Drawing on ethnographic research, this paper investigates the gendered involvement in early literacy programs at one central library in the Greater Toronto Area. This study consisted of observations and field notes across family literacy programs, along with in-depth interviews with librarians and mother attendees. In particular, this research explores the invisible labour of mother involvement in “family” literacy programs targeting children aged 0–8, along with the role of librarians in structuring such early literacy programs. Referring largely to Griffith and Smith’s (Mothering for schooling, RoutledgeFalmer, New York, 2005) notion of the mothering discourse, this study suggests that there are specific kinds of early literacy work that are deemed “appropriate” and “valued” (i.e., taking trips to the library; being read to daily, turning everyday domestic labour into teachable moments), and certain individuals (i.e., moms) who are assumed or expected to carry out such work at home. This study also reveals that both mothers and librarians continue to participate in dominant discourses of mothering, specifically in relation to early literacy work assumed to prepare children for schooling. Such findings have implications for future research that considers mothering work and early resource supports for families.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The name of the library in this study is has been changed to ensure anonymity of the families and program staff.
Allen, S., & Hawkins, A. (1999). Maternal gatekeeping: Mothers’ beliefs and behaviors that inhibit greater father involvement in family work. Journal of Marriage and Family,61(1), 199–212.
Auerbach, E. (1997). Reading between the lines. In D. Taylor (Ed.), Many families, many literacies: An international declaration of principles (pp. 71–81). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Trade.
Barbour, R. (2007). Doing focus groups. London: Sage.
Bouma, G., Ling, R., & Wilkinson, L. (2012). The research process: second (Canadian ed.). Don Mills, CA: Oxford University Press.
Bryman, A., Bell, E., & Teevan, J. J. (2009). Social research methods. Don Mills, CA: Oxford University Press.
Cairney, T. (2003). Literacy within family life. In N. Hall, J. Larson, & J. Marsh (Eds.), Handbook of early childhood literacy (pp. 85–98). London: Sage.
Carriero, R., & Todesco, L. (2018). Housework division and gender ideology. When do attitudes really matter? Demographic Research,39, 1039–1064.
Carson, J, H. (2009). Mothers as partners in early childhood in education: Comparison of an even start and a family resource centre program. Doctoral Dissertation. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database (UMI No: 3342168).
Caspe, M. (2003). Family literacy. A review of programs and critical perspectives. (Research Report). Retrieved from http://www.gse.harvard.edu/hfrp/projects/fine/resources/research/literacy.html.
Chowdorow, N. (1999). The reproduction of mothering: psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Clark, C. (2009). Why fathers matter to their children’s literacy. London: National Literacy Trust.
Cuban, S., & Hayes, E. (1996). Women in family literacy programs: A gendered perspective. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education,70, 5–16.
DeBruin-Parecki, A., & Krol-Sinclair, B. (2003). Afterward. In A. DeBruin-Parecki & B. Krol-Sinclair (Eds.), Family literacy: From theory to practice (pp. 303–310). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Dudley-Marling, C. (2002). School trouble: A mother’s burden. Gender and Education,13(2), 183–197.
Gadsden, V. (2003). Expanding the concept of “family” in family literacy: Integrating a focus on fathers. In A. DeBruin-Parecki & B. Krol-Sinclair (Eds.), Family literacy: from theory to practice (pp. 86–125). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Gatrell, C. (2005). Hard labour: the sociology of parenthood. New York, NY: Open University Press.
Gibbs, G. (2007). Analyzing qualitative data. London: Sage.
Gilbert, N. (2008). A mother’s work: How feminism, the market, and policy shape family life. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Glaser, B. (1978). Theoretical sensitivity. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.
Griffith, A., & Smith, D. (1991). Constructing cultural knowledge: Mothering as discourse. In J. Gaskell & A. MacLaren (Eds.), Women and education (2nd ed., pp. 87–103). Calgary, CA: Detselin Enterprises Ltd.
Griffith, A., & Smith, D. (2005). Mothering for schooling. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
Hannon, P. (2003). Family literacy programmes. In N. Hall, J. Larson, & J. Marsh (Eds.), Handbook of early childhood literacy (pp. 99–111). London: Sage.
Hannon, P., Morgan, A., & Nutbrown, C. (2006). Parent’s experiences of a family literacy programme. Journal of Early Childhood Research,4(1), 19–44.
Hays, S. (1996). The cultural contradictions of motherhood. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Horne, R., Johnson, M., Galambos, N., & Krahn, H. (2018). Time, money or gender? Predictors of the division of household labour across life stages. Sex Roles,78, 731–743.
Horwitz, E., & Long, B. (2005). Mothering and stress discourses: A deconstruction of the interrelationship of discourses on mothering and stress. In M. Porter, A. O’Reilly, & P. Short (Eds.), Motherhood: Power and oppression (pp. 97–110). Toronto, CA: Women’s Press.
Karther, D. (2002). Fathers with low literacy and their young children. The Reading Teacher,56(2), 184–193.
Lareau, A. (2000). Home advantage: Social class and parental intervention in elementary education. London: Falmer Press.
Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: The Regents of the University of California.
Leseman, P., & Jong, P. (1998). Home literacy: Opportunity, instruction, cooperation and social-emotional quality predicting early reading achievement. Reading Research Quarterly,33, 294–318.
Lynch, J. (2008). Engagement with print: Low-income families and head start children. Journal of Childhood Literacy,8(2), 151–175.
Lyonette, C., & Crompton, R. (2015). Sharing the load? Partners’ relative earnings and the division of domestic labour. Work, Employment & Society,29(1), 23–40.
Marvasti, A. (2004). Qualitative research in sociology. London: Sage.
Maushart, S. (1999). The mask of motherhood: How becoming a mother changes everything and why we pretend it doesn’t. New York: The New Press.
Milkie, M., Bianchi, S., Mattingly, M., & Robinson, J. (2002). Gendered division of childrearing: Ideals, realities, and the relationship to parental well-being. Sex Roles,1(2), 21–38.
Millard, E. (2003). Gender and early childhood literacy. In N. Hall, J. Larson, & J. Marsh (Eds.), Handbook of early childhood literacy (pp. 327–337). London: Sage.
Miller, T. (2007). “Is this what motherhood is all about?” Weaving experiences and discourse through transition to first-time motherhood. Gender and Society,21(3), 337–358.
Morgan, A., Nutbrown, C., & Hannon, P. (2009). Fathers’ involvement in young children’s literacy development; Implications for family literacy programmes. British Educational Research Journal,35(2), 167–185.
Neuman, L., & Robson, K. (2009). Basics of social research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn and Bacon.
Nichols, S., Nixon, H., & Rowsell, J. (2009). The ‘good’ parent in relation to early childhood literacy: Symbolic terrain and lived practice. Literacy,43(2), 65–74.
Nutbrown, C., Hannon, P., & Morgan, A. (2005). Early literacy work with families: Policy, practice and research. London: Sage.
O’Reilly, A. (2008). Feminist mothering. New York: State University of New York.
Palm, G., & Fagan, J. (2008). Father involvement in early childhood programs: Review of the literature. Early Child Development and Care,178(7–8), 745–759.
Paratore, J. (2003). Building on family literacies: Examining the past and planning the future. In A. DeBruin-Parecki & B. Krol-Sinclair (Eds.), Family literacy: From theory to practice (pp. 8–27). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Purcell-Gates, V. (2001). Emergent literacy is emerging knowledge of written, not oral, language. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development,92, 7–22.
Rizk, J. (2013). Early literacy begins with… whom? An exploration of mothering work as a component in students’ educational success. Masters Thesis. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Thesis Database.
Rodriguez-Brown, F. (2003). Family literacy in English language learning communities: Issues related to program development, implementation, and practice. In A. DeBruin-Parecki & B. Krol-Sinclair (Eds.), Family literacy: From theory to practice (pp. 126–146). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Rubin, H., & Rubin, I. S. (2005). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data. London: Sage.
Ruddick, S. (1996). The idea of fatherhood. In H. Lindemann (Ed.), Feminisms and families (pp. 205–220). New York: Routledge.
Saracho, O. (2008). Fathers’ and young children’s literacy experiences. Early Child Development and Care,7–8, 837–852.
Sipe, L., & Ghiso, M. (2004). Constructing conceptual categories in classroom descriptive research: Some problems and possibilities. Anthropology in Education Quarterly,35(4), 472–485.
Smith, D. E. (1987). The everyday world as problematic: A feminist sociology. Toronto, CA: University of Toronto Press.
Smith, D. E. (1990). Texts, facts, and femininity: Exploring the relations of ruling. London: Routledge.
Smith, D. E. (2006). Institutional ethnography as practice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Smythe, S. (2006). The good mother: A critical discourse analysis of literacy advice to mothers in the 20th century. Doctoral Dissertation. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database. (UMI No: NR19910).
Smythe, S., & Isserlis, J. (2002). Regulating women and families: Mothering discourses in family literacy texts. English Quarterly,34(3/4), 1–17.
Stake, R. (2010). Qualitative research: Studying how things work. New York: The Guilford Press.
Standing, K. (1999). Lone mother’s involvement in their children’s schooling: Towards a new typology of maternal involvement. Gender and Education,11(1), 57–73l.
Sunderland, J. (2006). ‘Parenting’ or ‘mothering’? The case of modern childcare magazines. Discourse & Society,17(4), 503–527.
Taylor, D. (1983). Family literacy: Young children learning to read and write. Exeter, NH: Heinemann.
Walkerdine, V., & Lucey, H. (1989). Democracy in the Kitchen: Regulating mothers and socialising daughters. London: Virago Press.
Wasik, B., & Herrmann, S. (2004). Family literacy: History, concepts, services. In B. Wasik (Ed.), Handbook of family literacy (pp. 3–22). New York: Routledge.
Wasik, B. H., & Van Horn, B. (2012). The role of family literacy in society. In B. H. Wasik (Ed.), Handbook of family literacy (2nd ed., pp. 3–17). New York, NY: Routledge.
The funding was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant no. 766-2012-4247-A28).
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Rizk, J. “Well, That Just Comes with Being a Mama”: The Gendered Nature of Family Literacy Programs. Early Childhood Educ J 48, 393–404 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-019-01009-4
- Early literacy
- Mothering discourses
- Family literacy