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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Babushki as Surrogate Wives: How Single Mothers and Grandmothers Negotiate the Division of Labor in Russia


Much like husbands and wives, single mothers and grandmothers struggle over the sharing of paid work and “second shift” responsibilities. Using in-depth interview and ethnographic data from Russia, this article applies elements of Hochschild’s (1989) framework to illuminate sites of tension and reciprocity among single mothers and their children’s grandmothers, or babushki, demonstrating that women’s negotiations across the generational divide resemble those between husbands and wives across the gender divide. However, the rules of reciprocity are relaxed, women seldom opt out of domestic work entirely, and conflicts lead to diminished support rather than “divorce.” The author argues that both generational mothering ideologies and outer circumstances shape how women ultimately share responsibilities. When mothers and babushki pursue similar generational mothering strategies, conflict is minimized.

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