Week 7  (Guiding Questions for this week's readings are found at the end of this web page)


Social Construction of Motherhood and Fatherhood


Definition of parent:  someone who has and/or is responsible for children.


Historical construction of childhood

·        Contemporary notions:  innocence and purity



·        17th century U.S.:  children born in sin

o       Need for God-fearing people to break the will of the child

o       Require strict obedience and swift punishment

§        Cotton Mather: “better whipt than damned

·        Philip Aries, Centuries of Childhood

o       Children were seen as miniature adults.



·        The value of children was as an economic asset.

o       Putting out system in Colonial America


·        Relationships between parents and children were less sentimental.

o       Infant mortality high.


·        Changes occurred throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries:

o       Industrialization

o       Reform movement, child labor laws

o       Medical technology, infant mortality fell

o       Psychological theories of child development

o       Creation of the term adolescence

o       Mandatory education


·        Vivian Zelizer, Pricing the Priceless Child

o       Between 1870-1930, children became “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”


·        Variations across social class, race and ethnicity

o       Region (majority still in agriculture in 1900)

o       Immigration

o       Migration

o       Some employment not sufficient for one wage-earner




Distinction between the

families we live by” and the “families we live with.”


Shift in parent-child relations

·        From collective to individualistic

·        Reading by Hoffnung

o       Feminization of love (Cancian, earlier in term)

o       Women were seen as “pious, pure, submissive, domestic” by nature.

o       Home become “haven in a heartless world”

o       Sin now external.  Part of “cold cruel world.”

o       Sharon Hays, intensive mothering (fulfillment of what is feminine)


Emergence of the Study of Fatherhood

·        21st century economy, women’s employment necessitates fathers’ involvement

·        Fatherhood still includes responsibility for economic support (“family we live by”)

o       Consequences for those who can’t (reading by McAdoo and McAdoo)

·        Variations in practice of fathering (“family we live with”)

o       Types of interactions with children (play v. care)

o       Presence of sons

Parenthood Interrupted:  Children’s Gender and the Meaning of Parenthood.

This is a summary of Warner's current research project.  {Quotes} are not produced for this web page. 


Sample:  65 parents across 45 households.


Qualitative study:  open-ended questions about interactions with children, goals and expectations.


Methodology:  family discourse.

·        They way we talk about our lives gives it meaning

·        Families are enacted wherever they are talked about

·        When people talk, it is not just about families, it constitutes families


Theory--Symbolic interaction: 

·        the self (identity) emerges through social interaction (Mead, Cooley).

·        But interactions are organizationally embedded.


Negotiation Context:

·        Situation or topic of interaction

·        Social positioning of actors


Structural Context:

·        Normative definitions of good parenting

·        Structure of social institutions

Example from conversations


Negotiation Context:

·        Situation or topic of interaction

·        Bead conference

·        Football

·        Social positioning of actors

·        Mothers

·        Mothers with varying family structures


Structural Context:

·        Normative definitions of good parenting

·        Be involved and supportive

·        Structure of social institutions

·        Social organization of leisure



Results from Research


·        Goals for parents include having children who are “happy, healthy, and successful (in whatever they want to do.”


Today I’ll focus on one aspect of this goal:  what does it mean to raise “healthy” children?


Keep in mind:  gender, social class.


Andy:  father co-parenting 7 children across two households.  Semi-skilled trade.  Cohabiting.




·        Structural context.  Who is more likely to experience these type of threats to safety?

·        Father:  “I didn’t know what to do”

·        With sons, “smack em upside the head”

·        But would he ever here about it if sons did say something like that?


What happens when son does get caught for harassment?


Tina, married mother of two sons (current husband has two sons from previous marriage), employed in technical field.




·        Mother is a feminist, educated.

·        Middle class, integrated in the community.

·        Protective strategy (they might have liked each other)


What happens when threats result in violence?


Alison, divorced (twice), three children.  High school education, working in administrative support.




·        Feelings of being a failure

·        Wants a traditional family

·        Protective strategy (to move away)


For sons, what kinds of threats to safety and health worry parents?  Drugs and violence.


Proactive parenting.


Debra, divorced, two children.  Currently cohabiting with plans to marry.




Actual experiences with drugs.


Kathy, married, four children.  Semi-skilled job.




·        Protective strategy (take control of your life, independence)


Actual experiences with violence


Nancy, married mother of two sons.  College educated.




·        Delinquency (stealing) and peer response

·        Protective strategy (insure safety, recognize your role in situation)



·        Recognize the importanct that gender plays in interactions

·        Opportunities to interact

·        Ways in which parents respond


·        Interactions are important for construction of parenting identities

·        Being a good parent

·        Challenging or resisting structural inequality


·        Importance of parent-child relations in contemporary society

·        In a time of increasing individualism, the parent-child bond may be the most durable

·        Children can be a “projection screen” for creating parenting identity.



­Questions to Guide you through the Readings

Hoffnung, “Motherhood: Contemporary Conflict for Women”

   1.             How did industrialization affect the definition of motherhood?

   2.             What is meant by the “motherhood mystique”?

   3.             How does Hoffnung suggest that women can prepare better for motherhood?


Hill Collins, “Shifting the Center: Race, Class, and Feminist Theorizing”

   1.             What is “motherwork”?

   2.             How are experiences around survival, power, and identity different for mothers from African American, Hispanic/Latino, or Asian American heritage?

   3.             Why are these experiences different?  How do women respond to these experiences?


Gerson, “Dilemmas of Involved Fatherhood”

   1.             In what ways do fathers act to encourage their involvement?

   2.             Do fathers share in all family work?

   3.             How do fathers justify their relative involvement in family work?


McAdoo and McAdoo, “The African American Father’s Roles within the Family”

   1.             The models/theories they discuss differentiate between cultural and structural explanations.  What is the difference between these two types of theories?

   2.             Why do the authors choose the “ecological theory” over others?

   3.             What summary statement can you make about the results of research that compare African American fathers to other fathers?