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Shadow Mothers

Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs, and the Micropolitics of Mothering

Cameron Lynne Macdonald
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Shadow Mothers
    Book Description:

    Shadow Mothersshines new light on an aspect of contemporary motherhood often hidden from view: the need for paid childcare by women returning to the workforce, and the complex bonds mothers forge with the "shadow mothers" they hire. Cameron Lynne Macdonald illuminates both sides of an unequal and complicated relationship. Based on in-depth interviews with professional women and childcare providers- immigrant and American-born nannies as well as European au pairs-Shadow Motherslocates the roots of individual skirmishes between mothers and their childcare providers in broader cultural and social tensions. Macdonald argues that these conflicts arise from unrealistic ideals about mothering and inflexible career paths and work schedules, as well as from the devaluation of paid care work.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94781-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Introduction: Childcare on Trial
    (pp. 1-16)

    Seventy percent of all mothers in the United States work outside the home.¹ Most rely on some form of paid childcare. Despite these realities, the American public remains ambivalent toward mothers who leave their children in the care of others. Reactions to one subset, women who could ostensibly aff ord to stay at home but do not, are especially intense. When Court TV provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial of eighteen-year-old Louise Woodward, a British au pair, for the 1997 death of baby Matthew Eappen,² viewers nationwide were mesmerized. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion; public sentiment was divided as...

  5. 2 Mother-Employers: Blanket Accountability at Home and at Work
    (pp. 17-41)

    I first met Jessica at the consulting firm where she worked as the sole female partner. A tall and athletic-looking thirty-eight-year-old, she seemed the epitome of success: her blonde hair was perfectly coiffed, her beige suit was beautifully tailored, and her accessories bespoke affluence rather than conscious attention to accessorizing. She welcomed me into her oak and pastel office with the graciousness of a seasoned hostess and the firm handshake of a corporate veteran.

    Jessica was the highest earner among the thirty mothers I interviewed, making more than three hundred thousand dollars per year. She had been happily married to...

  6. 3 Nannies on the Market
    (pp. 42-65)

    My Spanish-speaking research assistant and I met Margarita at a local park where she was watching the three-year-old in her care. Now forty-nine years old, Margarita, who is Ecuadorean, had come to the United States about twenty years earlier to assist her daughter, who was pregnant with her first child. Margarita stayed, her husband joined her, and she worked in factories for several years.

    In 1984, she took her first childcare job. Over the years, she became downwardly mobile. She moved from $250 a week for live-in childcare, to $150 a week live-out, to her current job, which paid her...

  7. 4 “They’re Too Poor and They All Smoke”: Ethnic Logics and Childcare Hiring Decisions
    (pp. 66-84)

    I met Joyce in her hospital office. Her straightened hair was cut in a bob and her dark chocolate complexion contrasted sharply with the lab coat she wore. As I interviewed her in her cluttered office in the downtown hospital where she practiced pediatric oncology, construction workers were busy repairing the HVAC system in the ceiling directly above us. I jumped at the sound of each loud clang, but Joyce’s calm professional demeanor never faltered. She continued steadily describing how she came to hire Stacy, her nanny.

    Well before the birth of Ellis, Joyce’s now eleven-month-old son, she began an...

  8. 5 Managing a Home-Centered Childhood: Intensive Mothering by Proxy
    (pp. 85-104)

    I interviewed Mary Anne, a thirty-four-year-old scientist, in her downtown apartment on her “special day”—a Friday, the day she and Jennifer, her two-year-old daughter, spent together. Mary Anne had arranged a four-day workweek so that she and Jennifer could have this extra time; they spent it running errands, going on outings, and taking art, dance, and “play” classes together. In addition to being special-day activities, these classes were part of a strategy Mary Anne had devised to compensate for what she viewed as her nanny’s shortcomings.

    Initially, Mary Anne had considered herself lucky to find Esther, a sixty-four-year-old Asian...

  9. 6 Creating Shadow Mothers
    (pp. 105-127)

    According to both Joan and Melanie, theirs was a successful relationship. I interviewed each in her own work domain: Joan in an upper-story corner office in a glass-tower office building overlooking Boston Harbor; Melanie in Joan and her husband Bill’s tastefully decorated flat. The two women spoke of one another in glowing terms. Each was pleased with the way they had worked out their division of labor, each was pleased with Bill’s contributions, and each doted on one-year-old Charlotte. They were among the most satisfied of the mother-nanny dyads I interviewed—and yet, there were “lines of fault”¹ and areas...

  10. 7 The “Third-Parent” Ideal
    (pp. 128-142)

    In looking back on my interviews with Jane, a corporate vice-president, and Sarah, her nanny, I was struck by how differently each perceived the life they shared. The two told very different stories—what amounted to “hers and hers” accounts of their lives together. It was difficult to believe that Jane and Sarah were describing the same family, the same children, or the same employer-employee relationship. Even the house seemed to be different depending on which woman I was interviewing.

    For both interviews, I came into the house through the kitchen door—the “servants’ entrance.” When I interviewed Jane, the...

  11. 8 Nanny Resistance Strategies
    (pp. 143-163)

    On a warm day in October in a large playground, I sat on a bench with three nannies: Anne, a documented immigrant from Jamaica; Penelope, a mixed-race former au pair from Britain; and Lonehl, a Boston resident whose family had long ago emigrated from Barbados. I recruited a number of the nannies who participated in my study by “hanging out” in the park, getting to know them, and listening to their “bitch sessions.”¹ Th is was the third time I had spent the afternoon with this group. As we sat swapping snacks and taking turns caring for their five charges,...

  12. 9 Partnerships: Seeking a New Model
    (pp. 164-195)

    When I first met Christine, she was twenty-one years old and one of the most vocally dissatisfied of the nannies I had interviewed. She had grown up in a working-class town near Boston. After studying for a degree in early childcare education, she had worked at a daycare center and then had worked as a nanny for three years. During our initial interview, she echoed many of the sentiments I had heard from other nannies: she felt that her employers were too permissive, that they were out-of-touch with the realities of childrearing, and that they placed unreasonable restrictions on how...

  13. 10 Untangling the Mother-Nanny Knot
    (pp. 196-206)

    Rather than confirming the home as a haven from the heartless world, this study has revealed the heartlessness of the system in which both mothers and nannies are caught. The preceding chapters detailed the ways in which these women’s efforts to meet unrealistic ideals of mothering pit them against each other; too often, self-destructive conflicts fill the space that might otherwise be used to form mutually supportive partnerships that would enhance children’s care. But such partnerships are possible. The study participants’ experiences pointed to two important enabling factors: personal experience with and access to counterhegemonic mothering ideologies, and flextime or...

  14. APPENDIX: Research Methods
    (pp. 207-218)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 219-252)
    (pp. 253-266)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 267-272)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)