Skip to main content

Moms Hating Moms: The Internalization of Mother War Rhetoric

Abstract

Work status and mothering are culturally constructed as rigid binaries. The purpose of this study was to explore the effect on mothers of these polarized characterizations of motherhood and to assess the social support mothers perceive they receive for their mother identity. This study, based on interview data collected from 98 married mothers of preschool children, demonstrated that Mother War rhetoric is most extensively internalized by at-home mothers. The majority of mothers perceived a lack of cultural support for their mother role, though the impact of cultural Mother War rhetoric was buffered or exacerbated by mothers' social support systems. The lack of adequate support from other mothers, spouses, parents, and in-laws led mothers to binary constructions of worker–mother identity. This, in turn, led mothers to seek support within shared contexts, which further separated at-home and employed mother from each other and separated mothers from the support of their parents.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  1. Albrecht, T. (1982). Coping with occupational stress: Relational and individual strategies of nurses in acute health care settings. In M. Burgoon (Ed.), Communication yearbook 6 (pp. 832–849). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson, J., & Gray-Toft, P. (1982, August). Stress, burnout and turnover among health professionals: A social network approach. Paper presented at the International Sociological Asociation, Mexico City, Mexico.

  3. Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind.New York: Ballantine.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Belsky, J. (1990). Parental and non-parental child care and children's socioemotional development: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52, 885–903.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Belsky, J., Youngblade, L., Rovine, M., & Valling, B. (1991). Patterns of marital change and parent–child interaction. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 487–498.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge.NewYork: Doubleday.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bharadwaj, L., & Wilkening, E. (1980). Life domain satisfactions and personal social integration. Social Indicators Research, 7, 337–351.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Biernacki, P., & Waldorf, D. (1981). Snowball sampling: Problems and techniques of chair referral sampling. Sociological Methods and Research, 10, 141–163.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Blair-Loy, M. (2001). Cultural constructions of family schemas: The case of women finance executives. Gender and Society, 15, 687–709.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Burr, V. (1995). An introduction to social constructionism.London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Buxton, J. (1998). Ending the mother war: Starting the workplace revolution. London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Cunningham, M., & Barbee, A. (2000). Social support. In C. Hendrick & S. Hendrick (Eds.), Close relationships:A source-book (pp. 272–285). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Darnton, N. (1990, June 4). Mommy vs. mommy. Newsweek, pp. 64–67.

  14. Deater-Deckard, K., & Scarr, S. (1996). Parenting stress among dual-earner mothers and fathers: Are there gender differences? Journal of Family Psychology, 10, 45–59.

    Google Scholar 

  15. DeChick, J. (1988, July 19). Most mothers want a job, too. USA Today, p.Dl.

  16. Deutsch, F. (1999). Halving it all: How equally shared parenting Works. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Ehrenberg, M., Gearing-Small, N., Hunter, M., & Small, B. (2001). Childcare task division and shared parenting attitudes in dual-earner families with young children. Family Relations, 50, 143–153.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Garey, A. (1995). Constructing motherhood on the night shift: “Working mothers” as stay-at-home moms. Qualitative Sociology, 18,414–437.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Chicago: Aldine Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Glass, J., & Fujimoto, T. (1994). Housework, paid work, and depression among husbands and wives.Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 179–191.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Glenn, E. (1994). Social constructions of mothering: A thematic overview. In E. Glenn, G. Chang, & L. Forcey (Eds.), Mothering: Ideology, experience, and agency (pp. 1–29). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Golden, A. (2001). Modernity and the communicative management of multiple roles: The case of the worker-parent. Journal of Family Communication, 4, 233–264.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Goldscheider, F., & Waite, L. (1991). New families, no families?: The transformation of the American home. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hatfield, E., Greenberger, D., Traupmann, J., & Lambert, P. (1982). Equity and sexual satisfaction in recently married coupless. Journal of Sex Research, 18, 18–32.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hattery, A. J. (2001). Women, work and family: Balancing and weaving. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Hays, S. (1996). The cultural contradictions of motherhood. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Hewlett, S. (2002). Creating a life: Professional women and the quest for children. New York: Hyperion.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Hochschild, A. (1989). The second shift: Working parents and the revolution at home. New York: Viking Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Huber, J., & Sptize, G. (1980). Considering divorce. American Journal of Sociology, 86, 75–89.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Johnston, D., & Swanson, D. (2003a). Invisible mothers: A content analysis of motherhood ideologies and myths in magazines. Sex Roles, 49, 21–33.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Johnston, D., & Swanson, D. (2003b). Undermining mothers: A content analysis of the representations of mothers in magazines. Mass Communication and Society, 6, 243– 265.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Johnston, D., & Swanson, D. (2004a). Defining mother: The experience of mothering ideologies by work status. (Manuscript submitted for publication.)

  33. Johnston, D., & Swanson, D. (2004b). Constructing motherhood: Worker identity, intensive mothering and construction of identity. (Manuscript submitted for publication.)

  34. Johnston, D., & Swanson, D. (2004c). Impact of mother’ on daughters’ construction of worker-parent identity. (Manuscript submitted for publication.)

  35. Leslie, L. (1989). Stress in the dual-income couple: Do social relationships help or hinder? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 6, 451–461.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Maushart, S. (1999). The mask of motherhood: How becoming a mother changes everything and why we pretend it doesn't.New York: New Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Mirowsky, J. (1985). Depression and marital power: An equity Model. American Journal of Sociology, 91, 557–592.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Moen, P. (1992). Women's two roles: A contemporary dilemma. New York: Auburn House.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Moracco, J., & McFadden, H. (1982). The counselor's role in reducing teacher stress. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 60, 549–552.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Morgan, D., Carder, P., & Neal, M. (1997). Are some relation-ships more useful than others? The value of similar others in the networks of recent widows. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 14, 745–759.

    Google Scholar 

  41. O'Neil, R., & Greenberger, E. (1994). Patterns of commitment to work and parenting: Implications for role strain. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56, 101–118.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Pasch, L., & Bradbury, T. (1998). Social support, conflict, and the development of marital satisfaction. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 219–230.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. Peters, J. (1997). When mothers work:Loving our children without sacrificing our selves. Reading, MA: Perseus Books.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Pina, D., & Bengston, V. (1993). The division of household labor and wives’ happiness: Ideology, employment, and perceptions of support. Journal of Marriage and Family, 55, 901–912.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Ray, E., & Miller, K. (1991). The influence of communication structure and social support on job stress and burnout. Management Communication Quarterly, 4, 506–527.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Risman, B., & Johnson-Sumerford, D. (1998). Doing it fairly: A study of postgender marriages. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 23–40.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Sarason, B., Sarason, I., & Gurung, R. (1997). Close personal relationships and health outcomes: A key to the role of social support. In S. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of persona relationships (2nd ed., pp. 547–573). England: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Schafer, R., & Keith, P. (1980). Equity and depression among married couples. Social Psychology Quarterly, 40, 430–435.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Schlessinger, L. (2000). Parenthood by proxy: Don't have them if you won't raise them.New York: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Spain, D., & Bianchi, S. (1996). Balancing act: Motherhood, marriage, and employment among {pmAmerican women. NewYork: Russell Sage}.

  51. Strauss, A., & Corbin J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Swanson, D., & Johnston, D. (2003). Mothering in the ivy-tower: Interviews with academic mothers. Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, 5(2), 63–75.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Trees, A. (2002). The influence of relational context on sup-port processes: Points of difference and similarity between young adult sons and daughters in problem talk with mothers. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19, 703–722.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Van Willigen, M., & Drentea, P. (2001). Benefits of equitable rela-tionships: The impact of sense of fairness, household division of labor, and decision making power on perceived social sup-port. Sex Roles, 44, 571–597.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Voydanoff, R., & Donnelly, B. (1999). Multiple roles and psycho-logical distress: The intersection of the paid worker, spouse, and parent role with the role of the adult child. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 725–735.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Wetherell, M., & Potter, J. (1988). Discourse analysis and the identification of interpretative repertoires. In C. Antaki (Ed.), Analysing everyday explanation: A casebook of methods (pp. 168–183). London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Wiersma, U., & Vander Berg, P. (1991). Work–home role conflict, family climate, and domestic responsibilities among men and women in dual-earner families. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, {vn21}, 1207–1217.

  58. Winnicott, D. (1987). Babies and their mothers. Reading, NJ: Addison-Wesley.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Xu, Y., & Burleson, B. (2001). Effects of sex, culture, and support type on perceptions of spousal social support: An assessment of the “support gap” hypothesis in early marriages. Human Communication Research, 27, 535–566.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Johnston, D.D., Swanson, D.H. Moms Hating Moms: The Internalization of Mother War Rhetoric. Sex Roles 51, 497–509 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-004-5460-x

Download citation

  • social support
  • mothering
  • maternal
  • work status