Watson says the familiar figure of the “juggling mother” occupies a complicated place in the popular imagination.

Sociology and Anthropology’s Amanda Watson examines modern motherhood in new book from UBC Press

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Amanda Watson launched her new book The Juggling Mother: Coming Undone in the Age of Anxiety in November at Vancouver’s Massy Books where her reading and discussion with guest May Friedman explored “the idealized version of motherhood that perpetuates established inequities of race, gender, class, and ability.” Watson, an SFU Sociology and Anthropology professor, reflects on some of the book’s themes in a recent op-ed for the Globe and Mail.

Watson says the familiar and somewhat comical figure of the juggling mother has serious implications and connections to maintaining the social order in terms of how work is distributed. The figure has appeared regularly in media representation since the 1980s, when women’s participation in Canada’s labour force rose sharply, and is now a fixture in popular culture and traditional media. 

“You can easily picture her,” says Watson. “She’s fit and attractive. She’s carrying a briefcase and maybe a sippy cup or a stuffed animal—something representative of infant care; rarely a soccer ball or a symbol of caring for older children or elderly relatives. It’s most often baby stuff and ‘business’ accoutrements and nothing in between.” 

But despite the farcical juxtaposition of business attire with baby things, the figure of the juggling mother was invented out of “economic necessity,” says Watson. 

“Our economy relies on often-unpaid labour that happens in the home,” she notes. “Even as we bring some care needs to market, women continue to do more unpaid care and home management labour than men, especially if children or elder relatives are involved. Even though we now imagine our paid labour force to attract workers across genders in order to maintain our national productivity, care needs and attitudes about who ought to provide for these have been slower to change in the private home. The juggling mother offers a solution to this labour shortage.”

Watson argues that we are so saturated with representations of fictional and real-life juggling mothers that “she's taken on a life of her own in our collective imaginations.” She is a figure who is at once both relatable in her plight but whose struggles are out of reach for most women and families. She is a responsible worker and a responsible mother and she takes care of her own body according to established ideas about what makes a responsible healthy person....

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