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Racial Distinctions in Middle-Class Motherhood: Ideologies and Practices of African-American Middle-Class Mothers

  • Author(s): Dow, Dawn Marie
  • Advisor(s): Ray, Raka
  • et al.

My dissertation examines how intersections of racial identity, class and gender influence the cultural expectations and decisions of African-American middle-class mothers regarding work, family and parenting. Through this research I challenge three dominant sets of ideologies present in family, work and parenting scholarship. First, I challenge the widespread acceptance of the Intensive Mothering ideology that views mothers as principally responsible for raising their children within a nuclear family context. Second, I challenge the conflict paradigm that assumes a mother's decisions about work and family can be captured in a competing spheres framework. This framework assumes that mothers who allot more time to work have a stronger "work devotion" and those who allot more time to family have a stronger "family devotion." Third, I challenge the assumption that middle-class parents are primarily influenced by their class status when parenting their children and primarily use the concerted cultivation parenting approach. This approach emphasizes encouraging children's logical reasoning, developing their intellectual and physical skills through organized enrichment activities and viewing educational and other institutions in society from an entitlements and service oriented perspective.

Using sixty in-depth semi-structured interviews of African-American middle-class mothers living in the San Francisco Bay Area I investigate three sets of questions. First, how do these mothers approach family, work and parenting? Second, what explains their distinctive strategies? Third, how does this case of mothers help to illuminate the range of mothering and parenting ideals and practices influencing all mothers' choices and what are the consequences of not conforming to dominant ideals and practices? My findings suggest that the ideologies that dominate family and work life scholarship do not adequately capture the cultural prerogatives of all mothers. Specifically, African-American middle-class mothers are influenced by a different orientation to mothering and parenting that I call the "Integrated Mothering Ideology." This ideology assumes that 1) childcare is a mother-centered, but extended-family and community-supported activity, 2) working outside of the home is a duty of motherhood and 3) mothers consistently consider issues related to racial identity, class and gender when making parenting decisions with the aim towards fostering specific orientations to African-American middle-class identity. Overall my findings demonstrate that middle-class mothers' approaches to managing work and family are influenced by racially situated identities, ideologies and practices that are supported by specific social, economic, cultural and structural circumstances.

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