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Motherload: Making It All Better in Insecure Times

Ana Villalobos
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In a time of economic anxiety, fear of terrorism, and marital uncertainty, insecurity has become a big part of life for many American mothers. With bases of security far from guaranteed, mothers are often seeking something they can count on. In this beautifully written and accessible book, Ana Villalobos shows how mothers frequently rely on the one thing that seems sure to them: the mother-child relationship. Based on over one hundred interviews with and observations of mothers—single or married, but all experiencing varying forms of insecurity in their lives—Villalobos finds that mothers overwhelmingly expect the mothering relationship to "make it all better" for themselves and their children.

    But there is a price to pay for loading this single relationship with such high expectations. Using detailed case studies, Villalobos shows how women's Herculean attempts to create various kinds of security through mothering often backfire, thereby exhausting mothers, deflecting their focus from other possible sources of security, and creating more stress. That stress is further exacerbated by dominant ideals about "good" mothering—ideals that are fraught with societal pressures and expectations that reach well beyond what mothers can actually do for their children. Pointing to hopeful alternatives, Villalobos shows how more realistic expectations about motherhood lead remarkably to greater security in families by prompting mothers to cast broader security nets, making conditions less stressful and—just as significantly—bringing greater joy in mothering.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95972-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    Like so many Americans, Myra Rossi is feeling insecure.¹ Unable to find a suitable job for a year, she has been living off her savings, which are now nearly gone. She worries a lot—about drive-by shootings, nuclear terrorism, and road rage. She thinks it is only a matter of time before the planet will become uninhabitable due to global warming. She doubts she and her boyfriend will make it as a couple. Myra has just had a baby.

    With five-pound Giovanna now wriggling in her arms, where does all that insecurity go? Myra has heard again and again—from...


    • 2 Shielding and Antidote Strategies MOTHERING THAT SAVES THE CHILD
      (pp. 31-67)

      Pat Rogers, a married white mother of four-year-old twin girls, has been saving up money for a procedure, and last year she asked the grandparents to chip in for it as their Christmas gifts to the girls. She wants to have electronic locator tags inserted under her daughters’ skin so they can be found in case they are ever lost or abducted. Pat also voices great concern over the risk of terrorist attack and believes her job as a mother is to “provide safety, keep themalive…. [G]etting them to [age] twenty-one safely is my primary goal.” She says having...

    • 3 Compensatory Connection Strategy MOTHERING THAT SAVES THE MOTHER
      (pp. 68-110)

      When people feel emotionally or physically threatened, a common response is to draw closer to those they trust.² A woman may reach automatically for the phone to call a confidante when a romantic relationship begins to falter. A child may preconsciously reach for her security blanket when something scares her.

      The question here is: Does a society as a whole respond like an individual when it is under threat? That is, as terrorism, toxins, child abduction, and other dangers are amplified in the public consciousness, and as long-term marriage, long-term jobs, home ownership, and other sources of reliability and life-grounding...

    • 4 Light-Motherload Connection LOVE WITHOUT SAVING
      (pp. 111-138)

      Mothering does not have to be so weighty. Even in an insecure society, there are alternatives to heavy-motherload mothering—and they have nothing to do with putting the baby down or teaching her to self-soothe. In fact, they have nothing to do with correct mothering, or mothering practices at all. They have to do with lightened expectations.

      Because this first half of the book is focused on connection, I have looked thus far at mothers who use connection as their means of bringing about security. It may therefore be tempting to blame any less-than-desirable outcomes or family dynamics on attachment...


    • 5 Inoculation Strategy PUNCHING BACK AT FEAR
      (pp. 141-167)

      Sarah Gordon, a white thirty-five-year-old mother of one- and three-year-old sons, is a journalist who lived in Kazakhstan for several years before she had children. There she would get e-mails from the US embassy saying, “We have intelligence that suggests Americans should avoid gathering at ex-pat bars and hangouts this week,” or “There is increased chatter from the bin Laden cohort. Please alter your usual routes.” After that, she moved to New York and began working at a theoretically safe office job downtown. “And that’s where I was on September 11, watching the fireballs and the papers and the papers...

      (pp. 168-197)

      Katie Garber, nine months pregnant and experiencing intermittent labor contractions, has readWhat to Expect When You’re Expecting, but she still does not know what to expect. When her friends ask how she is, she says scared. She elaborates that she is scared of labor—scared she might not be able to do it—and also scared about the baby being born physically or mentally challenged. Above all, however, she is scared of mothering. What will her life look like tomorrow when she has a child? How will she both keep her job and care for a baby as a...

    • 7 Light-Motherload Independence MOTHERING WITHOUT THE ORDEAL
      (pp. 198-221)

      It is Barb Winters’s due date with her second child and she is struggling unsuccessfully to get comfortable on her green corduroy sofa. Two cats are sprawled over her, one on her legs, one over her shoulder. Her sixteen-month-old son, Ryan, is at a family day care down the block.

      From the day Ryan was born and Barb and her husband, David, brought him home from the hospital, he has slept separately in a crib in his own room.

      Sleep is just so important for [me]…. [When a baby is in the room with you], you literally wake up with...

  7. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 222-234)

    We hear a lot about today’s over-the-top intensive mothers or, more sympathetically, how the expectations of motherhood have become unrealistically high. Academics, bloggers, social commentators, and our own acquaintances all seem to recognize that a generation ago, mothering was not as stressful or labor-intensive and the mothering enterprise did not inspire the same fear and intimidation. But key questions remain unanswered.

    1.Why is mothering such an ordeal in the twenty-first century, for the rich and poor alike, for single as well as married women, and for whites, African Americans, Chinese Americans, Latinas, and others? What has changed since the 1970s...

  8. APPENDIX A Research Participants
    (pp. 235-240)
  9. APPENDIX B Research Methods
    (pp. 241-250)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 251-266)
  11. References
    (pp. 267-276)
  12. Index
    (pp. 277-284)