Unbecoming Mothers: The Social Production of Maternal Absence / Edition 1

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Learn the "who," "what," and "why" of unbecoming a mother

In a society where becoming a mother is naturalized, "unbecoming" a mother—the process of coming to live apart from biological children—is regarded as unnatural, improper, or even contemptible. Few mothers are more stigmatized than those who are perceived as having given up, surrendered, or abandoned their birth children. Unbecoming Mothers: The Social Production of Maternal Absence examines this phenomenon within the social and historical context of parenting in Canada, Australia, Britain, and the United States, with critical observations from social workers, policymakers, and historians. This unique book offers insights from the perspectives of children on the outside looking in and the lived experiences of women on the inside looking out.

Unbecoming Mothers: The Social Production of Maternal Absence explores how gender, race, class, and other social agents affect the ways women negotiate their lives apart from their children and how they attempt to recreate their identities and family structures. An interdisciplinary, international collection of academics, community workers, and mothers draws upon sources as diverse as archival records, a therapist’s interview, a dance script, and the class presentation of a student to offer refreshing insights on maternal absence that are innovative, accessible, and inspiring.

Unbecoming Mothers examines five assumptions about maternal absence and the families that emerge from that absence:

  • the focus on parenting as highly gendered caring work done by women
  • the idea that women share the same experience of unbecoming mothers and share the same circumstances and background
  • the perception of maternal absence as a recent phenomenon
  • the notion that women who want to manage their mother-work will make choices to overcome life’s obstacles
  • the Western concept of womanhood being achieved through motherhood and the unrealistic ideal of the "good mother"
Unbecoming Mothers: The Social Production of Maternal Absence is a rich, multidisciplinary resource for academics working in women’s studies, psychology, sociology, history, and any health-related fields, and for policymakers, social workers, and other community workers.
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What People Are Saying

Margrit Eichler
Margrit Eichler, FRSC, Professor, Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, OISE/University of Toronto
A TRULY IMPORTANT BOOK. . . . SHOULD BE READ BY EVERYONE WHO STUDIES FAMILIES, PARENTHOOD, AND GENDER. Reading this book significantly affects the way we think about motherhood understanding the reasons that lead to absentee mothering, the silent coercion that led women to give up their babies for adoption, the pain that children experience when their families do not conform to what they see as the norm, the social expectations confronting young mothers in state care that lead, paradoxically, to the opposite effects of those intended. The materials in the book are fascinating, combing historical and contemporary as well as experiential and third-person accounts.
Jennifer Marchbank PhD.
Jennifer Marchbank, PhD, Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Sciences, Coventry University, United Kingdom
AN IMPORTANT ADDITION TO DEBATES ON MOTHERHOOD. Recognizing that mothering is a diverse experience done by both biological and social mothers, this collection focuses on biological mothers' complex experiences of living apart from their children, some by choice, others not. The chapters range across academic disciplines that include social policy, anthropology, and performing arts, to explore dominant discourses of motherhood in, primarily, Canada, Australia, the United States, and early modern Britain. One of the most valuable aspects of this book is the way the authors give voice to women's real experiences of unbecoming mothers, especially Aboriginal women (in Canada and Australia), young mothers in care, and African-American girls in kinship care, who are less frequently heard.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780789024534
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 5/28/2005
  • Series: Haworth Marriage and Family Therapy Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

  • About the Editor
  • Contributors
  • Foreword (Sharon Abbey)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Framing the Discussion (Diana L. Gustafson)
  • Chapter 2. The Social Construction of Maternal Absence (Diana L. Gustafson)
  • The Good Mother/Bad Mother Binary
  • The Binary of Becoming/Unbecoming Mothers
  • Defensive Acts of Resistance
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • Chapter 3. Abject Mothers: Women Separated from Their Babies Lost to Adoption (Patricia D. Farrar)
  • Adoption and Relinquishment
  • Reading Kristeva
  • Adoption As Abjection: The Unnameable, the Unspeakable
  • Reflecting on Abjection
  • Chapter 4. Clarifying Choice: Identity, Trauma, and Motherhood (Linda L. Anderson)
  • Clarifying Choice: Cynthia’s Story
  • Reflections on Identity, Motherhood, and Trauma
  • Chapter 5. Sandy’s Story: Re-Storying the Self (Lekkie Hopkins)
  • Sandy’s Seminar Presentation
  • Finding a Voice: Giving Life to Her Story, and a Story to Her Life
  • Reflections on the Re-Storying Process
  • Gentle Even With Garbage (Si Transken)
  • Chapter 6. "Forsaking Their Children": Distance, Community, and Unbecoming Quaker Mothers, 1650-1700 (Susanna Calkins)
  • Early Modern Motherhood
  • The Paradox of Quaker Motherhood
  • The Paradox Resolved: Quaker Woman As Communal Mother
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 7. Unnatural Mothers: Lone Mothers and the Practice of Child Rescue, 1901-1930 (Robert Adamoski)
  • Chapter 8. Missing Mothers in a Mother-Centered World: Adolescent Girls Growing Up in Kinship Care (Deborah Connolly Youngblood)
  • Missing Mothers
  • The Adolescent Code of Silence
  • Mothers Who Are Missed
  • Naturalizing Social Policy
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 9. Looking Promising: Contradictions and Challenges for Young Mothers in Care (Marilyn Callahan, Deborah Rutman, Susan Strega, and Lena Dominelli)
  • The Research Methodology
  • The Findings: Looking Promising
  • Looking Promising: What Young Women Thought
  • Looking Promising: What Social Workers Thought
  • Looking Promising: A Beginning Theory
  • Maintaining the Cycle: Policy Observations
  • Contradictions and Obstacles in Breaking the Cycle
  • Chapter 10. Leaving to Grow / Inspiration to Grow / Leaving Inspiration (Gill Wright Miller)
  • Prologue
  • Leaving Inspiration: The Act of Being Contained by the Expectations of Mothering
  • Inspiration to Grow: The Act of Using Dance-Making As a Tool for Sharing
  • Leaving to Grow: The Act of Differentiating Mothering from Being a Mother
  • Epilogue
  • Chapter 11. Perspectives of Substance-Using Women and Human Service Practitioners: Reflections from the Margins (Deborah Rutman, Barbara Field, Suzanne Jackson, Audrey Lunquist, and Marilyn Callahan)
  • Substance Abuse, Pregnancy, and Mothering
  • Research Process
  • Findings
  • Discussion: Directions from Women and Human Service Practitioners
  • Index
  • Reference Notes Included
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