Good Enough Mothering? Feminist Perspectives on Lone Motherhood

By Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Mothering and social responsibilities in a cross-cultural perspective 1

Henrietta L. Moore

Mothering and motherhood are not, contrary to popular belief, ‘the most natural things in the world’. They have taken very different forms in different times and places. What it is to be a ‘mother’ is both cross-culturally and historically variable. Historians writing about wet-nursing and child fostering in Europe remind us how very different motherhood was in the past, and how little it resembled the project of a full-time, home-bound, isolated career on which the ideal of Euro-American motherhood has been based in this century (Pollock 1983; Aries 1973; Lewis 1986). Recent work has also emphasized the degree to which the experiences of mothering, and of being a mother, differ according to divisions of race and class (Glenn et al. 1994; Cock 1980; Hansen 1989, 1992; Thornton Dill 1988). Women working as domestics might relieve their employers of some of the heavier burdens of motherhood, but this left them very little time to attend to their own children or for the maintenance of broader family relationships. Mothering and motherhood thus vary within specific contexts as well as between them.

Motherhood and the context in which it is supposed to operate, ‘the family’, have always been sites of contestation. The state has a clear interest in intervening in the production and reproduction of the work-force, in the delineation of units of welfare provision and taxation, and in the structuring and maintenance of differentiated social identities (Moore 1994a; Molyneux 1985; Abramovitz 1983; Barrett 1980; Stacey 1983). This is particularly clear in colonial contexts, where the social construction of mothering was part of a larger project of societal reconstruction involving the management of social and racial differences (Jolly and Macintyre 1989). In many cases, failure to conform to standards of idealized mothering led to stigmatization and discrimination.

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