Rosie Cox — Competitive mothering and delegated care: Class relationships in nanny and au pair employment

Abstract

This paper uses the idea of 'competitive care' to explore how the mothering projects of nanny and au pair employers and the carers they employ can become inter-twined and yet may also be in conflict or competition. The paper draws on work by Cameron Lynne Macdonald (2010) and Joan Tronto (2006) to make two arguments about the inter-twining of current practices of competitive mothering and the employment of nannies and au pairs. First, practices of competitive mothering can underpin the demand for paid, privatized care in the home (such as nannies and au pairs) and involve middle class / advantaged women using their position to raise their children in ways which are specifically designed to ensure and enhance their children's future social status and income. This can be at the cost of the mothering projects (and children) of the women they employ. Second, one factor which underlies the prevalence of competitive mothering within certain middle class families is the conflict that working mothers feel about their roles and their strong desire to address these conflicts by showing that their children do not suffer because of their employment. The emphasis on care for children as mothering, rather than parenting – or better still 'care' – underpins this sense of conflict. The idea that it is mothers, rather than parents or society at large, who are delegating care is an important element in the organisation of care, and the relationships with carers that ensue.

Rosie Cox is a Senior Lecturer in Geography and Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. She has a long-standing research interest in paid domestic labour and particularly the pay and working conditions of domestic workers and au pairs. She is author of The Servant Problem (2006 I.B. Tauris) which explores the growth of paid domestic employment in the context of growing income inequalities in London. Following from her interest in domestic work she has also written on the place of dirt in shaping the status of workers and is co-editor of Dirt: New Geographies of Cleanliness and Contamination (2007 I.B. Tauris) and co-author of Dirt: The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life (2011 Profile Books) which was produced to accompany the Wellcome Trust's 'Dirt Season'. She is currently researching the commoditization of male labour in the home and is carrying out a project looking at DIY and the use of 'handymen' in New Zealand