Negotiation of Motherhood with Self, Family, and Cultural Communities Among First-Generation Indian Immigrant Mothers of Toddlers



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Within the U.S., about 64% of mothers with children younger than six have been reported to participate in the labor force (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018; Parker, 2015). Women have also made progress within the education sector (Geiger & Parker, 2018), which may be important for the expansion of their human capital—their skills and knowledge (Colemen, 1988; Harding, Morris, & Hughes, 2015)—and contribute to their progress in the workforce (Geiger & Parker, 2018). Indian women, who are part of a growing minority group in the U.S. (Zong & Batalova, 2017), have also made progress and are expected to continue to make progress on the education and work fronts (KC et al., 2010). At the same time, the mindsets of the American and Indian cultural communities have not picked up on these trends. Very few adults in the U.S. think that mothers of young children should work full-time outside of the home sphere, and many believe that working full-time is not an ideal situation for the young child (Pew Research Center, 2013). For Indian women, family roles, including the role of primary caregiver, are often emphasized and viewed as central to their identities —more than they are for men (Bhatnagar & Rajadhyaksha, 2001; Dhawan, 2005). Immigration policies in the U.S. that allow skilled men, rather than skilled women, to participate in the labor force may reinforce such gender roles (Ravindranath, 2017). During toddlerhood, mothers’ parenting practices impact child’s development (Rinaldi & Howe, 2012), but the above gendered expectations may put pressure on an immigrant mother to conform to those family roles alone. Even if they are legally employed, mothers may be trying to balance paid work and domestic work in parallel. Understanding how mothers, especially first-generation Indian immigrant mothers, negotiate their professional and domestic roles and how they are supported in these roles may help design policies that support these and other parents and families in similar situations. Using components of developmental frameworks and interdisciplinary research on human and social capital, parenting, and Indian families as guides, I explored parenting beliefs among 12 first-generation Indian immigrant mothers of toddlers (18 to 36-months old) to better understand their mothering experiences and the negotiation of motherhood with self, family, and cultural communities. In analyzing interviews and observations, I learned: 1) maternal education plays an essential role in expanding mothers’ cognitive, social, and emotional resources, 2) spouses’ participation in domestic chores is important for family functioning, 3) parents, in-laws, siblings, and individuals belonging to Indian and Indian-American communities also provide the mothers with support in mothering, and 4) although differing cultural information about mothering is exchanged in interactions with people in social networks, mothers consider information that aligns with their own philosophies to inform their goals and parenting practices. The findings of my study suggest that policy makers and practitioners should consider the cultural context in which the first-generation Indian immigrant mothers raise young children. They should work towards building on these mothers’ existing human and social capitals. Future research should also consider a mixed-methodology approach and be inclusive of different caregivers (e.g., fathers) belonging to diverse immigrant families.