Out With The Old – In With The New

By Ca Hoang

The pile of work I had felt endless. As soon one was completed, another followed. Letting out a deep sigh, I allowed myself to take a break, to do anything that did not involve staring at the laptop screen for the next hour. I fetched a broom and a dustpan and began sweeping the floor of the shared area in my apartment. It was my new found mode of tending to myself. While looking after my living space, I was also greeted with a sense of calmness that I craved. Almost every time I embark on this simple act of self-care, I am reminded of an incident with my once close friend when we were in middle school. It was our turn that morning to handle class cleaning duties and I remember vividly how the moment I started sweeping, my friend gasped and scolded, “That’s not how you do it!” She grabbed the broom from my hands and continued, “You should at least know how to sweep the floor as a girl!” I was eagerly sweeping dust into the air and surely learned a thing or two about housekeeping from my friend then and there. I used to laugh off her reaction to how inexperienced I was with chores, but lately, I cannot help but think about her latter exclamation. Why must I know how to sweep the floor as a girl?

Recently, I was introduced to Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking. In her book, Ruddick engages the readers in discussions of mothering as a practice informed by maternal thinking and how it relates to politics of peace. One of the many ways in which Maternal Thinking proved significant is that rather than viewing motherhood as an identity, maternal work is proposed to be studied as an experience, which thus de-genders motherwork (O’Reilly, A., 2009). Through the lens of maternal thinking, no longer would caring for a child or taking care of household matters such as sweeping, or ironing clothes be seen as exclusive to women. In an article written before the publication of Maternal Thinking, Ruddick shares that one of the goals she had when developing the concept was to unite mothers and feminists (Ruddick, 1983). Ruddick expresses her beliefs that, in spite of how feminism and motherhood may seem contradicting to some, maternal work can contribute to the feminist perspective, while “feminist transformation of maternal thinking was in the deepest interests of mothers”, which I think has become increasingly evident. Although dated, the concepts introduced by Sara Ruddick then continue to be relevant today.

Learning about maternal thought and how it separates gender from labour has changed my internal dialogue from questioning why certain labour are gendered the way they are, to seeking how the understanding of feminism and motherhood can be transformed. I am only beginning to internalize how gender norms and idealization of motherhood has shaped the environment that I grew up in, but I am glad that Maternal Thinking has provided me at least a starting point. Perhaps maternal thinking can also be applied to the way we mother ourselves, as tending to our personal needs also involves preservation and growth. Nonetheless, I think I can now comfortably sweep the floor or partake any other housekeeping activity without obsessing over how engaging in them would relate to my gender and instead focus on myself as well as the activity in its own right.

Featured Photo by Jan Kopřiva


O’Reilly, A. (2009). “I Envision a Future in Which Maternal Thinkers Are Respected and Self-Respecting”: The Legacy of Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking. WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, 37(3–4), 295–298.

Ruddick, S. (1983). Thinking about Mothering—and Putting Maternal Thinking to Use. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 11(4), 4–7.


Ca is an international student from Vietnam at the University of South Florida. She is pursuing a dual degree in Statistics and Public Health with aspirations of working in the field of biostatistics in the future. Ca learned about the Museum of Motherhood through the Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice class instructed by Dr. Singh and was inspired by the work the Museum has and continues to engage in. As an intern, she has created blog posts that share activities and perspectives about caregiving, self-care, as well as the lessons we can learn from each activity.

Black Motherhood In 2020

By Kimya P. Barden, PhD

To all mothers, but Black mothers in particular –

I hope this letter finds you well and in good health. Truly, I do. Because as a Chicago-based mother of four beautiful Black children, I often feel stressed (Brown et al., 2020). The convergence of both COVID-19 and the state-sanctioned murders of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement has left me weary. I have three young children under age five, two of whom happily attended full-day preschool before our nation began to “shelter-in” this past March with the hopes of collectively reducing the spread of the coronavirus. My other young child happily bounced between being at home with me and going two to three times a week to “Grammie and Grandpa’s,” my husband’s parents. The arrangement was quite nice. I got to spend time away from my children at work as a college professor or even engage in much-needed self-care treating myself to an occasional workout or lunch with friends or my beloved husband.

Fast-forward six months and as of September 8, 2020, the first day of school for Chicago Public Schools, my modest three-bedroom apartment is now a hodgepodge epicenter of all things early childhood.  My oldest son, age five, had been in preschool for over two years. An early and voracious reader, he thrived at both a cooperative school and a Montessori school, each decorated with puzzles, games, books, and most importantly the opportunity to forge human connections with his peers and teachers.  As a recently minted kindergartner, his first “school-age” experience is now in our cramped living room two to three times a week in front of a Google Chrome book with my husband and me volleying the role of tech facilitator (him) and emotional coach (me). From 7:45 am until 2:45 pm (with a few breaks in between), my son stares into a computer screen peppered with up to eight moving squares populated by his teachers and classmates, people he will probably never see in-person this year, maybe indefinitely. Though his teachers do a great job of pacing the class to ensure he and his peers have a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning, he is expected to log-in and stay logged-in as “this is how the district monitors attendance.”  

My four-year-old daughter, who had been home with me for most of the first three years of her life, finally bought into the concept of school, even resisting my authority at times with the refrain of “well, my teacher told me.” Unlike my son’s public school, her school is independent and thus offered parents the option of returning to school for in-person instruction or engaging in virtual learning. However, I didn’t want to risk exposing my daughter or the rest of my family to the coronavirus. Nor did I believe that virtual learning was developmentally appropriate for preschool-aged children.  Now that she is back home in full-day “Mommy school” she is learning phonics and sight words by manipulating colorful refrigerator letter magnets, developing her social/emotional intelligence by practicing patience and forgiveness with her younger brother (who often sabotages her sight words with a quick hand swipe), fine-tuning her fine motor skills by helping me write the weekly grocery list, and engaging in artistic expression on our kitchen table with watercolor paint and my 8 x 10 printer paper as her canvas.

My two-year-old son, smack dab in the middle of being a “terrific two,” seems to have a phone or tablet in his hand much more than I desire. I have never been the parent to crucify screen time for toddlers. Sometimes, fifteen minutes of Baby Shark or Storybots can save the day as I try to prepare a home-cooked meal or finish up a work-related e-mail. However, I have noticed his level of comfort and the phone seems to be an appendage as he seamlessly scrolls and taps with the ease of a tech-savvy teenager. I am concerned about his preparedness for preschool next year as he is missing out on much needed social engagement that playgroups and toddler classes can offer. Although many daycares are enrolling two-year-olds to provide working families with much-needed child care,  I am not comfortable sending him to daycare as my son is still learning how to social distance and wear a mask.  

Still, my 18-year-old daughter is caught within the intersections of both navigating college on-line and being a Black young adult living in an urban context.  Despite an unconventional senior year of high school (her senior class may have inaugurated the first of many drive-through, “red-carpet” graduations), feeling disappointed that her college decided only two weeks before the first day of the semester to go fully online, she appears to be enjoying college classes at Howard University from her bedroom. The college dorm and campus “yard” experiences that I remember vividly from my own college experience twenty years ago have been replaced by her and her friends going to restaurant drive-throughs or visiting a friend’s house. These behaviors are developmentally appropriate and before the pandemic would have been approved, even encouraged by me. Since the pandemic, these behaviors are now risky, each having the potential to compromise our family’s health and often include the following reminders upon her departure: “do you have your mask?” or “where is your hand sanitizer” or “remember to stay outdoors as much as possible.”  Still, as my daughter and all of her friends are Black, the risks extend beyond those of contracting a microscopic virus which has taken the souls of more than 235,000 Americans (mostly people of color and the elderly) at the time of this writing. 

Though the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Abery are the most recent high profile killings by both police and/or narcissistic vigilantes, young Black bodies have been subjected to state-sanctioned violence since this country’s founding, particularly in Chicago. This includes Chicago-reared teenagers and young adults like 17-year-old Eugene Williams stoned to death during the “race riots” of 1919, 14-year-old Emmet Till mutilated and shot to death while visiting Mississippi relatives in 1955, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd fatally shot by a police officer in 2012, and 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald shot 16 times by a police officer in 2014. Each was prematurely murdered during a critical stage of human psychosocial development characterized by increasing independence and responsibility. I can only imagine how their mothers, grandmothers, and mother-figures wept.

As a Black mother of a college student, I have to frequently have “the Talk”— the desperate soliloquy delivered by Black parents to their pre-adolescent and adolescent children about adopting placating body language and intonation as a tool against the dangers of racism (Whitaker & Snell, 2016). “The Talk” is delivered to prolong both Black children’s freedom and their actual lives in the presence of police officers or others who can use their power and positions of authority to alter the course of Black life. “The Talk” is not novel. My mother anxiously shared similar words with me in the 1990’s; my grandmother discussed with her how to stay “safe” in the 1960’s; and my grandmother, a second-wave migrant of the Great Migration from Arkansas, received a similar conversation from her parents, my great-grandparents, in the 1950’s. “The Talk” reinforces how powerless many Black parents feel at being ill-equipped to fully protect their children from the fatal impacts of white supremacy (Whitaker & Snell, 2016; Thomas, 2013).  Thus, at times, I believe Black motherhood in particular can be simultaneously risky and rewarding. Despite all of my planning, care, thought, and especially prayer, I know my children’s bodies may be rendered by others as invisible, a threat, and inconsequential. 

In the year 2020, my Black motherhood feels like a particularly arduous marathon as I laboriously protect my four children from both an invisible, yet deadly virus and the harm that may come from race-based discrimination. Psychologists and other mental health providers have coined a term that sums up this disjointed feeling I often have: race-related stress (APA, 2018; Utsey et. al, 2008). It is psychosocial distress and harm caused by racial discrimination perpetrated against people of color in the form of the following forms of racism: individual (an individual’s conscious and unconscious bias directed at a person of color), cultural (false messages from cultural groups deemed superior about the inferiority of people of color), and institutional (policies and practices embedded within institutions like education which are often weaponized against people of color). 

For example, as Black women are disproportionately confined to the “service” sector, employed as teachers, health care specialists, delivery drivers, retail staff, fast-food cashiers, and other “essential” workers, they may experience individual race-related stress by both the broader public and their colleagues.  Social scientists often label this form of race-related stress as micro-aggressions or everyday racism (Pierce, 1970; Sue, 2017). Still, cultural racism can impact Black mothers’ stress levels as they consume news outlets —both social media and broadcast media— which feed the voyeuristic appetites of media consumers who routinely use news outlets to show both the murders of Black people and the polarizing “debate” around the importance of protecting our children’s lives.  Black life and death are often subjected to the realm of the public spectacle.   

Still, Black mothers are often subjected to institutional race-related stress via the intersection of occupational segregation and segregated housing policy which disproportionately distributes us to both low-paying jobs and hypersegregated communities void of a robust tax-base to fund highly resourced schools.  This is important as Black mothers (and fathers) with pre-primary and school-aged children in both the public and private sector bear the burden of simultaneously working and home-schooling, or risk sending their children to independent schools and daycare centers knowing that essential family like grandparents may opt-out of caring for their grandchildren to ensure their own health and safety. 

As a university professor at a public university on Chicago’s South Side I work with many mothers, most of whom identify as Black or Latina.  In both on-line class discussions and virtual office hour conversations, the theme of race-related stress dominates their narratives.  Specifically, feelings of anxiety about the uncertainty of parenting, schooling, and work seem to plague these women. The work-family balance is in need of alignment. Accordingly,  I offer you personal and professional tips to get through this moment. I implore you to recite this declaration aloud: MAMA First. MAMA is an acronym where the letter M stands for meditation, A for awareness, M for movement and the final A stands for access. 

MMeditation is an exercise of the mind.  For many African Americans, meditation is often likened to prayer or devotion (Woods-Giscombe & Gaylord, 2017). Since March of this year, I have returned to my meditation practice to calm my nerves and spirit. Since the school year began, I have been meditating daily.  I wake up 20 minutes before my children, get in a seated position on my yoga mat, close my eyes, and then breathe. I identify an object of attention, something I want to cultivate more of in my life like joy, gratitude, peace, patience, health, and wellness. I focus on that object and breathe, breathe, breathe. Lately, I have been integrating yoga and positive affirmations into my meditation for additional clarity and balance. 

A: My meditation practice often brings awareness to a unique realization or sensation, particularly my feelings.  Black women and mothers are often discouraged from both feeling and verbalizing anger, frustration, and melancholy as it may reinforce cultural stereotypes about our temperament and ultimately our worth (Perry, 2011). However, acknowledging a full range of emotions is critical as it provides essential information about what is needed to get better. I have become aware that parenting four children, monitoring virtual and “Mommy” school, and working from home often leaves me feeling emotionally exhausted. Acknowledging feelings of defeat and overwhelm can signal that additional supports, breaks, and even time-off from work may be long overdue. 

M: Meditation and awareness breed movement.  It is recommended that adults engage in physical movement for at least 30 minutes daily to impact their weight, mood, and overall health. Given the current demands of motherhood, carving out 30 minutes can seem impossible. However, I implore you to take at least 10 minutes a day and just move. Brisk walking, taking the stairs, and even housework are excellent ways to get your body moving. Movement with your children is even an option.  Exercise with my children includes dancing in my living room to old-school music videos, jumping rope, and even playing family tag.

A:  As a social work practitioner, I affirm that access to mental health therapy services is critical for many Black women and mothers. More than 60% of African Americans believe that mental illness is stigmatized and a sign of weakness (Ward et. al, 2013). However, “talk” therapy with a culturally responsive mental health professional can improve feelings of distress, demystify feelings of worry, cultivate greater communication skills, and improve overall quality of life. These gains can be particularly beneficial for Black mothers parenting in the midst of a public health crisis. If you are in need of someone to talk to, Black-women owned and operated mental health supports like Loveland FoundationTherapy for Black Girls, and The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation offer free and discounted therapy for Black women and mothers.

Hang in there Mama,


Works Cited

American Psychological Association. (2018). Physiological & Psychological Impact of Racism for African Americans. https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/racism-stress

Brown, S.M., Doom, J.R., Lechuga-Pena, S., Watamaru, S.E., & Koppels, T. (2020). Stress and parenting during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Child Abuse and Neglect, August, doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104699

RAPID-EC (September 8, 2020). Something’s Gotta Givehttps://medium.com/rapid-ec-project/somethings-gotta-give-6766c5a88d18

Utsey, S.O., Giesbrecht, N., Hook, J., & Standard, P.M. (2008). Cultural, familial, and psychological resources that inhabit psychological distress in African Americans exposed to stressful life events and race-related stress. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(1), 49-62.

Ward, E.C., Wiltshire, J.C., Detry, M.A., & Brown, R.L. (2013). African American men and women’s attitudes toward mental health illness, perceptions of stigma, and preferred coping behaviors. Nursing Research, 62 (3), 185-194.

Woods-Giscombe, C.L & Gaylord, S.A. (2017). The cultural relevance of mindfulness meditation as a health intervention for African Americans. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 32(3), 147-160.

Whitaker, T. R., & Snell, C. L. (2016). Parenting while powerless: Consequences of “the talk”. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 26(3-4), 303-309. https://doi.org/10.1080/10911359.2015.1127736

Perry, M. H. (2011). Sister citizen: shame, stereotypes, and Black women in America. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Pierce, C. (1970). Offensive mechanisms. In F. B. Barbour (Ed.), The Black seventies (pp.265–282). Boston, MA: Porter Sargent.

About: Kimya P. Barden is an Associate Professor of Urban Community Studies at Chicago’s Northeastern Illinois University. A Chicago native and mother of four, her research interests include African American young adult identity development, perceptions of historical trauma by African American youth, and neoliberalism’s impact on African American student identity. She recently contributed to the Journal of Mother Studies exploring the impact of tenure on Black mothers in academia and has presented at multiple MOM Conferences in New York City over the years.

Abstract: Recent data suggests that parental stress is at an all-time high (WHO, 2020).  The combination of both the COVID-19 induced pandemic and collective unrest brought on by police murder and brutality has caused many parents to experience signs of anxiety, depression, and distress. According to a recent poll, 68% of caregivers of young children report a significant increase in stress since the beginning of the pandemic (RAPID-EC, 2020). In addition, as most US school districts have opted this Fall for virtual learning, parents have become even more stressed as they try to manage work and schooling from home. Even more, as the rate of fatalities from both COVID-19 and systemic racism in the form of police violence has disproportionately impacted people of color, race-related stress is particularly pronounced, especially for Black mothers (APA, 2018).

Original publication is online at JourMS: Journal of Mother Studies – LINK: Black Motherhood in 2020

Sharing Native American Traditional Stories

By Carla Ferris

As we approach the winter months, expressing gratitude, a time of Thanksgiving, and other family gatherings, I have been drawn to the traditions of the Chumash Native Americans who share their history and demonstrate celebrations with ancestral ceremonies and stories. This article showcases traditional Native American travels to the Channel Island in California, a Mother Earth story from a Chumash decedent, and Covid-19 precautionary practices.

The Santa Ynez band of Chumash Indians currently reside on the reservation located in Santa Barbara County in California. They have kept their Chumash traditions alive for 100 years. Their cultural heritage achievements include maintaining a connection to ancestral spiritual beliefs. These Native Americans have a festival called *Hutash*, named after the Chumash Earth Goddess.  Since 2001, the Santa Ynez Chumash tribe has made the journey to the California Channel Islands for cultural holiday gatherings. The celebrations have traditional activities such as feasting, dancing, and singing.

 A youtube video and Chumash celebration titled Awakening Ancestral Memories documents amazing finds. This video presents a Chumash Indian decedent Eva who narrates the reconstructed Ancestral Chumash tradition. “A Hundred years ago, The Chumash Indians traveled for trading purposes in a canoe called Tamal. In 2001, the Chumash Indians recreated the tradition with a sea- voyage trip from the North American mainland to Santa Cruz Ca. Island, which is a section of the Channel Islands. Eva took her father’s place as Captain in the year her stepmother passed away. Eva tells us, “My mother’s spirit was with us and gave us the confidence to make this harsh journey.” The ancestral ceremonies begin with Chumash Indians greeting the arriving sea travels with cooked meals. Early in life, Eva was able to step into the shoes of the “Dark water paddlers” which is an honorable position to hold in the Chumash community. These were the crew members who started the Tamal trek in the early morning, 2:00 a.m. from Ventura Ca. harbor. Eva says, “the crew travels the first 21 miles toward the Channel Island, and this early time is so dark for pacing.” In holding a captain’s position, Eva must listen to the other paddler’s breathing and paddling sounds.” Here is the like to their incredible story.

In my ecofeminism research, I reviewed the concept that binds feminist elements with nature. Here I share a Chumash story called the “Rainbow Bridge”, which illuminates the connection with Mother Earth. Julie is an Island descendant who narrates her family history in her great grandfather’s timeline. She begins with “Sahi papa” (Once upon a time), Limu, meaning in the sea. The American Indian family believed, “Mother Earth was there and created Santa Cruz Island that is off the California coast.  Mother Earth gathered plant seeds and spread the seeds in the Earth’s soil. This activity produced the missing people and she gifted them with happiness. Her husband who was known as the milky way (sky snake) gave the people the gift of fire in the form of a lightning bolt. The villagers learned to cook their food on warm fires which helped to expand population growth. Mother Earth decided to have the people move to another location for further growth. She showed the people a rainbow bridge to cross over to a larger land. The people were scared to take this journey over the rainbow bridge. Then, Mother Earth changed the people into Dolphins who reached Carpentaria California.” As Julie concludes, “the American Indian people did thrive in a happy culture. “

The youtube link to the Native American story can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0iyd68oBok.

I identify with the Native American philosophy and send my prayers to the stars. My heart is sent to the Covid community affected by the Californian and Colorado’s wildfire smoke inhalation. During this healing research, I found the Center for Disease Control provides wildfire smoke inhalation protection in the times of Covid-19. They describe the mask usage as limited protection against smoke inhalation. The CDC suggests limiting outdoor exercise during a smoky wildfire event. They promote cleaner airspace at home to protect from smoke damage to the lungs.  They place emphasis on social distancing when evacuations are required. Here is the link. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/covid-19/wildfire_smoke_covid-19.html   

As a Public History student, I had the pleasure to research Native American holiday traditions and cultural stories. I appreciate the Santa Ynez Chumash Indians for sharing their extensive background and spiritual beliefs.  I felt an inspirational element from the research about the ancestral spirituality in the connection to the Chumash heritage. I believe both the Awakening Ancestral Memories and the Rainbow Bridge illustrations are cultural identity markers that will be passed on to future Native American generations. I accept the wildfire smoke inhalation research at the CDC as well as their guidance for safety practices. I believe the stars heard a prayer as the American Public University’s Anthropology club sent me a Covid-19 mask. I have treasured these Native American oral traditions. I will sincerely carry these faith concepts on into the Museum of Motherhood community.


Awakening Ancestral Memories https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pztFcjzIRu4&feature=emb_logo 

Center for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/covid-19/wildfire_smoke_covid-19.html    

How the Native American Indians came to Carpentaria Ca. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0iyd68oBok

Digital Version of MAM Available For Purchase Online

If you missed purchasing a copy of the beautifully printed Maternal Art Magazine (England), you can now access the digital edition of Issue One: Stay At Home which is available to buy via the MAM website for £5.99. [Link to MAM]. 

Blogging opportunities are also available through Maternal Art [LINK]

Featured home page image by Jocelyn Allen, The Bump & The Beard (33 weeks) from Waiting For Things In A Time When You Rarely Wait For Things. See more at Jocelyn’s website: https://jocelynallen.co.uk/

Latest blog is here: https://maternalart.com/blog/less-faff-less-flash-by-jocelyn-allen

On Taking Short Walks

By Ca Hoang

Today I woke up already overwhelmed by the things I had to do for the coming week. I felt horrible, and it was only 9 in the morning. After a while of staring at the items on my desk and occasionally glancing out the window, I decided to go for a walk. A change of atmosphere, I thought, would allow me to set aside my concerns for a moment and just be present. That was when I decided to dress up as I would on a pre-pandemic normal day and head out for a short walk around my apartment complex. I circled around the block twice, initially unsure if this would be helpful. My mind circled a bit thinking about my responsibilities, but as I strolled past the trees and the grass, I could not help but notice how they have grown old from the last time I saw them.  I started to observe my surroundings. As I took in the fresh air, I watched a squirrel jump onto a brick wall and swiftly make its way up. There were flowers I have never seen before and clovers that I never realized were around. There were a few people walking their dogs, but I was the only individual, perhaps somewhat suspiciously, lurking around. Recognizing these little things brought about an odd sense of tranquillity, but it also made me curious about whether others were experiencing walking in a similar manner as I did?

A study (Robinette et al., 2017) found that recreational walking and environmental attributes were closely related to socioeconomic status (SES) areas, that is low SES areas often had disadvantaged attributes with regards to neighborhood aesthetics, safety, and traffic to name a few. These factors in turn affect how people living in such areas engaged in walking as a leisure activity, which is expectedly less than in higher SES areas. The findings were not particularly surprising, but it made me aware once again that more needs to be done to address the SES gap. The difference in how recreational walking is perceived and experienced is yet one of the many fronts in which varying SES levels materializes in terms of health. Another study (Sugiyama et al., 2015) examined how neighborhood SES is associated with health outcomes. Generally, the researchers found that residents of higher SES residential areas suffered from fewer health problems than those living in lower-income areas. The intersection between the area that we live in and our health outcome is evident, but not always obvious.

As a public health student, I had the chance to learn more about health disparities in the United States, and that the discussion of health disparities is never complete without the mention of our zip codes. Yet, I was not expecting to connect what I have learned in my college courses to the simple act of self-care that I chose for myself today. Although the scenery I am surrounded with is not exceptional, it is more than enough to allow me to immerse myself in a temporary departure from the worries I have bundled up. My short walk felt safe and serene. I cannot say this would have been the case if I had taken a walk beyond the gates of my apartment complex. It would take implementing changes at a policy level to be able to provide a more conducive environment for everyone to comfortably engage in activities that not only support their physical but also their mental health. Just for today, I think it is worth being aware that such disparities exist so we can all participate in conversations that discuss how we might possibly help narrow health gap disparities in society.


Robinette, J., Charles, S., & Gruenewald, T. (2017). Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status and Health: A Longitudinal Analysis. Journal of Community Health, 42(5), 865–871. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/10.1007/s10900-017-0327-6

Sugiyama, T., Howard, N., Paquet, C., Coffee, N., Taylor, A., & Daniel, M. (2015). Do Relationships Between Environmental Attributes and Recreational Walking Vary According to Area-Level Socioeconomic Status? Journal of Urban Health, 92(2), 253–264. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/10.1007/s11524-014-9932-1

Mothering Myself – Perspectives On Exercise

By Ca Hoang

Ever since the beginning of summer, my roommates and I have committed to working out at least twice every week. On weekends, we push the living room tables aside, connect our laptop to the TV, and follow the home workout videos on YouTube. The initial dread of regularly drowning in sweat and enduring physical pain soon disperses and is replaced by the joy of engaging our muscles and building our stamina while occasionally laughing at each other’s random comments. I feel grateful that we are continuing this ritual despite the increasing workload we have as students with the semester underway. Exercising together has not only helped keep us active while cooped up at home but also gives us time to focus on ourselves: our bodies, our preferences, our limits. Here at MOM, I am hoping to reflect on some of the ways in which I mother myself as I continue to explore topics in my reproductive justice class with Holly Singh at USF. [My bio link for the museum internship program is here].

Yet, for many expecting mothers as well as mothers who have recently given birth, engaging in physical activity has become their “third shift”. A concept developed by Dworkin and Wachs (2004), the “third shift” refers to how mothers, besides their first working shift and second shift of tending to household matters and childcare, are also socially coerced into participating in fitness regimens in order to “erase physical evidence of motherhood” Mallox, DeLuca, and Bustad (2020). Through thematic analysis, the authors studied the causes and ways in which mothers engage in this cultural phenomenon. They determined five categories that identify mothers within this “third shift’, namely Marathon Moms, Family Fitness Focused Moms, Gym Goer Moms, Custom Coached Moms, and Internet Inspired Moms. The study notes how the media and consumer products have been tailored to pressure mothers to “regain control over their body” and examines the ways in which women’s bodies, post-birth, are conflated with “individual responsibility and moral fortitude”. Both studies also underline how socioeconomic status is entwined with these unrealistic expectations, as not all mothers are able to afford the resources needed to engage in the “third shift bodywork”.

Putting the findings into perspective, I cannot help but feel enraged by postpartum aesthetic ideals that are perpetuated by businesses to profit off of mothers’, and the ways in which they prevail. Rather than being able to prioritize individual well-being with potential health concerns, mothers are subjected to unnecessary and often impractical expectations of having a “good” body by society’s standards. Perhaps unknowingly, my friends and I are also influenced by societal expectations of how our bodies should look when we engage in our workouts as well as in our daily lives. In addition to that, the study prompted me to contemplate how physical activity is dictated by our socioeconomic status. My friends and I do not have the means to afford a personal trainer or special exercising equipment, but we at least have the luxury of space, time, and ability to engage in regular physical activity. This is a clear indication of the health disparities present in our society and yet, the shape of our body is still believed to be determined by how much control we have over ourselves and how responsible we are as individuals. As I enter the next workout session with my roommates, I will keep this in mind: as much as fitness should be promoted, it should never be a measure of one’s character.

Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels


Maddox, C.B., DeLuca, J.R. and Bustad, J.J. (2020), Working a Third Shift: Physical Activity and Embodied Motherhood. Sociological Inquiry, 90(3) 603-624. https://doi.org/10.1111/soin.12297

Shari L. Dworkin, & Faye Linda Wachs. (2004). “Getting Your Body Back”: Postindustrial Fit Motherhood in Shape Fit Pregnancy Magazine. Gender and Society, 18(5), 610-624. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4149421