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Motherhood is the word that sociologists use when referring to social experiences associated with being a mother. The term is meant to differentiate the biological fact of producing a baby (becoming a mother) and practices involved in taking care of children (mothering) from social norms linked to creating and caring for children. Theorists of motherhood treat its institutionalization as a social arrangement to explain, rather than as a biological given. They conceptualize why mothers mother as they do through psychoanalytic as well as economic and political lenses. They examine dominant ideologies of good” mothering created in expert advice literature, interactions between women and men, and women’s identities.
Although much scholarly work combines theoretical examination with empirical grounding, there remain gaps between what scholars think about motherhood and what they actually know through examination of mothers’ actual experiences. Future research should seek to close these gaps as well as to embed the study of mothers in their social worlds. Mothers enact mothering with other people: children, and often, adult partners. Our understanding of motherhood will increase by studying mothers’ interactions in the context of other institutions that intersect with motherhood: fatherhood, work, marriage, heterosexuality, and gender.
- Arendell, (2000) Conceiving and investigating motherhood: the decade’s scholarship. Journal of Marriage and the Family 62: 1192-1207.
- Hays, (1996) The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.