The Juggling Mother: Coming Undone in the Age of COVID
2021, Future of Work, Equity + Justice, Health
On International Women's Day, join us for a conversation about COVID, motherhood, and paid and unpaid work.
Amanda D. Watson is the author of The Juggling Mother: Coming Undone in the Age of Anxiety (2020, UBC Press). The book explores how the popular representation of the contemporary mother — frantically juggling paid labour and unpaid care work — perpetuates established inequities of race, gender, class and ability. Mothers with the most power are complicit in the exclusion of less privileged ones, but also in their own undoing.
At this event, Watson will read selected passages from The Juggling Mother, followed by a conversation with Michelle Eliot, award-winning journalist and host of “BC Today” on CBC Radio One. Watson and Eliot will discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and intensified the challenges of this idealized version of motherhood.
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Amanda D. Watson
Author of The Juggling Mother: Coming Undone in the Age of Anxiety
Amanda D. Watson is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University. Her work has been published in the International Feminist Journal of Politics, Studies in Social Justice, and Politique de l’image.
Host of BC Today on CBC Radio One
Michelle Eliot is the host of CBC Radio One's midday open-line show BC Today. Michelle is an award-winning journalist with CBC Radio One, and has become a familiar voice as a regular guest host on regional and national programs, interviewing community members and prominent politicians, as well authors and musicians such as Douglas Coupland and Bif Naked. But her true passion is for the open line, where her skill at engaging callers probes further into their viewpoints and digs deeper into their personal stories.
Elder Syexwaliya (Ann Whonnock)
Skwxwu7mesh Uxwumixw (Squamish Nation)
As taught by her late grandparents, Syexwaliya supports families and shares cultural teachings and protocols within and outside of her community. Her passion is to see that Squamish culture, language and ceremonies continue to be the cornerstone of the Nation for future generations and the culture carried on by future generations and her snichim (language) to be used, not only by herself, but for all the families and future generations in their daily lives and ceremonies. Let's not let our Culture and Snichim die out!
Sociology Professor, Simon Fraser University
Travers is a Professor of Sociology at Simon Fraser University. Their recent book, The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution, situates trans kids in Canada and the US, white settler nations characterized by significant social inequality. In addition to a central research focus on transgender children and youth, Travers has published extensively on the relationship between sport and social justice, with particular emphasis on the inclusion and exclusion of women, queer and trans people of all ages. Travers is Deputy Editor of the journal, Gender & Society.
Frightfully Angry: Reflections on The Juggling Mother & “Coming Undone” in the Age of COVID
By Nerida Bullock
Ph.D. Student and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow
SFU Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies
Like most mothers, it’s difficult for me to solidly land on one emotion as I reflect upon the pandemic-induced blur of the last 12 months.
I feel tired. Content. Proud. Fucking angry. Grateful. Shame.
Most scholarly meanderings that I have come across on the subject of “family dynamics during COVID-19” have largely been centred on “young” nuclear families—two “working” spouses (usually different sexed) with children under the age of 12 living in one household. I depart from this typology in many ways: I am a (white) single mother of two children (aged 19 and 16) and a full-time Ph.D. student who relied upon 30 years of accumulated resources and privilege to see me through the financial, physical and emotional hardships of the pandemic.
On International Women’s Day (March 8), CBC’s Michelle Eliot had a COVID-centred conversation with Amanda Watson about her recent manuscript, The Juggling Mother: Coming Undone in the Age of Anxiety (2020 UBC Press). Watson’s book was written before the turbulence of the pandemic, but was timely published during the eye-of-the-COVID-storm in the fall of 2020. Watson critically examines the trope of the “juggling mother” and “the invisible and poorly understood emotional [and embodied] labour that women have a duty to take on to make things work as they juggle competing labour responsibilities” (2020: 2).
According to Watson, the pandemic has revealed the stubborn and entrenched ways in which the problem of women “doing more” [than men] has been getting worse. “The pandemic hit and suddenly ‘the juggling mother’ couldn’t do it anymore. The façade cracked. We were juggling and then someone threw an elephant into the mix and now everything is on fire.”
It’s been a hard time for mothers, and I am no exception.
At the onset of COVID, my children’s father made the unilateral decision to terminate court-ordered financial support for almost six months, resuming only after enforcement action was taken by BC’s Family Maintenance Enforcement Program. He is the owner of a financially sound business that quickly re-stabilized, yet he showed no care or kindness. There were no notes or calls keeping me apprised of the situation. He offered no assurances of his intention to honour financial commitments. He opportunistically knew I would pick up the financial slack—which I did.
Additionally, although my children’s father lives a four-minute drive from my home and we are “co-parents” who share “custodial time,” he washed his hands of all the physical and emotional care of our children at the onset of COVID. He opted out of parental responsibilities, knowing full well that I would pick up the slack—which I did.
I must confess, it feels uncomfortable writing my pain for public consumption (I am curious, does it feel uncomfortable to read?). Airing these matters is a transgression of private/public sensibilities that are deeply ingrained in the (white) middle-class imaginary. Women don’t talk about “private” pain because we loathe bringing “public” shame to the men we love. We resist publishing our personal stories of disappointment in “public” venues for fear of being read as vindictive, or worse—liars. We’ve already got enough on our plates, and the emotional weight of potentially becoming a lightning rod for disturbed men who aggressively troll women online is, quite frankly, a problem we would prefer to live without.
And perhaps we don’t talk about these ugly private stories for fear of revealing cracks in the shiny façades of our lives. After all, we have invested heavily in perpetuating the illusion of competence.
My children are older than the youngsters normally envisioned in these conversations, but I assure you, balancing the responsibilities and stressors of parenthood during the pandemic has left little time for me to engage with the work I love—my Ph.D. studies.
As Watson so eloquently stated in her conversation with Eliot, what mothers have always known and what the pandemic has made abundantly clear is that “we must attend to the ways in which we assume some people [mothers] in our [heterosexual] families will pick up the slack no matter what. And that is certainly what we’ve seen. We’ve seen women pivot to unpaid work without being asked, in crisis management mode, and now we are seeing the data on their disproportionate mental health crisis.”
I am tired. It’s been a long year.
I am content. The pandemic has revealed what I have always known to be true—I am resilient and can thrive under difficult circumstances.
I am proud. I have kept my queer little family healthy and happy.
I am fucking angry. There are no socially sanctioned avenues by which mothers can scale back and/or opt out of parenting responsibilities without swift condemnation and self-imposed guilt.
I am grateful. I have many resources at my disposal: accumulated financial assets; solid friendships; paid services to access; a supportive Ph.D. supervisory committee in a department that “gets it”; a safe home; a fridge full of food; access to medical care. The list is joyously long and cannot be exhausted.
I am shameful. Watson argues in The Juggling Mother that internalized patriarchy and misogyny compel women to carry an unequal ratio of “private” care while concurrently over-performing “public” professional competency. Yet, our collective performance of the juggling mother leaves unchallenged the structural forces that demand redress (2020: 15). These performances make women (especially privileged women, such as myself) complicit in hierarchies of power that disproportionately impact queer, trans, Indigenous, poor, racialized and geographically distanced mothers. Watson reminds us that the conditions that make privileged women “feel” as if they are “coming undone” are potentially lethal to the families of women who are most excluded from power (126).
I am part of the problem—yet I know of no way out. Beware! This makes me frightfully angry.
Women are getting overworked during the COVID-19 pandemic — CBC Vancouver News (March 8, 2021)
International Women's Day conversation about COVID-19 and the challenges of motherhood on March 8 — The Georgia Straight (March 1, 2021)
Join Michelle Eliot for a conversation about anxiety and motherhood on International Women's Day — CBC Communications (February 16, 2021)
For women with families, the stresses of the pandemic have changed the ways in which women work.— CBC British Columbia (@cbcnewsbc) March 9, 2021
Plenty of mothers who work from home are simultaneously juggling jobs and family care.@anitabathe spoke with @SpinDrWatson to look at the pandemic's impact on working moms: pic.twitter.com/buSLQfUbwd