Motherhood and Work Women Combining Work and Childcare as a Patriarchal Response

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Nicole Dezrea Jenkins


Employers have begun to strategize ways to accommodate families as they navigate work-family balance, and scholars have found that various policies contribute to how employees perceive and manage work-family balance. However, research in this area largely centers on White workspaces and experiences for policy recommendations, leaving out those experiences specific to people of color and their workspaces. The practices and experiences of people of color in managing work-family balance are mostly absent from policy development for the institutions of work. I argue that Black women, who are the largest group of growing entrepreneurs in the US, have valuable experiences that contribute to a better understanding of how families of color navigate and understand their parenting and work responsibilities. In this paper, I describe racialized child-rearing techniques used by Black mothers to maintain work-family balance. Drawing on two years of participant observation, ethnography, and unstructured interviews in a Black, women-owned and operated business, I find that Black women adopt collective racialized conceptualizations of motherhood and responsibilities, that center competing ideological frames of motherhood. Mothers value their Black children’s success in education, yet understand institutions of education as hostile sites for their children. Women aspire to work outside of the home to secure self-actualization, yet understand their roles as mothers through a patriarchal lens that places more responsibilities of parenting and childcare on mothers than fathers. This patriarchal understanding of parenting responsibilities adopted by mothers is used to negotiate their responsibilities between work and family, and it shapes their strategies for managing parenting and work. In practice, women adopt queer parenting strategies to achieve the combination of work and family by relying on communal networks, not including their male partners, for support in child-friendly work spaces. Women develop collective conceptualizations of motherhood and its responsibilities while maintaining facets of self-identity in Black spaces.

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Author Biography

Nicole Dezrea Jenkins

Dr. Nicole Jenkins is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Howard University. She specializes in ethnography, race and ethnicity, and inequality centering Black women.  She is currently developing her book project as a recipient of the Princeton University Press Suporting Diverse Voices Book Proposal Development Grant.