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Of diapers and dissertations : the experiences of doctoral student mothers living at the intersection of motherhood and studenthood Sears, Allison Laurel

Abstract

While the literature on the experiences of women in academe generaly, is growing, the experiences of women student mothers in post-secondary education are rarely explored. Given the increasing number of women students enroling in university and the fact that the student population is aging, there is a greater likelihood of these students being mothers. A study of these women is timely and crucial to understanding their needs and chalenges within the university. The purpose of the research was to examine the experiences of doctoral student mothers living at the intersection of studenthood and motherhood as it was expected that the demands from the family and university would create specific chalenges. The study delineates the women's understanding of and the degree to which they accepted the dominant North American ideology of intensive mothering and the ideology of the good student. Further, the study sought to ascertain whether the student mothers experienced contradiction between the two ideologies similar to that experienced by the women in Hay's (1996) study of employed and stay-at-home mothers. The study utilizes the concept of the public/private dichotomy and the notions of greedy institutions and competing urgencies in its framework. The design consisted of in-depth semi-structured interviews with seventeen mothers at various stages in their doctoral programme. The women range in age from thirty-three to forty-seven and have at least one child, under age of thirteen, living with them full-time. Findings noted that the women were able to articulate the dominant definitions of the good mother and the good student but, for the most part, they rejected them. They preferred to be balanced both as mothers and as students, although almost all of them insisted their children were their first priority. The women experienced a contradiction between the two ideologies and, using the concept of ideological work developed by Berger (1981), their experiences were explored. The women engaged in ideological work to support their alternative definitions of the good mother and the good student. When they were not as able to sustain their ideological work they tended to revert to the dominant definitions.

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