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.

How to Cite

Cox, R., (2011) “Competitive mothering and delegated care: Class relationships in nanny and au pair employment”, Studies in the Maternal 3(2), 1-13. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/sim.66

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Rosie Cox

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