, Volume 57, Issue 5-6, pp 447-459
Date: 20 Jul 2007

Cognitive Acrobatics in the Construction of Worker–mother Identity

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Abstract

This study uses dialectical theory to explore the interaction of worker identity (perceived financial need and job/career identity) and intensive mothering expectations in mothers’ identity construction. This study is based on extensive interviews with 98 at-home, part-time employed and full-time employed mothers of one or more pre-school children from the Midwestern United States. The narrative analysis reveals that mothers embrace intensive mothering expectations. Because of these cultural expectations, mothers must modify either societal mothering expectations or worker expectations in order to construct an integrated worker–mother identity. We found that while at-home mothers can embrace intensive mothering expectations, employed mothers engage in cognitive acrobatics to manage the tension between employment and the dominant mothering ideology.

Deirdre D. Johnston is Professor of Communication and Debra H. Swanson is Professor of Sociology at Hope College. This research was funded by grants from Hope College Frost Center for Social Science Research and the Ruth M. Peale faculty development fund.