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

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Shadow Mothers shines 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 Mothers locates 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Youth Adolescence
"MacDonald does an excellent job of carrying her reader through the daily lives of mother employers and nannies through using specific interviews to capture the points she strives to make."
From the Publisher
"Offers surprising and layered insights into the . . . modern mommy phenomenon played out every day from coast to coast."--Boston Globe

"Sparks important insights for mother-employers and their employees. . . . And along the way, it offers society and individuals a way to create positive mother-childcare worker relationships."--Foreword

"An interesting read. . . . [Macdonald's] findings are thought-provoking"--Law Society Journal

Boston Globe
“Offers surprising and layered insights into the . . . modern mommy phenomenon played out every day from coast to coast.”
“Sparks important insights for mother-employers and their employees. . . . And along the way, it offers society and individuals a way to create positive mother-childcare worker relationships.”
Law Society Journal - Kate Burns
“An interesting read. . . . [Macdonald’s] findings are thought-provoking”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520222328
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 2/9/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Cameron Lynne Macdonald is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Childcare on Trial
2. Mother-Employers: Blanket Accountability at Home and at Work
3. Nannies on the Market
4. “They’re Too Poor and They All Smoke”: Ethnic Logics and Childcare Hiring Decisions
5. Managing a Home-Centered Childhood:
Intensive Mothering by Proxy
6. Creating Shadow Mothers
7. The “Third-Parent” Ideal
8. Nanny Resistance Strategies
9. Partnerships: Seeking a New Model
10. Untangling the Mother-Nanny Knot

Appendix: Research Methods


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