Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Work of Full-Time Mothers: Putting Voice to the Relational Theory of Working

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Work of Full-Time Mothers: Putting Voice to the Relational Theory of Working

Article excerpt

Women and gender issues have long been a focus of theory development and research related to work and career counseling (Choi & Kim, 2010; Farmer, 2006; Fitzgerald, Fassinger, & Betz, 1995; Heppner, 2013; McMahon, Watson, & Bimrose, 2012). Particularly, the issues of women from diverse backgrounds who were working in the paid labor force have been highlighted by researchers (e.g., Ahn, 2012; Lindstrom, Harwick, Poppen, & Doren, 2012; Smith, Santucci, Xu, Cox, & Henderson, 2012). Considering that research indicates that for many years there was insufficient attention to women's work in general (Walsh & Heppner, 2006), this trend toward greater acknowledgment of women's work is an important accomplishment. At the same time, vocational studies have been slow to address issues related to the unpaid work of women (Richardson, 2012; Schultheiss, 2009), such as full-time mothering.

The reason for this may be that all forms of unpaid work tend to be undervalued by researchers (Richardson, 2012). Major career theories generally include only paid work in their consideration. Therefore, full-time motherhood has been mostly excluded (Schultheiss, 2009). The work of full-time mothers is addressed in the career literature only when it is compared with seeking or maintaining paid work. This perspective reflects cultural biases that indicate (a) mothering is a barrier to paid work and (b) having a (paid) job is more valuable and desirable than staying at home (e.g., Valian, 1999; Vejar, Madison-Colmore, & Maat, 2006).

For most married women with children, unpaid care work at home occupies a considerable part of their work (Miranda, 2011). Particularly, motherhood is one of most unique and prevalent experiences of women (Schultheiss, 2009). Various statistics (e.g., Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2011; U.S. Census Bureau, 2006) have demonstrated that a considerable number of women are involved in full-time motherhood and will "define motherhood as a career" (Schultheiss, 2009, p. 26). Attention to the work of full-time mothers allows researchers and counselors to acquire a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the work experience of women with regard to their gender, social class, and culture.

Theoretical Framework

To understand full-time mothers' experiences of work, we used the relational theory of working (Blustein, 2011) to guide the analysis and interpretation. A growing number of studies have highlighted the various degrees of volition in choosing occupations and suggested the use of the term working for addressing various activities of individuals related to their social and economic contributions (e.g., Blustein, 2011; Heppner & Jung, 2013; Richardson, 1993, 2012). By integrating critical perspectives in vocational studies and the relational perspective, the relational theory views "working as an inherently relational act" (Blustein, 2011, p. 1), conceptualizing relationships as the main motivation for work (Savickas et al., 2009). The relational theory also acknowledges the social and cultural contexts that allow different levels of accessibility to resources and occupations among people (i.e., Blustein, 2006; Schultheiss, 2007) and underscores the role of culture, race, gender, and social class in the experience of work and relationships (for a full description of the theory, see Blustein, 2011).

We chose the relational theory because of its particular relevance and usefulness to understanding the participants of this study and their work context. The theory highlights the power of relationships and the culture to work, which is essential to explore in the work of Korean full-time mothers in their 50s. This specific group of women possesses distinctive characteristics in their work trajectory, which is not well understood or articulated by existing career theories that emphasize personal actualization through paid employment. The participants in this study present culture-specific traits that may help deepen the understanding of the cultural mechanisms that affect relationships and social contexts in work experiences. …

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