend to a sick child, or takes on double the work when a new mom is on maternity leave, she's contributing to the national American Family Village.
These Savvy Aunties are not childless. They are childfull; they choose to love the children they know and give to children around the nation -- and around the world.
It's time to embrace all the maternal women in a child's life this Mother's Day. It's time to open the door and welcome Auntie in.
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Melanie Notkin is the author of "Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids." Learn more.