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Below the Radar Transcript

Women, Work, More: Working Mothers & the Pressures of Motherhood — with Amanda Watson

Speakers: Alyha Bardi, Melissa Roach, Kathy Feng, Paige Smith, Amanda Watson, Anonymous Worker Interviewees

[soft guitar music]

Alyha Bardi  0:14
Hi, I’m Alyha with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

You’re listening to Women, Work, More, a Below the Radar series looking to make work — work for women, across varying life stages and social intersections.

Melissa Roach  0:36
For this episode we hear from SFU Sociology and Anthropology Professor Amanda Watson, as she speaks about her recent book, The Juggling Mother: Coming Undone in an Age of Anxiety.

Kathy Feng  0:46
Amanda speaks about our cultural fascination with the figure of the juggling mother, and scrutinizes the immense pressures of motherhood that are often ignored.

Paige  0:54
We also hear from four working mothers as they speak about their experiences of juggling their work and home lives. We hope you enjoy the episode!

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Alyha Bardi  1:11
Hello, everyone, welcome to ‘Women, Work, More’ a special series of Below the Radar. I'm really happy that you can join us. And I'm also very happy to have Amanda Watson with us today. It's so great to have you here today. Amanda.

Amanda Watson  1:25 
Hi, thank you very much for having me.

Alyha Bardi  1:27
Yes, thank you so much for coming in. I'm wondering if you could begin by introducing yourself and talking a bit about what inspired you to write your book, The Juggling Mother?

Amanda Watson  1:37 
Absolutely. I was born and raised here and went to UBC for my undergrad. I started thinking about women in work sort of as a teenager without really knowing that that's what I was thinking about. So when I was doing my undergrad in sociology, I always found myself writing about gendered and eventually gendered and racialized labour, especially unpaid labour, that was always top of mind for me. So this sort of innate curiosity that I'm sure stemmed from observing my own family and how work was divided in the home and how that division of work was uneven and sort of irregular compared to some of my friends and also a big cause of stress in our household. because there just wasn't enough time for family life, it seemed. That took me through to my my masters, and eventually my PhD, where I started asking the question, what is compelling women to keep doing so much more of that unpaid work than men, when in, especially when in heterosexual couples, and especially when children are involved? And so I thought a lot about why we devalue care work or household or domestic work. And why, if we're in this era, when we express gender equality, like across genders, and when when there is a sort of like feminist ethic around family formation, in our generation, why do women keep doing more? Why are we stuck doing this? So where are we getting the messages that we should do this? And that's when I turned my research to media. So The Juggling Mother, the book, started out as my PhD research, and I look to popular media, like pop culture and newspapers and magazines, to ask, what is being represented here about women in work? What kind of work do we see women doing and what is the ideal women woman worker, and what I saw was that in representations of mothers in particular, in media, we have a cultural fascination with this figure that I call The Juggling Mother. We have an understanding that she's very busy, that she does the most. She's very impressive. She's a multitasker, she never drops the ball at work. She's also an expert mother on the homefront. And I just thought, like, wow, this is so interesting. This is sort of the new ideal. It's not the domestic goddess at home. It's not the sort of soulless, gender neutral CEO. It's actually both and it's all at the same time. But what really inspired the book is realizing that even though I had this critique that was coming naturally to me, of how unfair this burden was, when I became pregnant and thought about how I would do this, I couldn't let that dream go. I couldn't shake this vision of this ideal juggling mother and so I started listening to that voice, that inner critic in myself and that was sort of the entry point for the book. So that's why it's part memoir and part research because I realized that even though I'm criticizing these unfair shares of work, I also am dying to be that ideal juggling mother. I don't want to let that vision go and I want people to see me that way. I want that kind of sterling reputation as someone who can do it all and do it all very well.

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First Working Mother Interviewee  5:03
You just start to realize that the world is kind of designed for men to succeed because they don't have to make space for childcare. Yeah, they don't have to adjust their life to be able to stay in the workforce in the same way that women do.

Second Working Mother Interviewee  5:21 
And there is definitely a stigma around when you're in a meeting, especially with new people, you know, and saying, like, Oh, I'm a mom, and people immediately perceive you like a very specific way. Or maybe they don't take you seriously or you're much easier to dismiss, that it feels like you have to work extra hard to have that credibility. Just because you, like, identify yourself as a mom.

Third Working Mother Interviewee  5:46 
I was counting days for my vacation. I honestly felt a little bit like... I felt like it was too much. You know, for me. Even though I went when I had my second kid, I went down to 28 hours, because I felt like, I couldn't do like a full time position like before.

Second Working Mother Interviewee 6:08
With my daughter, and I knew that I could keep kind of working part time it was like, Okay, I'm still me and independent, and, like, useful, I guess. And I grew up, like my mom went back to work. She was a university professor when I was six months old. So I think I've always like had this in my head that it's all possible. It's like that old thing about like, trying to have it all. And then I was within a couple months, like very tired and exhausted and burnt out. And I was like, Oh, this actually doesn't work. Like I'm not doing a good job.

Third Working Mother Interviewee  6:41 
I feel like that's really prevalent in working mothers, you know, just like constantly feeling that you're not giving enough in at home or you're not giving enough at work. You know, always feel exhausted and always, never feel doing enough, you know, or like sufficient or then.

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Alyha Bardi  7:07
And that kind of makes me wonder what pressures often urge women to engage in this juggling mother performance? And why is engaging in this performance problematic on the scale of the mother, which I think is relatively straightforward, but then also more so on broader scales?

Amanda Watson  7:26
This is a great question. I think we can look to many disciplines for answers about how gendered socialization happens, right? If we like really zoom out we can think about the way we socialized girls and boys differently with respect to expressing their feelings and generating good feelings in others and smoothing things over and smiling and and so I kind of take that idea or critique forward in my work on motherhood to think about okay, so if we socialized girls to be the ones who help a group to get along and to feel good and and how does that manifest in motherhood? So I don't think it's hard for us to imagine the kinds of ideals that a mother would embody, right? Like nurturance, and sort of self sacrifice and putting children's needs first. But also, in the modern era, thinking about doctor's advice and expertise that we're learning from, like psychologists and pediatricians on ideal screentime and nutrition, like we have, we have a lot of information. And so the ideal mother can parse this information, and kind of take it in stride, and both listen to her instinct and incorporate expert advice. It's a huge amount of pressure, just to be a parent that is seen as good and worthy. We have so many examples of what an ideal parent would be. We have information changing all the time. And we put a lot of responsibility on the nuclear family, which means on the shoulders of mothers to exact this expertise while they're going through child rearing. But at the same time, and I mean, I'm curious to know sort of what your generation thinks about this, but my sense when I was growing up was that we were kind of getting out of needing to become domestic goddesses, we weren't sent to prep school. We were instead told, like you can do whatever you want to do when it comes to your career. So we were asked, what do you want to be when you grow up? And what's your career and personal planning? I never once thought of myself as restricted to a certain profession or to motherhood. I thought, I'll find my career and then I'll also have a family. And so I think that is where the pressure lies, if we are socializing women, and girls, and boys and across genders, that you can do whatever you want in your profession. And then when you go to form your own family, new expectations pile on, then we're actually conditioning girls and women to do too much, to do two jobs and to excel at those jobs and to have ambitions in two completely different things. And I think that's where, so your question about, like, how does this become damaging and detrimental? Well, I think about it in a really obvious way. Women, especially through the pandemic are reporting higher levels of depression and anxiety and stress and burnout, right, taking on all of this responsibility, but also I think about power and like subordination. We know in the workplace, there's still a motherhood penalty, there's still a wage gap. And we're still socializing women not to be too assertive, lest they come off as aggressive or angry, because they'll be stigmatized for that. So there's just immense pressure that restricts the movement that women can make. And I think we are still doing the work of the last 50 years trying to allow women to be full people, both as caregivers and as paid workers.

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Second Working Mother Interviewee  10:56 
So my son is almost four. So I went back to work when he was 10 months. And, like, it was a total shift in my working priorities. Before I had a kid. I was like, very focused on work and worked a lot of evenings, on the weekends, I worked at a nonprofit. And then when I came back, I was like, Oh, I can't, I can't, and I don't necessarily want to do all of those things anymore.

Fourth Working Mother Interviewee  11:23 
I feel like in the industry that I currently worked in with the restaurant, it is harder to move up the ladder when you have a limited, like, you know, loss of hours, because of, you know, the restrictions and your childcare. So therefore, if you are not available for a full open, you know, from morning to close kind of thing, it does prevent you from being able to get more because of the childcare.

Third Working Mother Interviewee  11:48
I feel like, part of not applying for many jobs that I wanted to apply was because of the inflexibility. Because there were jobs that were very, like, not flexible. And so I, you know, having a more flexible job, I was already feeling like I was drowning. So I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to be in a more demanding position or less flexible position.

Second Working Mother Interviewee  12:21
I think ongoing, it was kind of like almost dismissive comments, or like, oh, you need to I know, you need to get home tonight. But can you do this first? And like, that kind of attitude that wasn't very helpful or inspiring to be in that workplace.

First Working Mother Interviewee  12:40 
My boss is so, so supportive. And is a mother herself, she, when we go on maternity leave, like we were always really encouraged to, like, you know, take the time, take the time off, your job is here, and then you come back, and we'll always have space for you. But the reality of coming back was that I still did have to sort of carve my face out again, like I had to build up my caseload again, like get clients again, and remind my co workers that, hey, I'm here, again.

Third Working Mother Interviewee  13:14
I've asked around and see if there's possibilities of like, you know, like, sharing a job, or, like, do part time. And it was always like, a hard, no. So people would say, No, you know, like, nobody does that. So I'm like, Well, I don't think I want to sacrifice more of my life, my motherhood, my, you know, sanity, to take on that. And I feel like for sure, my professional life has taken a toll.

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Alyha Bardi  13:52
And you describe the idea of The Juggling Mother as inherently ableist and racist. I'm wondering if you could explain why this is?

Amanda Watson  14:02
To tackle the race question. First, when I was studying representation, a lot of The Juggling Mother ideal was represented by white women in Hollywood. And we've come to expect that of cinematic life, right? It was like A list or B list actresses who were thin, who were clear skinned to wear, who were white, who were fit, and conventionally attractive. And with respect to ableism, I increasingly saw this figure as flexible and resilient and fit and mentally fit, really embodying this extremely, like pliable and coordinated subject. And these are all words, of course, that describe physical and mental ability. And so what we saw as threatening in representations of motherhood, were when those abilities were not there, or we didn't see any kind of disability represented in the ideal juggling mother. So she is able to take on new obligations with a smile, she doesn't drop the ball at home or at work. And so she isn't suffering from any kind of mental strain in this role, strain, except for, you know, some gentle stress that she can kind of like laugh off, or that we can kind of laugh about, right, like she'll have a glass of wine with her girlfriends and talk about how she has spit up down her back and didn't know and it was just this chaotic thing, and it's very funny, but the real struggles and like, like self medication using like drugs and alcohol, like real kind of warning signs that we have that in our culture that like this position is not sustainable, and it's certainly not fair. It's not a nice way to live. It's not a nice life to pursue and not a way to die well with each other either. That's not part of the conversation of the ideal juggling mother. She's just inherently capable and self-sufficient. 

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Third Working Mother Interviewee  16:04
Have you watched the show working moms? Oh, my God, it's hilarious. And it's sort of like chaotic, and, like, funny. And I actually do more like, see myself more like, that type of representation —sort of like successful moms, that have to juggle everything. 

Fourth Working Mother Interviewee  16:28
Actually a movie that I was recently watching, which catches my brain right now. And it's called The Single Moms Club movie. There is a quote that basically, in this movie, it states that the mother does everything. She is the chauffeur, she is the doctor, she is the one that makes everything better. She's the one that puts the kids down to sleep and the one that goes to bed the last at nighttime. So I definitely feel like that is one of those things that I will always remember for myself, because it is hard. 

First Working Mother Interviewee  16:58 
Either working mothers are portrayed as having it all, like their marriage is successful, their children are healthy, they have a good career, and they're kind of just coming into the house after their day at work looking great and not stressed and making dinner and all that. Or in media, their whole life is falling apart. So there doesn't seem to be a good representation of what it is. What's the reality of being a working mother is like, the work that it takes to actually balance all of those things.

Second Working Mother Interviewee  17:32
So some of it, I definitely really relate to. But on the other hand, a lot of it, I find, like, I think they show women trying to have it all, quote, unquote. And so I relate to that part. But I would also be interested in seeing a more realistic depiction of like, you know, a mom who makes $40,000 a year and is more challenged to find daycare and things like that, like, I think that that's not ever really represented as either you stay at home. Or you're, you know, an executive, and there's not that in-between piece.

First Working Mother Interviewee  18:05 
I mean, like my early, formative years, it's like, you're kind of promised a particular life by media and culture, it was like, you know, feminism has happened, you can have a job that you want, you can have a career, you can also have a great spouse, you can have your family and we can have it all kind of thing. And but then we don't actually, we weren't told what happens afterwards. We don't really have a framework.

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Alyha Bardi  18:43
Mmhmm. And so in your book, and you also mentioned this a bit earlier, is you draw from various media representations of juggling mothers. So I'm kind of wondering what inspired you to draw from media, and also what relevance these media depictions have. 

Amanda Watson  18:57
That's a good question. I have always found myself thinking about the form that symbols and ideas and discourses take. And so I was someone who was always on social media, and like consuming a lot of these images and ads and, and like films. And then as I was kind of consuming them, like thinking about their circulation and their reception. And so I don't think of media as like, the thing that shapes who we think we are, or this, like, it's not a, it's not a straight line between, we see this advertisement, and then I have the desire to be that person. But I think of it in the way that Stuart Hall thought of it. And that is a way to take the cultural temperature, about our collective ideas about a subject. So we can look to comedy as a kind of way to think about what we think is funny right now. And how do we make meaning of that? It's increasingly difficult, I think, to study popular culture, because we all live in these little digital enclosures of media and, like, algorithms that tell us to watch different kinds of things. But I still think it's worth unpacking. Like the question why when we close our eyes and think about the ideal juggling mother is that so easy to do? Like everyone knows what I'm talking about, without me really needing to go into detail. And there's a reason for that. And it is because we live through consuming representations all around us.

Alyha Bardi  20:24
Mm hmm. And so when exploring the concept of the juggling mother, what sort of findings or ideas emerged about the varied forms that motherhood could take. So for example, parents who give birth adoptive parents, or parental identities that go beyond the mother, father, gender binary?

Amanda Watson  20:45
So we have some representation of families outside of this nuclear family domestic home of the 1980s. We have seen an expansion of representations of family, particularly as streaming services have just increased our content so much. But when I'm teaching my sociology and anthropology class called ‘politics of the family,’ we read Dean Spade, and we think about how often when we see these alternative representations, like say, a gay family, or an adoptive family, we still see them complying to a narrow idea about respectable nuclear family life. So the example that I used to give my students is Modern Family, like we see Cam and Mitch, the gay couple adopting, and we see like the kind of farcical obstacles that they have, and it's like, very endearing. And so on the one hand, that does represent an expansion of the kinds of families we’re used to seeing, particularly in such a popular show, but on the other, they're wealthy, professional, white, like ultimately responsible. The child is never at any kind of risk. It doesn't represent nearly the average family. And so we're able to cope with that representation of an alternative family, because it still represents a middle class nuclear family, in a way. They still kind of, like, fold themselves into the trappings of an ideal suburban family and middle class life. And so they're not actually like queering kinship structures. They're not actually challenging the way that we organize our communities, and the way we live together and the real challenges that families have. They're actually reinstalling the modern Middle Class nuclear family, as the most stable example we have of respectable life. So I actually think it's dangerous because we don't have alternatives that actually challenge that structure, that kind of like neoliberal unit of the individual, responsible nuclear family.

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Fourth Working Mother Interviewee  22:53
I just keep talking about being a single mother is not as easy as one would think. And like, you know, childcare is a tough thing to be able to find that for that and make it work with your schedule.

Fourth Working Mother Interviewee  23:05 
Sometimes I just feel like it's a go, go go. And again, it can be exhausting. The daily workload, it's just nonstop, right? You can have anything from making sure that when he is home, and that you're at work that you're making, taking out dinner before you go to work. So that way, when you come home, you can have dinner ready, so then you can cook dinner, and then you have to prioritize this time that you spend after you just worked nine hours a day and you're completely exhausted. And you know, this little person wants your attention from you. So you need to basically be alert regardless of how you feel. They might not have one child, they might have two or three, or they might be struggling with two jobs, one child with childcare, and might not even have that option.

Alyha Bardi  23:57
And that kind of makes me think of the parts in your book where you talk about the ad, The Motherhood, or movies like This is 40. And one of the things that I kept on thinking that was really interesting is that you're seeing these mothers having to juggle all of these different things and like you mentioned, like, they'll joke about, and how hard their life is. But we don't really question if this needs to be the reality for mothers at all.

Amanda Watson  24:26
Yeah. It's so tough with those comedic representations because they're so seductive. I admit when I watched them, especially after having kids, I was like, oh, yeah, that's so relatable. Like, there's always sticky stuff all over your laptop. And you're, you know, you're just like, just the representations of like, the kind of tedium of parenthood, especially with young kids is, is nice to see. And at the same time, as I argue in the book like it does, it does, like so much harm by failing to actually challenge the real constraints that we have on our lives that make this such an alienating role as a working and juggling mother. So it's nice to see. And it's nice to laugh along. And it is validating. But I think it's also risky, because then we take it in stride. And we keep this as our ideal. And we don't look around and say, what if we demanded some more solidarity with other workers who are doing this unpaid work and actually change the way our social welfare state is helping us or not, right? Like so patch these holes in the welfare state, not through our own martyrdom and our own work, but in fact, through better social programming that levels the playing field for more families.

Alyha Bardi  25:43
And I think we’ll get into some of those ideas for what better social programming could look like in a bit — but just to get into your book a bit more, you talk about the figure of the C-suite mom. And you speak about how it encompasses internalized sexism and maintains the status quo. I'm wondering if you could speak to that a little bit more.

Amanda Watson  26:05
Oh, man. So at the time, when I was writing this, I was obsessed with Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, because my research started in 2010. And I mean, I don't want to throw Sheryl Sandberg under the bus because her work has evolved. And she has taught us so much about where we are at with respect to women in high-paying jobs. But I was responding to that discourse that women should comport themselves to act like men or to kind of strip themselves of their femininity in order to succeed. And Sheryl Sandberg's book was rightly called out by a lot of scholars and activists as being about rich white women climbing the ladder, right? Like this smashing the glass ceiling discourse, that's really the trademark of what we call liberal feminism. And that is a kind of feminism that is not anti capitalist, that is not particularly anti-racist, that is not listening to the decades of Black feminist thought that has always been pointing out that women's labour is the key to their exploitation, and that without that kind of solidarity with this underclass of women workers, white liberal feminism is nothing. It's a facade, right. It's only advancing capitalist systems that rely on this inequality and keep it alive. And so I think that remains the critique that I'm passionate about advancing because we see examples of what we could call this popular feminism, all around us all the time. There's actually a book called Popular Feminism, Popular Misogyny, and it's about this idea, right? This commercial form of gender equality is just doing more harm than good.

Alyha Bardi  27:48
And then moving on to the chapter after that. You speak about the state promotion of breastfeeding and how parents who don't breastfeed are often shamed. I'm wondering if you could speak to the problems behind this. And what these promotions often don't consider. 

Amanda Watson  28:03
I could go off. But what I would tell my students about this, like, the main thing to understand is that state-sponsored promotion of this behavior is an individual response to what we might think of as a collective problem. But that's even like putting it generously because that implies that there's a serious problem when women don't breastfeed. And there's all sorts of research on breastfeeding that's correlative, right? That shows correlations between not being breastfed and any other kind of negative health outcome. But when you dig deep, it's often about class, or place, or it's not about breastfeeding at all. It's very difficult to isolate breastfeeding and say, that's the thing that made a difference in a child's life. And so we have this kind of alarmist idea around what breastfeeding will do. And I do think that there's some successful resistance to the message of Breast is Best. The Fed is Best movement has grown since I've even written the book. But the problem is if you tell a woman to breastfeed, and don't give her any kind of real support, and instead just make it a moral decision, like it's the right choice for you and your baby, all you do is alienate that person, put pressure on that person, create divisions between people who can and can't breastfeed. It's ableist there's so many assumptions we rarely see, actually, I never saw women's labour discussed whatsoever in any breastfeeding promotion campaign that I studied in the US or Canada, even though this is of course, a kind of work, it's a kind of labour, it's like, of the body, accommodations for breastfeeding were never part of the conversation. The idea is if we convince women, that this is their responsibility, this is their responsibility to the nation, this is what good motherhood involves, and then they'll figure out a way to do it. And so that just puts an enormous amount of pressure on individual women to respond to this kind of collective shortage of support for caregivers, especially in the US where there's no universal paid, mandated parental leave after having a baby.

Alyha Bardi  30:14
And then kind of working off of that last bit a little bit more. What is often the barriers for women or for children when they are trying to breastfeed? What often prevents that from being able to happen?

Amanda Watson  30:29 
What I found in a few surveys of asking women this question, asking parents this question, was time and space to breastfeed. It's very straightforward. It's not a mystery. There are some other reasons that people choose not to breastfeed, like they don't feel like it. Or, you know, they may have a sexual history of sexual abuse or trauma. And so using these parts for that function can be really triggering. There's also like, kind of cultural elements to it, you know, if we think about historical legacies of the mammy figure in the US, and how breastfeeding was forced upon some women, and not others in a racialized way, so those reasons do surface. But by and large, women from poorer backgrounds cite that they can't breastfeed because they don't have the time off work to do it. They don't have parental leave, nor do they have a space at work if they're if they're, if you imagine working in a minimum wage job in the service industry, for example, where could you even use the so-called convenient equipment of the breast pump, right? It's just like, completely not feasible. And I'm sure you read the part in the book where I sort of go off about the breast pump as a technology being framed as convenient in the first place when it's ultimately, really inaccessible, yet again. And so sometimes when women are like, but I had to go back to work, we see but oh, the breast pump is there as this like convenient way for you to continue to do this. It's so hard. It's so complicated. It's not the same as proximity to an infant. And we just, there's so much that we don't know. And I think that I had to learn, as I became a mom, about just how impossible some of these expectations are.

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Second Working Mother Interviewee  32:13
I went back to work. And I said, I need to work from 8:30 to 4:30, instead of nine to five because I need to get home when my son gets home  from daycare so that I can breastfeed because he was only 10 months old. My supervisor at the time said, Well, when you say to me that you're going to leave early, that's saying to me that you don't have a commitment to the organization and to your project. People or organizations have a really hard time when, when women start to draw boundaries. And what I saw as a boundary they saw as aggressive. And which is a word that I don't think gets used against men, who are, who are drawing boundaries or asking for things but gets used against women.

Alyha Bardi  33:03
And one thing that I noticed that continued to pop up throughout your book was taking issue with prevailing ideas of self sufficiency. Why are these expectations of self sufficiency so harmful to mothers?

Amanda Watson  33:16
I feel like I could answer this in a few ways. And the scholar in me would say something about neoliberalism and how we all have to be self-sufficient, and how harmful this is, in building community and how harmful this is for individuals. What I'm thinking about in my own life, and in my social circles now with respect to self sufficiency is how, if we internalize this obligation to be ultimately self-sufficient, and ultimately responsible for our offspring, it creates a tremendous amount of guilt when we inevitably need help and need care, because we're all human bodies. We are all mortal. We all get sick at times. We've all been newborns, we will all God willing become elderly, there will be times when we need care. And this myth of self sufficiency is just so harmful and antithetical to living a good life in community. I think critical disability scholars have been instrumental at advancing this idea, because they're all about bodies that don't have the privilege of being self-sufficient. And so we have these like examples of what care networks can look like. But one of the things I heard put by a philosopher at UC Berkeley was that if parents, and mothers in particular, decide to do the best they can to be the primary caregiver for their offspring and not ask for the help of family and friends. And what they're doing actually is also preventing relationships from happening with their children in the community and with adults who might not have children with children. And so this is not a good way to build the kind of society that we want to build if living well means being communal and being collective. So it really has deep implications beyond just stressing out a mother or mom guilt or things like that that are definitely real. I do not want to be like, like, dismissing those things as having real consequences on mental health. But if we really zoom out, big picture, do we want individual parents to be the ones who take care of their children and raise them alone? Like in isolation? I think I think that's just kind of bleak.

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Second Working Mother Interviewee  33:35
So when my son was born, I just did a full, like 10 months of maternity leave and wasn't working or anything. And it's really hard to be on maternity leave with your first kid. Like, I felt very alone. We lived in the West End in an apartment building, right and no anybody else. So it was just like, watching a baby sleep all day.

Third Working Mother Interviewee  35:56
I remember, like, being so tired, and just, I felt like I was constantly running around. And there was no time to catch my breath. It was so much I feel like it was affecting even like mental health, you know, like, I couldn't sleep I just like counting the days to like, vacation time. 

Fourth Working Mother Interviewee  36:20 
Sometimes it affects me. I don't want to say like negative, but it does, because you are you're retired from everything in the consistency of the gogo, and you almost feel like it's a robot kind of life, and you're working to live and you're not really living to, you know, to do more. So there are definitely days where you feel tired and exhausted. And you know, you have obligations and adulting and things that you need to do. But you don't want to do any of it. I feel like we definitely need to stand up support and help. I feel like it is a struggle, and we need to remind all those moms that they're not alone. And that the support system, I feel it's actually very crucial to have because when you feel alone, the whole system in your life can come crashing down. And you need to be the best that you can be in order to do the best you can for your child.

Third Working Mother Interviewee 22:38
Those type of arrangements, like sort of like,mutual help, or something, you know, arrangements, I feel like are so important. And I think they're just developed out of need, out of the lack of like, childcare, that you have to be creative and like you have to like find other people. So like then your neighbors and your community become your support. Feel like that is very important. As a working mother, you know, having that extra community.

[musical transition]

Alyha Bardi  37:44
And considering that and how you've spoken on the issue of the juggling mother, and the ableism, and the racism behind it, what do you think needs to change? 

Amanda Watson  37:55
Well, the first thing that comes to mind, because I think this is what people ask me about the most, is like actual social policies that would make this better. And so when I'm asked to give policy recommendations, which is not a huge part of my job whatsoever, but I always talk about universal and accessible childcare, as being really, like, if there is a silver bullet solution for the inequality experienced between families and between mothers, it is making childcare more universal and more accessible. So that's the first thing I would say. But also, if we think about why mothers are represented as juggling, it's because our economy requires two people to make a household financially sustainable, right? And also doesn't doesn't subsidize that child rearing. So it also requires us taking a look at things that might seem unrelated to motherhood, in particular, like the housing crisis, and you know, things like that, like our infrastructure, and why it's so expensive to be a family. So it actually has ripple effects on all kinds of social policy, I think, if we really look at, like, what is impacting the sort of fate of this ideal juggling mother subject, so maybe this is a good time to mention that the juggling mother is a trope. It's not a real person. But it is something that I believe has real consequences. Like I'm fascinated with the idea of the ideal juggling mother. And I think it's something that we all have in the back of our minds, to an extent and, but she's not real. This is an impossible figure. It's impossible to reconcile the irreconcilable.

[musical transition]

Third Working Mother Interviewee  39:40
I mean, I feel like just like if we, if there were more opportunities for like part time work, or like job shares, or even just like, the hybrid model, like where you could work from home a couple of days are just like, straight up, like working from home all the time. I feel like all of those options would provide more flexibility for women.

First Working Mother Interviewee  40:07
The lack of affordable childcare that's available, the amount of time and energy that it takes to find a daycare or a nanny or a nanny share and the money that you're putting in to that, like I always knew childcare was an issue in the country. But then when you're actually doing it, you're like, oh, yeah, this is a real issue. You know, how I vote is not going to be affected by childcare and those kinds of things and supporting families.

Third Working Mother Interviewee  7:17
It's especially important for immigrant immigrant mothers, that not might not have the family support around. Because for me, I don't have my family here to rely on on childcare. So, we're still waiting for like this NDP promise $10 a day. That would make it like, really accessible for most people. Like, there's like a huge lack of spaces for childcare in the city, like the waitlist are like, so long. And it's almost impossible when you have your first kid to get them in when, at the time that you need it. I've been organizing, and starting two cooperative, two workers cooperatives, to try to do the type of work that I want to do. But in an environment that is kinder to people, you know, where we can, like, look after each other, do good work. And, you know, stay sane. That really sparked this idea, and it has really pushed me to try to find this, this different opportunities and different ways of work.

[musical transition]

Alyha Bardi  42:15
So, kind of moving away from ideas of more broader change and into the more personal, do you have any advice to mothers, either rooted in your own experience or from what has come up in your research?

Amanda Watson  42:31
You know, when I went back to work after my first parental leave, I was not in any position to take anybody's advice. I will be honest about that. I was so in my head about doing it all. I was so in my head about pulling off how unencumbered I could seem in the workplace, and like how productive I could still be and what a reliable colleague I could be. I never wanted to talk about my child unless I was specifically asked, or I'd make a little joke about how I hadn't slept that much. But I was really strategic with how I presented myself, knowing a bit about the motherhood penalty, but also really having internalized this idea that I need to be this like, ultimately productive subject in all ways in order to be successful, and in order to be happy in my life. And that really wasn't true. And so if I would, if I could lend anyone advice, you know, whether you have children or not, or whether you're planning on it or not, I think it would be about thinking about the visions of success that we have for ourselves, because, for me, The Juggling Mother represented a success strategy. It represented an ideal that I could work toward. And that ultimately led me to burnout. And it came hard and fast. It was terrible. It was in the middle of the pandemic, and I just couldn't get out of bed. It was you know, I would not wish though, that feeling of being ultimately so drained and flat on anybody. And I think, I don't know if I could have been warned away from that. I think maybe I had to experience it. But I would plant that seed for somebody and say, why don't we think about the way we've been conditioned to think of success as a super narrow form of career success and family success and financial success? And and think about whether or not it's serving us when we turn to form our own families, because it's not sustainable and and I think a lot of people wake up with this moment of, where they're suffering and ask kind of where where it went wrong. So if we just like can have that seed planted, then maybe we can advocate for ourselves. We can advocate for accommodations for all kinds of families. We can kind of have our eyes and ears open to the families around us, the needs of our community, and just be more fully-formed, less individualist subjects. I think it's going to be a life project for myself. But I'm kind of excited to be on the journey. And now I see allies all around me, allies at work, allies in my family and my home life, with my friends. It just feels like a better way to live.

[musical transition]

Second Working Mother Interviewee  45:10
I went back to work when my daughter was about a month old. And I think I was definitely, in some situations, like, it's fine, and it isn't affecting me. I got more than four hours of sleep last night. That kind of attitude and, like, that's a personal thing that I'm trying to not do as much anymore. Like, I don't think it helps me or my daughter or perception of working moms to pretend that you're like, not exhausted or, you know, busy or have brain fog and all those things that you get.

First Working Mother Interviewee  45:47
Definitely leading by example, as best I can. Because if I'm aware of it, and I'm conscious of the challenges that are here, then I should talk about it, because I think it's important because nobody talked about balancing these things when I was, you know, in my 20s, when you're, you know, just living life and being a woman and figuring out that landscape.

Second Working Mother Interviewee  46:14
Like, needing to really define those boundaries and, and what, what's gonna work for your family and my husband also, like, is very good about doing that and to letting his employer know, like, my kid is sick, I need to be at home, or I'm taking leave, you can't phone me, you know, like, I'm not on call. But it is, it is definitely hard to push back on that feeling of like, well, your wife is at home. So why do you also need to be at home? Like that kind of thing? Or why are you taking four or five weeks off? Like that kind of attitude? So I don't know how to fix that. Other than just like continued advocacy, which, again, comes from moms who are very easy to dismiss.

Fourth Working Mother Interviewee  47:12
It's hard. And kids don't come with manuals. So we go, as you know, we learn as we go, and everyday life, you just definitely just need to try and be as positive. But make that time for yourself because it is crucial. Otherwise, I feel like yeah, you're just gonna go mentally physically drained. It's, it's very important to have your time for yourself being a mother being a parent in general, it's you need to make that time for you.

[music fades]

Alyha Bardi  47:47
I think thats a really good approach to try and think about this whole situation. And even having that little seed — for people who want to be mothers one day, or people who are mothers now — hopefully, they'll be able to push against this context of self-reliance and realize they don't need to take on this performance of the juggling mother.

Amanda Watson  48:08
I think it totally applies to younger students too, because we, in university, tell you that there's one way to be successful in university, right? Like it's all around us, we say that you need to get these grades. And this is how you'd be a good student, and you're on time and like all of these things, and then we measure ourselves against those parameters. And they just have no bearing on what it means to live a good life, and especially to live a good feminist life. It just, it just is, it has no relationship. And so I think it took me a little while to learn that, but I hope to share that with my students so that we can collectively resist the pressure we put on ourselves, and then look for ways to resist it outside of ourselves.

Alyha Bardi  48:48
Mm hmm. Yeah. And just wrapping up your interview, I'm wondering if there's anything else that you would like to share about your book?

Amanda Watson  48:55
The only thing that comes to mind is how the book has come alive for me through sharing it with my students and others. I think it existed as a static text. It came out in September of the pandemic, I was really excited about it. But what has made an impression on me is how like that kind of blip happened, like, like that ego bump happened around the release of the book, but through conversations like this one, and also through kind of, like sharing stories and like, pressures about the pinch between unpaid work and paid work that that that all parents feel, but particularly is a is a feminized feeling. It just, it just has, like continued to drive me to challenge it in myself. And so I sort of risked backsliding a little bit in my own politics when I experienced the success of the book. Like it's not that it was a huge success. It just feels good when it comes out, right? Like you get some pats on the back. And I thought, like, Oh, my goodness, it is so easy to start thinking about success in this narrow way, again, upon having that, like, stroke of the ego, like something was like, okay, gotta get the next book out. I'm going to be completely competitive. I'm going to like, I just went right back to those things that I'm really saying in the book we should not do if we want to live well with each other. And so yes, it's been in sharing these conversations that I've sort of had to hold myself accountable to advancing a feminist politics. It's not about how many sole authored books we published. And so uh, yeah, I just wanted to take the opportunity to say that, so that students who see like, oh, you know, that's one way to be successful, have kids and publish a book in a pandemic, like, that's when I hit burnout, folks. So maybe, yeah, let's let's, let's continue talking about taking the pressure off when we find ourselves with these immense labour burdens upon us.

Alyha Bardi  50:49
I think it's really great that you speak to the realness of that. That's, like, just, it's good because we need those like realistic representations like you're talking about. I'm wondering, do you have any research just to wrap up that you would like to share with us anything coming up, anything that you would like to talk about for yourself?

Amanda Watson  51:07
I am working on two projects. One of them is really changing shape, I think, because of COVID. I was interested in talking to young people about their plans for family formation in climate crisis. So I have this project on the birth strike movement for climate change. And I have recently started thinking about it a little bit more broadly. About like, parenting in sadness. I think a lot of people who have children are facing the major stress and question of how do I how do I parent my children in a feminist way, but how do I do so with like climate change looming? And if I'm feeling sad and stressed, like what do I, how do I cultivate a next generation that's not entirely hopeless. And so I'm asking questions like that and thinking about how to represent that in a way that can generate some positivity among those who are feeling really bleak about the fate of the next generation.

Alyha Bardi  52:07
Those sounds like some great projects, and something that is very much on the minds of those in my generation as we’re beginning to start thinking about the possibility of kids as well — and this “will I, won’t I?” questioning that I’ve heard from a lot of my peers. But I just wanted to say thank you so much for coming in and speaking with us about your book, Amanda. It was really wonderful to hear from you.

Amanda Watson  52:33
Thank you so much for having me and congratulations on this woman and work series. I'm so excited to see it and I look forward to checking it all out. 

Alyha Bardi  52:42
Ah, thank you. I appreciate that so much.

[music]

Alyha Bardi  52:59
Thank you for listening to this episode of Women, Work, More series with Amanda Watson. To learn more about Amanda’s book The Juggling Mother, check the show notes below.

Melissa Roach  53:09
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. 

Paige Smith  53:15
A special thanks to the all-women team that created this series: our audio editor Paige Smith, cover artist and secondary editor Kathy Feng, transcriber and copywriter Melissa Roach, and our host and producer Alyha Bardi — as well as to each and every woman that spoke on the podcast. 

Kathy Feng  53:35
Thanks again for listening, stay tuned for the rest of the series as episodes continue to release on Thursdays for the remainder of November.

[music fades]

Transcript auto-generated by Otter.ai and edited by the Below the Radar team.
November 15, 2021
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