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Making motherhood work


Rachel Thomson

About Rachel
Rachel Thomson is a sociologist by discipline who has worked at the Open University since 2003. From January 2012 she will be Professor of Childhood and Youth Studies at Sussex University. Her research centres on gender, biography and social change. Recent publications include Unfolding lives: youth, gender and change (Policy Press 2009), Researching Social change: qualitative approaches (Sage 2009, with McLeod), and Making Modern Mothers (Policy Press 2011, with Kehily, Hadfield, and Sharpe).
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Motherhood can be a critical moment in the making of gendered biographies, and in the negotiation of a gendered division of labour within a household. This paper draws on the 'Making of Modern Motherhoods' study, which combined interviews with a diverse group of expectant first time mothers and family case studies in order to build an intergenerational and longitudinal perspective on contemporary mothering situations within the UK. In this paper, the category 'work' is used as a lens through which to encounter new motherhood. After contextualising working motherhood in relation to a sociological literature the paper draws on interviews undertaken with women towards the end of their pregnancy with their first child to reveal something of the emergent collision of working and maternal identities, women's experiences of being pregnant at work including the anticipation and managing of maternity leave. The second part presents a case study, which animates the personal drama involved in reconciling working and maternal commitments, tracing how a woman's feelings about work change over time in negotiation with partner, family and the market. As Sue Sharpe observed in her 1984 book on working mothers, 'full-time mothering has never been accessible to all women in the same way at the same time' (1984: 22). Social class, locality and migration shape a range of cultures of mothering within which work features very differently. Divisions exist between women who share a generational location as well as between women of different generations. This complexity is revealed through a juxtaposition of the voices of mothers and grandmothers, which show how work may both, divide and unite women in the project of motherhood.

How to Cite: Thomson, R., 2011. Making motherhood work. Studies in the Maternal, 3(2), pp.1–19. DOI:
Published on 01 Jul 2011.
Peer Reviewed


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