What comes between maiden and mother?

Something I’ve been wondering and pondering about for some time …

I’m not that familiar with Wicca or the Goddess movement, but nevertheless more than once I’ve come across the idea of three stages in the life of a woman: maiden, mother, crone. This post is not about the religious/spiritual stuff, just about the life-stages thing.

In former times it was a pretty short transitional period between maiden and mother, I guess. Girls getting married young, before or shortly after menarche, and very limited options of birth control. (I don’t want to get into the whole issue of infertility, as this would become even more complicated.) I’m not so sure about the definitions of these terms in the context of this word triple, though.

Does “maiden” mean “virgin” or “prepubescent girl” – or does it have the even wider definition “female who hasn’t given birth yet”? Is the term “mother” defined in the narrow sense, i.e. “woman who has given birth at least once” or is it a broader usage to include every “woman with a body ready for pregnancy”?

I tend to unterstand these terms in the first interpretation respectively. This leads back to my question – is there anything in between? Today people have sex early, but many wait until much later to have children. Even when sex is saved for marriage it doesn’t equal starting to pump out offspring as soon as possible anymore, because producing a heir isn’t as important as it once was and because our life expectancy is much higher these days.

One of my first associations when thinking about this for the first time was the song I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” by Britney Spears. Weird, I know, but somehow also very fitting. I noticed the tendency to describe young women as “girls” instead of calling them women, even when they are well into their twenties. Just like many people I do this myself, at least when talking about my friends at university or church. In contrast, I don’t think I ever encountered the use of the word “girl” for a mother, no matter of what age. (Though I have to admit I don’t know any teenage mothers, so it might be different in their situation, but my intuition tells me she’d be labelled “teenage mum” or “young woman” instead of being called a girl.)

Is “full” womanhood today still defined in terms of motherhood?  How long does a woman stay a girl/maiden in the eyes of society if she doesn’t have children? Does being married or in a proper job have any influence on the label? Do we need a name for the stage of life between girl and woman, maiden and mother?


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