Marginalized Mothers, Mothering from the Margins: Volume 25

Cover of Marginalized Mothers, Mothering from the Margins
Subject:

Table of contents

(19 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xix
click here to view access options

Part 1 Barriers that Marginalize Mothers

Abstract

Student mothers on welfare balance three primary “identities” or “responsibilities”: mothering, being a student, and being a welfare participant. Each role or identity is expected to be an individual’s top priority; however, mothers who participated in my research discuss how some days kids must come first, or their schoolwork needed their primary attention, or welfare requirements demanded it. The women in my research examined their stress and the strain of navigating these various “primary” roles and identities. In this chapter, the author explore how mothers who were marginalized by being poor, being student parents in college, and being on welfare managed this struggle. With so few resources – especially so little time or money – participants discussed the juggling act and identity negotiation that they managed on a near daily basis. Mothers explored how this delicate balancing act sometimes fell apart and resulted in burnout, welfare sanctions, failing or dropping classes, or fights with their kids. How is their mothering affected by this balancing act? This chapter explores the women’s experiences from an intersectional lens, and also from a theoretical frame of how women’s human, social, and cultural capital played a role. The women who were active with the grassroots activism were more clear about their role negotiations, how to balance it, and also felt less alone in their struggle. Finally, the implications of this research for social policies are addressed in the conclusion.

Abstract

Motherhood and mothering are conceived in relation to classed hierarchies through which those living in poverty become characterized by “otherhood” and “othering.” This positioning leaves them vulnerable to overt and indirect forms of criticism, surveillance, and policing from family, friends, professionals, and strangers; against a background of demonization of particular types of mothers and mothering practices in the wider mediascape. This chapter draws on 3 studies, involving 28 participants, which explored their journeys into the space of parenthood and their everyday experiences. The participants all resided in low-income locales. Many participants had resided in homeless hostels and mother and baby units before being placed in local authority housing or low-grade rented accommodation. The studies all employed forms of visual ethnography, including photoelicitation, timelines, emotion stickers, collage, and sandboxing. Participants discussed different forms of surveillance where other people were characterized as “watching what I’m doing, watching how I’m doing it.” These forms of watching ranged from the structured policing encountered in mother-and-baby units to more informal comments from passers-by or passengers on a bus journey; and an awareness of how mothers in state housing are depicted in the media. These interactions were sometimes met with resistance. At other times, they were simply another incident that participants negotiated in a growing tapestry of disrespect and devaluation. This chapter argues that these discourses demonize and alienate mothers living on the margins, making already difficult journeys a constant struggle in the moral maze of contemporary motherhood and its accompanying conceptualizations of “otherhood.”

Abstract

The “moral panic” generated by public response to teenage mothering marginalizes the experiences of young women as mothers, with adolescent pregnancy viewed as catastrophic for young women, their families, and society. In this analysis, focused on the experience of a group of teen women from the city of São Paulo, Brazil, the author explores how the integration of a maternal identity, shaped by Brazilian norms of “good motherhood,” with previously existing identities might lead to new aspirations and ambitions for the future or to hopelessness and despair.

Visions of the future were shaped by individual women’s structural circumstances and fell into four rough groups. Well-established adult women expressed their maternal identity through personal ambition, revealing confidence in their ability to provide “the best” for their children. Some adolescent mothers were fortunate enough to be buffered by family resources so that optimistic objectives for the future that pre-dated the pregnancy remained fairly attainable and were compatible with a “good mother” identity. For teens from less well-off families, motherhood resulted in a new-found determination to succeed in school and work, in line with ideals of Brazilian “good mothering” that focus on working hard to benefit one’s children. Women from the poorest households could or would not conjure a vision of the future, faced with the overwhelming challenges of their circumstances. The detailed, longitudinal qualitative data analyzed here reveal how the construction of maternal identity and visions of the future among adolescent mothers are shaped by the embodied experience of motherhood and pre-existing structural forces.

Abstract

In this chapter, the authors contribute to the scholarly discourse on poverty, inequality, and economic mobility within low-income families who have children with disabilities. Few extant studies have addressed issues of socioeconomic mobility relative to families with children who have disabilities. Accordingly, we employed analyses of secondary longitudinal ethnographic data from the Three-City Study to explore socioeconomic mobility among 31 mothers of children with disabilities in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The authors examined two central issues that emerged in our ethnographic data: (1) mothers’ aspirations regarding their socioeconomic mobility, and (2) the barriers which make it difficult for them to reach their mobility aspirations. The authors also considered the role of family comorbidity and cumulative disadvantage in this inquiry. Through our analyses of mothers’ talks regarding socioeconomic mobility, we identified three domains of their aspirations – work and career, education, and intergenerational. We also identified three “barrier bundles” – pragmatic needs, relationship and social liabilities, and socio-emotional concerns – which compromised mothers’ abilities to be upwardly mobile. In essence, we found that mothers’ aspirations were not aligned with the barriers that precluded them reaching their goals. The authors conclude with a discussion on the implications of this research for future studies.

Abstract

This chapter explores the parental experiences of 21 mothers of young and/or adult children who have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities (DD). Specific attention is paid to mothers’ reflections on marginalization, stress, and resiliency. Intersectionality of marginalization was explored with a select number of participants who identified with minority racial groups, with the LGBTQ community, and/or as a single or young mother. Data were collected via semi-structured interviews and analyzed using the constant comparative method. Eighteen mothers reported experiencing elevated levels of stress specifically related to challenges associated with DD; the need for greater investments of time and money was emphasized. However, nearly every participant highlighted stories of resilience and acclimation to these challenges associated with raising a child with DD. Thirteen mothers overtly discussed experiences of discrimination and marginalization. Some of these scenarios included being stared at or criticized in public, being excluded from social events, and facing discrimination within school settings. Select participants from marginalized backgrounds (being as a young parent, or as Black, single, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender) provided insight into how layers of marginalization negatively impacted their parental experiences. These personal accounts provide additional evidence that mothers of children with DD experience courtesy stigma. In addition, they provide a holistic illustration of motherhood experiences that does not center on only negative or positive aspects. Finally, the reports of mothers who identified with multiple marginalized identities strengthen the call for additional empirical focus on intersectionality as it concerns mothers of children with DD.

Part 2 Borders that Marginalize Mothers

Abstract

The Internet is a site of particularly potent discourses demonizing undocumented immigrants (Bloch, 2014; Flores-Yeffal, Vidales, & Plemons, 2011; Sohoni, 2006). Anti-immigrant discourses have long constructed Latina immigrant mothers as bearing “anchor babies” and burdens to the state. Representing a distinct case of non-citizen reproduction, online news sources began reporting on Chinese maternity tourism in 2011. This form of maternity tourism allegedly involves wealthy tourists visiting the United States to give birth to their children on US soil. In this chapter, I analyze online comments in response to Chinese maternity tourism. I ask, how do online commenters make sense of Chinese maternity tourism? I find that online commenters overwhelmingly demonize Chinese maternity tourism by including this practice into broader debates about “anchor babies” and the reforming of birthright citizenship. Some commenters also use race-specific tropes and malleable claims about class to construct the children of Chinese maternity tourists as a paradoxical asset or threat to the country, often comparing them to the children of undocumented Latina mothers. When commenters employ Asian-specific stereotypes, some commenters offer a racialized conditional acceptance of maternity tourism, revealing that while citizenship is policed among the citizenry, it can also be expanded precariously and problematically.

Abstract

Low-income mothers who use welfare benefits are frequently portrayed as “faces of dependency” in the prevailing public discourse on America’s poor. This discourse, often anchored in race, class, and gender stereotypes, perpetuates the assumption that mothers on welfare lack skills to employ constructive agency in securing family resources. Scholars, however, have suggested that their welfare program use is embedded in complex survival strategies to make ends meet. While such studies emphasize maternal inventiveness in garnering necessary resources and support, this literature devotes little attention to the costs of these strategies on maternal power as well as how mothers negotiate gender and the oppression that usually accompanies such support. Feminist scholars in particular point to the importance of exploring these issues in the contexts of mothers’ romantic unions and client–caseworker relationships. Guided by an interpersonal, institutional, and intersectional framework, the authors explored this issue using longitudinal ethnographic data on 19 Mexican-immigrant, low-income mothers from the Three-City Study. Results showed mothers negotiated gender and power by simultaneously “doing,” “undoing,” and/or “redoing” gender using three strategies that emerged from the data: symbolic reliance, selective reliance, and creative nondisclosure. Implications of these findings for the future research are discussed.

Abstract

Scholars have found that transnational migrant women fulfill their role of mothers despite geographical distances. Researchers, however, focus on women in their country of destination, and thus have neglected to look at the experiences of women who get “stuck” in transit countries during their migration journeys. This chapter fills that gap in the literature by examining the experiences of Sub-Saharan African women in Morocco en route to Europe. Interviews with 20 Sub-Saharan African women show that unlike transnational mothers in their country of destination, which are mostly more affluent nations, these women neither have the financial means to provide for their children nor can maintain their relationships with them via telecommunication. Although the women acknowledge that they cannot fulfill their role of mothers in Morocco, they maintain a sense of themselves as mothers by emphasizing that they will financially provide for their children once they reach Europe.

Abstract

Nannies occupy a rather problematic position in childcare. Their presence facilitates intensive mothering for their employers’ children, while their absence from their own children facilitates distance parenting. By moving away from home and working as nannies, they enable ideal mothering for their often White, middle-class employers, seemingly at the expense of their own children. Unspoken feeling rules further complicate their provision of emotional labor in childcare, while continuous efforts to avoid strong attachment with the children under their care become a source of struggle. Employers need them as invisible extensions of themselves with limited parental authority. In order to provide for their families, nannies, who are often Black working-class single women, also make parallel childcare arrangements. These arrangements differ, as community othermothers enjoy the respect and authority that nannies do not. The continuation of their caregiver role from a distance requires active nurturing of emotional bonds despite spatial separation using a variety of means. Gift-giving also features strongly as a means to bridge physical gap between nannies and their children. As Black mothers from communities which emphasize communal childcare, their support networks are well placed to care for their children and concurrently reinforce their position as mothers – a position they do not enjoy in paid employment.

Abstract

Imprisonment can severely alter, disrupt, or even terminate mothering. Yet, often seen by society as giving up on or abandoning their children, women in prison tend to invoke less empathy or tolerance than women whose mothering is disrupted through other means, such as illness. Therefore, while many women in prison attach great significance to the role and responsibilities of motherhood, the restrictions of the prison environment impacting the ability to participate in mothering, compounded by a sense of guilt, failure, stigma, shame, and role strain can pose a direct threat to mothering identities of women in prison. Central to the research from which this chapter has developed was the challenge of making sense of the constructed meaning of motherhood for women in prison. Drawing on feminist narrative approaches, significance is placed not only on the content of stories but equally on the social role of the story told (Plummer, 1995). Three key and interrelated narratives are highlighted: “Difficult Disclosures,” “Double-edged Sword,” and “Negotiating Care.” This chapter concludes by considering the implications of the research for policy and practice and how through exploring the stories of mothers in prison we are able to hear about and value a diversity of mothers’ lives, so that these mothers do not have to inhabit the margins of motherhood.

Part 3 Mothering as Resistance to Marginalization

Abstract

In this chapter, we use feminist and intersectional frameworks to explore how marginalized mothers discuss maternal support. In-depth interviews with an economically diverse group of 21 mothers of color suggest that most affluent, married Black mothers framed support as child-centric and engaged in concerted cultivation (Lareau, 2011) practices. Lower income, single Black mothers engaged in a strategy we call “nurtured growth” – they used low-cost school, church, and community-based resources to promote their children’s development. In contrast to these child-centric strategies of support, three mothers used mother-centric supports and practiced self-care. The families of these three mothers, however, often criticized their parenting efforts as “parenting like a White person.” The authors conclude by exploring the implications of our study for feminist outreach efforts on behalf of marginalized mothers.

Abstract

The Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act of 1996, better known as Welfare Reform, implemented, in addition to many other features, a 60-month lifetime limit for welfare receipt. Research to date primarily documents individual-level barriers, characteristics, and outcomes of those who time out. Very little scholarly work considers experiences of mothering or carework after timing out. In this chapter, I ask, what kinds of carework strategies are used by women who have met their lifetime limits to welfare? What do the ways mothers talk about these strategies tell us about the discursive forces they are resisting and/or engaging? Using in-depth interviews at two points in time with women who have timed out of welfare (n = 32 and 23), this analysis shows how mothers’ strategies and the ways they discuss them reveal covert material and symbolic resistance to key discourses – negative assumptions about welfare mothers and a culture of work enforcement – and the conditions shaping their lives (Hollander & Einwohner, 2004). Mothers use carework strategies very similar to those identified in many other studies (e.g., London, Scott, Edin, & Hunter, 2004; Morgen, Acker, & Weigt, 2010; Scott, Edin, London, & Mazelis, 2001), but they provide us with an understanding of carework in a new context. The three groups of strategies explored here – structuring employment and non-employment, protecting children, and securing resources – reveal raced, classed, and gendered labor in which women engage to care for children in circumstances marked by limited employment opportunities and limited state support. The policy implications of mothers’ strategies are also discussed.

Abstract

Current data suggest that the homeschooling community is a diverse and growing social movement, varying demographically in terms of race, religion, socioeconomic status, and political beliefs. However, with over 68% of the homeschooling population being non-Hispanic White – a group not accustomed to systemic oppression and racial marginalization – the homeschooling narrative reflected in research is often skewed by the socioeconomic status, political power, and cultural interests of White, two-parent, middle-class homeschooling households. Amidst increasingly amiable responses toward homeschooling, Black families of varying socioeconomic backgrounds have shown interest in becoming home educators. Included in this chapter are their lesser-told accounts – narratives from the primary homeschooling parent – Black mothers. Relying on 20 in-depth interviews, this study utilizes the theoretical frames of systemic gendered racism, intersectionality, and the coding procedures of grounded theory methods to analyze the narratives of Black homeschooling mothers. Overlooking the experiences and concerns of marginally represented homeschooling families such as Black homeschoolers can haphazardly reproduce social inequalities and/or fracture the homeschooling movement along stratified categories. Findings underscore homeschooling as a classed and gendered process and draw attention to the specific racialized boundaries and indignities that obstruct Black mothers’ educational and parenting goals. The author explains how Black women navigate systemic marginalization while homeschooling.

Abstract

The burgeoning practice of peer-to-peer breastmilk sharing in the United States conflicts with public health concerns about the safety of the milk. In-depth interviews with 58 breastmilk sharers highlight the ways in which these respondents counter widespread risk narratives. These caregivers deploy existing social values such as self-reliance, good citizenship, and “crunchy,” or natural, mothering to validate their milk-sharing practices. However, because of stratified reproduction, in which society encourages White motherhood while it disparages motherhood among poor women and women of color, these discourses are more accessible to milk sharers who are White and from middle-class. Black and Latinx milk donors and recipients offer additional rationale for milk sharing that includes reclaiming their legacies as worthy mothers and elevating milk sharing to justice work. In rejecting and reframing risk, all of these milk sharers work toward flattening the good mother/bad mother binary.

Abstract

Activist mothering by marginalized women is well specified, but the paths by which women seize agency to move from the margins of motherhood to the center of social movements have been under-theorized. This chapter advances the literature by examining how a Texas-based organization, Mothers Against Police Brutality (MAPB), frames that shift. MAPB was founded by Collette Flanagan, a Black woman, after the police shot and killed her son. The MAPB website data indicate that the organization draws on activist mothering to explain the devaluation of Black and brown children and their mothers via racialized state violence, to frame MAPB as lifting up the value of those children and their mothers, and to present MAPB as striving to ameliorate the effects of race and gender inequalities on family and community life. As illustrated here, following a child’s death in police violence, women are mothering from the margins in a new way. In that context, a mother’s shift from those margins to a central role in an activist movement is a powerful transition toward a redefined self. The process neither erases the loss of a child nor elides grappling directly with their death; rather, it redefines the mother’s engagement with mothering once the traditional referent for that identity and practice, her child, is no longer living. In this way, a unique path by which marginalized mothers “summon the courage” to enter activist mothering is elaborated.

Index

Pages 273-281
click here to view access options
Cover of Marginalized Mothers, Mothering from the Margins
DOI
10.1108/S1529-2126201825
Publication date
2018-11-15
Book series
Advances in Gender Research
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78756-400-8
eISBN
978-1-78756-399-5
Book series ISSN
1529-2126