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Not-So-Nuclear Families

Not-So-Nuclear Families: Class, Gender, and Networks of Care

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Not-So-Nuclear Families
    Book Description:

    In recent years U.S. public policy has focused on strengthening the nuclear family as a primary strategy for improving the lives of America's youth. It is often assumed that this normative type of family is an independent, self-sufficient unit adequate for raising children. But half of all households in the United States with young children have two employed parents. How do working parents provide care and mobilize the help that they need?

    InNot-So-Nuclear Families: Class, Gender, and Networks of Care, Karen V. Hansen investigates the lives of working parents and the informal networks they construct to help care for their children. She chronicles the conflicts, hardships, and triumphs of four families of various social classes. Each must navigate the ideology that mandates that parents, mothers in particular, rear their own children, in the face of an economic reality that requires that parents rely on the help of others. In vivid family stories, parents detail how they and their networks of friends, paid caregivers, and extended kin collectively close the "care gap" for their school-aged children.

    Hansen not only debunks the myth that families in the United States are independent, isolated, and self-reliant units, she breaks new theoretical ground by asserting that informal networks of care can potentially provide unique and valuable bonds that nuclear families cannot.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5779-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xx)
  5. Chapter 1 Networks of Interdependence in an Age of Independence
    (pp. 1-22)

    When I asked Robert Holcomb, an unmarried father of a six-year-old, “Who helps you care for your son when he visits you?” Robert replied, “Me.”¹ Robert views himself as self-reliant, and he leads a full and active life, despite the challenges posed by his paraplegia. Through sheer determination and force of will, he has become independent in most of his daily activities. But I could see that Robert was confined to a wheelchair, and I knew that he did not drive. I also knew that his son lives in a town two hours away. So I probed, “Just you?” He...

  6. Part I Profiles of Four Networks of Interdependence

    • Chapter 2 The Cranes: An Absorbent Safety Net
      (pp. 25-46)

      Family dominates the milieu in which the Cranes’ lives unfold, providing a major point of reference and inspiration. Six-year-old Robbie Crane has an angelic face, with huge eyes and long, thick eyelashes. To his single mother, Patricia Crane, his biological father, Robert Holcomb Sr., and his maternal grandmother, Fran Crane, Robbie seems a gift from God. “There’s a purpose for him being here,” Fran told me with conviction. “I have no idea what it is. I felt that from the minute he was born.” On biological grounds alone, Robbie’s existence is surprising. Before she became pregnant with her son, Patricia...

    • Chapter 3 The Aldriches: A Family Foundation
      (pp. 47-71)

      The Aldrich network, rooted in California history and politics, hails from a profoundly different circumstance than the Cranes (Chapter 2). Sarah Aldrich describes herself as a “woman of means, involved in the community.” She grew up in a family that began accumulating great wealth in the nineteenth century and that has wielded influence in education, environmentalism, and politics. After seventeen years of marriage, Sarah separated from her husband, Alex Brolin, about a year and half before I first interviewed her. They have a joint custody arrangement in which the children—Jacob, age eleven, and Kimberly, age fourteen (and outside the...

    • Chapter 4 The Duvall-Brennans: A Loose Association of Advisors
      (pp. 72-97)

      Maggie Duvall and Jack Brennan jointly anchor a network, psychically and managerially sharing the work of rearing the children and running the household. They actively coparent, practicing intensive parenting with passionate attention to the children when they are together. An air of resignation to the overwhelming demands of careers and parenthood hangs over Maggie and Jack. They try to schedule time for exercise and friendship, but neither fits easily into an already full schedule. Both feel they are “skating” (Jack’s term) on their jobs to accommodate family life. Because they prioritize family, they do not put in standard attorney’s hours,...

    • Chapter 5 The Beckers: A Warm Web of People
      (pp. 98-124)

      The Becker Network, wealthy in people and moderate in income, is based in a solidly middle-class neighborhood in a diverse urban area. At its center is Dina Becker, a freelance photographer, mother, and wife. She and her husband, Mark Walde, a middle school teacher, have two children—Donalyn, age eight, and Aaron, age six. Dina and Mark struggle to maintain their place on the economic ladder; rather than experiencing middle-class comfort, they experience middle-class insecurity.¹ Dina loves being a photographer—but it is her occupation, not merely a creative outlet. Like most middle-class women of her generation, she has to...

  7. Part II Constructing and Maintaining Networks

    • Chapter 6 Staging Networks: Inclusion and Exclusion
      (pp. 127-154)

      Networks of interdependence are not naturally occurring social formations; they are actively and purposely constructed. Employed parents face sometimes worrisome and often time-consuming decisions about where and with whom to leave their children during nonschool hours. Should they rely on institutional care, family day care, individual care, or familial care? Parents must decide not only which of these situations is sufficiently affordable and convenient but also which best matches their child-rearing philosophy.¹ Even then, their child-care dilemmas are not resolved. Most working parents also need to construct their own networks to bolster the child-care system they select.

      Parents go through...

    • Chapter 7 The Tangle of Reciprocity
      (pp. 155-181)

      On the evening I arrive to interview Maggie Duvall, her son Scott, three and a half, peers out from behind her legs. Jack Brennan has just taken their six-year-old daughter, Danielle, upstairs to read a story. Minutes earlier, Scott had vomited all over the living room and he is registering a high fever. In a state of despair and determination, Maggie tells me of the impending crisis: Children with fevers cannot go to the child-care center, and both she and Jack have nonnegotiable court appearances the next day. When I arrive, they are feeling the panic of irreconcilably competing obligations.¹...

    • Chapter 8 Men, Women, and the Gender of Caregiving
      (pp. 182-208)

      Sociologists and anthropologists who study domestic networks find men to be peripheral figures. They identify men in the networks, but not as the movers and shakers or the most active participants.¹ When they study kin work and housework, they consistently document the unequal division of labor. Men do less; women do more. Men clean yards and repair cars; women care for children and the elderly and relate to the neighbors. The research clearly shows men’s ambivalence toward the interdependence and domesticity necessarily connected to networks of care and rearing children.²

      The consequence of this consistency in findings is that men’s...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-218)

    In mapping the lives that intertwine in the project of rearing school-age children, this book has explored the not-so-nuclearpracticeof interdependence with kin and friends in the context of a culturalbeliefin the independence of nuclear families. It has considered the conundrum that even though most people say family is important, they simultaneously think extended families are not sufficiently available, amenable, or stable to help their members. And yet, the stories of the people interviewed for this book fly in the face of this widespread perception. Raising children, an enterprise largely cast as an individual or nuclear family...

  9. Appendix
    (pp. 219-220)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 221-240)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-254)
  12. Index
    (pp. 255-262)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-264)