Doing Care on the Run: Family Strategies in the Contested Terrain of Gender and Institutional Intransigence
AbstractThis study draws on the literature on care and on parents’ perceptions of their teenagers’ needs and on their own abilities and their spouses’ ability to perform the necessary caring tasks. Ethnographic interviews with 30 working parents revealed three specific caring strategies—the scheduling parent, the worry-shift parent, and the parent of last resort—all designed to maintain a sense of control over their teenagers. Rather than produce strategies that are based on negotiations with family members, parents in this study tended to develop their own individual strategies when confronted with a set of problems in caring for young teenagers, principle among these is the contested nature of teenagers’ need for care—contested by the educational institution, by employers, by spouses, and teenagers themselves. The study concludes by suggesting that these parents’ strategies lead to unequal divisions of emotional care that are shaped by gender and institutional intransigence.