The concept of "mother-woman" is found in chapter four of The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This phrase is used by Léonce Pontellier to describe the woman his wife, Edna, is not. For example, when one of the Pontellier children falls and gets hurt, he does not run to his mother for comfort; instead he simply brushes himself off and continues playing. This is not the kind of mother he wants his wife to be, and he finds this lack of maternal instinct to be a fault in her.
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman.
Edna and her children spend their summers at Grand Isle, along with all the Creole women of means who summer primarily without their husbands, who generally only come to visit on the weekends.
The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels. Many of them were delicious in the role.
The mother-woman, according to Léonce, devotes herself entirely and even fawningly on her children and husband, embracing her duties as a wife and mother to the exclusion of all else.
The best example of the mother-woman is Adèle Ratignolle, "the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm." We have many descriptions of her beauty, but what is most apparent is her charm, obviously one of the requirements of a mother-woman. This is exemplified in her appearance as much as anything else, though even a thickening waist can be forgiven in a woman who exudes grace.
[Adèle] was growing a little stout, but it did not seem to detract an iota from the grace of every step, pose, gesture.
Despite that, this charm is connected to appearances, so the mother-woman must always be a fitting picture of grace and charm, a suitable accessory for her husband and her children.
Adèle also demonstrates that a mother-woman displays empathy and compassion. When Edna admits that she feels rather adrift and aimless, Adèle caresses her hand and listens sympathetically. This quality of a mother-woman is not reserved just for her children; she is able to show that same tender concern for anyone. When Adèle realizes that Edna may be falling a bit in love with Robert, she speaks to Robert, reminding him that Edna is not one of them (Creole) and may be taking his adoration games seriously. This compassion and protectiveness are evidence that Adèle is a mother-woman.
Mother-women are also productive and dutiful. They spend their time and energies on making sure their husbands, homes, and children are properly taken care of. They sew, they do needlepoint (Adèle even sneaks a bit of needlework into her pocket when she is going on a leisurely walk), they makes plans and preparations. Though it is summer, Adèle is already making snug baby clothes for the upcoming winter.
Mrs. Pontellier's mind was quite at rest concerning the present material needs of her children, and she could not see the use of anticipating and making winter night garments the subject of her summer meditations. But she did not want to appear unamiable and uninterested,
so she, too, makes some preparations.
Léonce grew up with mother-women, but he did not marry one; nevertheless, he expects Edna to be charming, empathetic, and dutiful. It is an unrealistic expectation.