Brothermothering: Gender, Power, and the Parenting Strategies of Low-Income Black Single Mothers of Teenagers

Brothermothering: Gender, Power, and the Parenting Strategies of Low-Income Black Single Mothers... Abstract Much has been made about the rise in single mother households over the past several decades, with significant focus on absent fathers and the challenges single mothers face. Black single mother households are often the face of this debate. Drawing on 31 in-depth interviews with low-income black single mothers of teenagers, we examine the racialized gender strategies these mothers develop in their carework. Findings reveal that amid current gendered and racialized discourses that emphasize the crucial role fathers play in children’s lives, and in a context of intersecting race, gender, and class inequalities, mothers draw heavily on the help of older sons—a phenomenon we call “brothermothering”—as well as other men and the symbolic power of male authority. We argue that male power in the lives of low-income black single mothers poses dilemmas and contradictions, which both support mothers in their parenting efforts and reproduce patriarchal underpinnings of “the family” based on male dominance. We situate these findings within the larger contexts of widespread anxiety about single motherhood, dominant beliefs about the roles of “mother” and “father,” gendered sexual double standards, and processes of criminalization and hyperincarceration that are particularly salient for low-income black youth, families, and communities. single motherhood, race, gender, othermothering, power relations Scholars call to move beyond theoretical approaches that “either romanticize or pathologize black families” (Sarkisian and Gerstel 2004:815) to instead examine what family members do, given their ideas about family and the settings within which they act and interact, while being attuned to race, class, and gender inequalities (Collins 2000; Hill 2005; Moore 2011). Drawing on 31 in-depth interviews with low-income black single mothers of teenagers, we take up this call. Our analysis documents the strategies these women use to attempt to protect their children as well as to respond to their gendered racialization as “deviant” mothers. We situate these findings within a larger context that includes widespread anxiety about single motherhood, dominant beliefs about the roles of “mother” and “father,” gendered sexual double standards, and processes of criminalization and hyperincarceration that are particularly salient for low-income black youth, families, and communities. MARRIAGE AND FAMILY AT THE INTERSECTIONS OF RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER The number of children being raised in single parent households has risen steadily over the decades, with most headed by women (Vespa, Lewis, and Kreider 2013). Marriage and fatherhood programs, especially those targeting the poor, have represented one type of political response to more single-mother households (Gavanes 2004; Randles 2013). As examples, welfare reform in 1996 included funding to promote marriage and involved fatherhood, and, in 2005, Congress passed the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Act, a discretionary grant program that provided $150 million per year for ten years, with half earmarked for programs emphasizing fathers’ emotional, physical, psychological, and financial roles (Solomon-Fears 2015). In 2010, President Obama launched a nationwide Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative. Describing it, Obama highlighted fathers’ role in their children’s lives, pointing to statistics that show fatherless children are more likely to live in poverty, drop out of school, and end up incarcerated (Office of the Press Secretary 2010). Current marriage and fatherhood promotion policies have roots in welfare’s racist and heterosexist origins (Roberts 2002). Government-funded Mothers’ Pensions developed in the early twentieth century to support almost exclusively white married or widowed women and children without a male breadwinner, with black families largely excluded (e.g., standards for the distribution of benefits effectively disqualified black mothers) (Gordon 1994; Gustafson 2009). As black women and never-married women began to occupy a larger share of welfare rolls in the 1960s and 70s, policymakers began expressing concerns that welfare might discourage marriage by lessening women’s dependence on men as breadwinners and by encouraging non-marital childbearing (Hancock 2004; Nathanson 1991; Quadagno 1994). These attitudes dovetailed with the popular view that mothers and fathers should occupy separate spheres of home and work and should perform different yet complementary family roles (Coontz 1992; Hill 2005; Parsons and Bales 1955). The influential sociologist Talcott Parsons (Parson and Bales 1955), for example, argued that, for familial well-being, fathers should inhabit the instrumental role—provide, lead, and discipline—whereas mothers should occupy the expressive, nurturing role. Americans are less likely to endorse the idea of gendered separate spheres today (Hamilton, Geist, and Powell 2011), yet most view heterosexual marriage as the best setting for raising children (Edin and Kefalas 2005; Pew Research Center 2010). Moreover, dominant meanings of motherhood and fatherhood continue to affect how individuals experience and do parenting. For instance, despite modern norms of “involved fathering” (Coltrane 1996; Milkie and Denny 2014), ideas about fatherhood still center around being a good provider (Roy 2004). Some popular texts position fathers as indispensable in families (Blankenhorn 1995; Popenoe 1996), although others contest this (Pleck 1997; Silverstein and Auerbach 1999). Thus, whether or not couples actually occupy the family roles Parsons envisioned, studies find they wrestle with them (e.g., Burton and Tucker 2009; Elliott and Umberson 2008; Hochschild 2003). As Mignon R. Moore (2008) contends, “Participating in something defined as ‘family’ requires a social group’s members to enact gender in ways that are built into the meanings of family life” (p. 339). Enactments of gender are not static, however. According to the “doing gender” perspective, individuals do gender in interaction with others and in response to situational demands (West and Zimmerman 1987). We can think about family members, then, using what Arlie Russell Hochschild (2003) calls a “gender strategy,” or “a plan of action through which a person tries to solve a problem at hand, given the cultural notions of gender at play” (p. 15). The strategies people employ to navigate gender and family depend on their location in other structures of inequality, including race, class, and sexual hierarchies (Baca Zinn 1992; Collins 1994, 2000; Moore 2008, 2011). For example, racist and sexist stereotypes of black women as strong, independent, and controlling may frame gender strategies in black relationships (Hill 2005). Cultural representations of black men as threatening criminals, hypersexual predators, or “marginalized to the point of oblivion” (Ferguson 2000:78) may also inform black couples’ gender strategies. Reviewing past research on black marriages and longitudinal data from low-income families, Linda M. Burton and M. Belinda Tucker (2009) find black women perform “a delicate dance” to both “elevate and honor manhood (especially those who have committed to families) while carrying out necessary obligations and tasks” (p. 142). Thus, racist controlling images form a backdrop for black women’s gender strategies. Such images arise though a process of racialization: “attaching racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice, or group” (Collins 2000:75). Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, dominant ideologies racialized black single-mother households as a cause of black poverty and the supposed breakdown of the black family. What came to be known as the Moynihan report, prepared by sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1965) for the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, was influential in this process by decrying the so-called matriarchal structure of black families and the strength of black women for allegedly weakening black men’s authority (Hancock 2004; Kaplan 1996; Nathanson 1991). We thus use the term “racialized gender strategy” to highlight the intersections of race and gender in the strategies black low-income single mothers use as they navigate racist and sexist controlling images pertaining to self, family, and children. BLACK FAMILIES, PARENTING, AND POWER Sociologists have long theorized the parent-child relationship as a site of power (Kranichfeld 1987; Moore 2008, 2011). Having the power to direct children’s lives constitutes a crucial aspect of family authority and decision making, for instance. Yet family power dynamics are not merely isolated within family life: they reflect and can reinforce, but may also potentially challenge, social hierarchies rooted in race, class, and gender. For example, numerous studies show that black mothers actively resist racist gendered stereotypes of their children—such as the hypersexualization of daughters (Kaplan 1996; Littlefield 2008) and the hypercriminalization of sons (Ferguson 2000; Russell-Brown 1998)—by advocating on children’s behalf and socializing children to have a sense of racial pride and community (Coard and Sellers 2005; Collins 1994, 2005; Elliott, Powell, and Brenton 2015; Suizzo, Robinson, and Pahlke 2008). Black families seek to foster children’s resilience (Richardson 2012) and self-esteem (Thornton 1997) and to insulate children, especially sons (Hill 2005), from violence and discrimination (Ferguson 2000; Richardson, Johnson, and St. Vil 2014; Richardson, Johnson, and St. Vil 2014). Black parents may also socialize daughters to demonstrate strength and fortitude (Hill 2005). Yet as Maria S. Johnson (2013) finds through interviews with college-educated black women, fathers can encourage daughters to defer to men or assert themselves as their daughters’ protectors against men, reinforcing gender and sexual hierarchies. Low-income black parents may also “idealize marriage and gender traditionalism as a way to strengthen black families” (Hill 2005:164), emphasizing the importance of male leadership in the family (Anderson 1999) and a Parsonian division of labor, even as their everyday practices defy these ideologies and expose children to less gender-differentiated roles (Hill 2005). There is also a rich history of othermothering—sharing the work of raising children—in many black communities (Collins 2000; Dominguez and Watkins 2003; Roy 2004). Othermothering is a practical response to single motherhood, but also involves viewing the larger community as responsible for children’s care (Collins 2000; Richardson, Johnson et al. 2014; Roy and Burton 2007). Girls have long been “kinscripted” (Stack and Burton 1993) into family care and household work (Dodson and Dickert 2004), and boys too may be tasked with caring for siblings and extended kin (Burton 2007; Collins 2000; Roy 2004; Stack and Burton 1993). Burton (2007) suggests that boys may be especially likely to act as their mother’s peer or spouse, filling the role of “man of the house,” yet she does not explore the gendered and racialized meanings behind this. Based on 31 in-depth interviews with low-income black single mothers of teenagers, we analyze how these mothers call on the authority of males and symbolic male power to protect and raise their children. We argue that mothers draw on older male children in particular—what we call brothermothering—to gain their help and to tie boys and men to family life amid fears for their futures, but that these efforts can reify socially constructed gender differences and hierarchies and produce power struggles between mothers and sons. Our findings demonstrate the complex ways mothers’ belief in the value of a two-parent household, their desire for children to be exposed to a “male perspective,” and intersecting gender-, race-, and class-specific meanings and power relations infuse their parenting strategies. DATA AND METHOD Our analysis is based on 31 in-depth interviews with black low-income single mothers. All of the mothers have at least one teenage child between the ages of 13 and 18 and, per our definition of “single” in the study criteria, are unmarried and have been parenting without a co-residential adult partner for at least three years prior to the interview (some of the mothers are dating). Our method is based on a case study design in which “a specific group or individual [is] chosen to represent—even exaggerate—social conflicts that our theories suggest are experienced in the wider society” (Williams 1991:225). Researchers who follow this case study design limit their sample to a group of individuals who are subject to similar conditions. The strength of this design lies in its depth. Focusing on a narrow group (i.e., low-income, black single mothers of teenagers) ensures that the complexities of these individuals’ lives can emerge. But because a case study sample is selected for its illustrative and theoretical value, case study findings have broad implications beyond the sample population. We conducted interviews in two waves. We interviewed 16 mothers in 2010 and an additional 15 mothers in 2012. In both rounds, we recruited mothers from an urban county in a medium-sized city in the Southeast through flyers posted around town, afterschool and community programs, and referrals from participants in an unrelated research project the authors were also working on. All but two of the participants were residents of the county and their teen children attended public schools in the county. The other two lived in a contiguous county of a similar size. The average age of participants was 39 and their children were a range of ages (see Table 1). While all mothers identified as single parents, their social networks varied. Some mothers’ networks included fathers who were actively participating in their children’s lives, although this was not usually the case. More often, mothers described fathers as residing on the periphery of their lives, and fathers were wholly absent in some instances. Mothers’ employment status also varied: over a third of the women were employed full time, just under a third were unemployed or students, and the remaining third were either employed part time or identified as homemakers. Household incomes ranged from $5,000 to $40,000, with $20,000 as the median. Table 1. Participant Demographic Characteristics Pseudonym Age Education Occupation Children (sex and age) Adrianna 35 bachelor’s management daughter (17), sons (11, 14) Anastasia 29 < high school language translation daughters (7, 11, 13), son (8) Angelique 42 bachelor's preschool teachera daughters (4, 20, 21, 22), sons (9, 17, 19) Berna 39 high school certified nursing asst. daughter (19), son (16) Candice 34 associate’s childcare provider/janitor daughters (7, 9, 14, 15), son (6) Cherise 43 high school nursing aidea daughters (9, 13), sons (15, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25) Christina 27 GED unemployed sons (2, 6, 10, 13) Debbie 41 some college clerk daughter (18) Doreen 41 some college homemaker daughter (13), sons (17, 18) Dorothy 54 bachelor’s student daughter (15), sons (18, 28, 31) Elizab 39 in college patent officer daughter (18), son (18) Felicia 32 high school service technician son (13) Janelle 43 some college certified nursing asst. daughters (4, 7, 24), sons (12, 16, 22) Louisa 51 high school customer service daughter (16), son (27) Mariah 32 < high school unemployed sons (3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15) Marielle 39 high school health carea son (16) Maya 43 some college medical technician daughters (13, 18, 25), sons (22, 23, 25) Millicent 42 < high school homemaker daughters (17, 18, 25), son (28) Nina 40 high school unemployed daughters (4, 5, 22), sons (7mo, 7, 17, 19) Paula 37 some college student sons (2, 10, 14) Rita 34 high school customer service daughter (6), sons (2mo, 13, 14) Rosie 33 < high school food servicea daughter (16), son (5) Shironda 42 some college veterinarian technician daughters (16), son (19) Sydney 33 high school food servicea daughter (10), sons (8, 15, 17) Sonya 33 < high school student daughters (5, 8, 11, 13, 15) Tasha 39 < high school unemployed daughters (17, 20, 21), sons (18, 21, 24) Theresa 32 bachelor’s loan specialist sons (11, 16) Tiana 36 some college unemployed daughter (7), sons (11, 15, 18) Vanessa 48 some college customer service daughter (17), son (18) Victoria 52 some college homemaker daughters (18, 19), son (17) Yashondab 35 some college student daughters (2, 13, 17) Pseudonym Age Education Occupation Children (sex and age) Adrianna 35 bachelor’s management daughter (17), sons (11, 14) Anastasia 29 < high school language translation daughters (7, 11, 13), son (8) Angelique 42 bachelor's preschool teachera daughters (4, 20, 21, 22), sons (9, 17, 19) Berna 39 high school certified nursing asst. daughter (19), son (16) Candice 34 associate’s childcare provider/janitor daughters (7, 9, 14, 15), son (6) Cherise 43 high school nursing aidea daughters (9, 13), sons (15, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25) Christina 27 GED unemployed sons (2, 6, 10, 13) Debbie 41 some college clerk daughter (18) Doreen 41 some college homemaker daughter (13), sons (17, 18) Dorothy 54 bachelor’s student daughter (15), sons (18, 28, 31) Elizab 39 in college patent officer daughter (18), son (18) Felicia 32 high school service technician son (13) Janelle 43 some college certified nursing asst. daughters (4, 7, 24), sons (12, 16, 22) Louisa 51 high school customer service daughter (16), son (27) Mariah 32 < high school unemployed sons (3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15) Marielle 39 high school health carea son (16) Maya 43 some college medical technician daughters (13, 18, 25), sons (22, 23, 25) Millicent 42 < high school homemaker daughters (17, 18, 25), son (28) Nina 40 high school unemployed daughters (4, 5, 22), sons (7mo, 7, 17, 19) Paula 37 some college student sons (2, 10, 14) Rita 34 high school customer service daughter (6), sons (2mo, 13, 14) Rosie 33 < high school food servicea daughter (16), son (5) Shironda 42 some college veterinarian technician daughters (16), son (19) Sydney 33 high school food servicea daughter (10), sons (8, 15, 17) Sonya 33 < high school student daughters (5, 8, 11, 13, 15) Tasha 39 < high school unemployed daughters (17, 20, 21), sons (18, 21, 24) Theresa 32 bachelor’s loan specialist sons (11, 16) Tiana 36 some college unemployed daughter (7), sons (11, 15, 18) Vanessa 48 some college customer service daughter (17), son (18) Victoria 52 some college homemaker daughters (18, 19), son (17) Yashondab 35 some college student daughters (2, 13, 17) a Employed part time b Residents of contiguous county Table 1. Participant Demographic Characteristics Pseudonym Age Education Occupation Children (sex and age) Adrianna 35 bachelor’s management daughter (17), sons (11, 14) Anastasia 29 < high school language translation daughters (7, 11, 13), son (8) Angelique 42 bachelor's preschool teachera daughters (4, 20, 21, 22), sons (9, 17, 19) Berna 39 high school certified nursing asst. daughter (19), son (16) Candice 34 associate’s childcare provider/janitor daughters (7, 9, 14, 15), son (6) Cherise 43 high school nursing aidea daughters (9, 13), sons (15, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25) Christina 27 GED unemployed sons (2, 6, 10, 13) Debbie 41 some college clerk daughter (18) Doreen 41 some college homemaker daughter (13), sons (17, 18) Dorothy 54 bachelor’s student daughter (15), sons (18, 28, 31) Elizab 39 in college patent officer daughter (18), son (18) Felicia 32 high school service technician son (13) Janelle 43 some college certified nursing asst. daughters (4, 7, 24), sons (12, 16, 22) Louisa 51 high school customer service daughter (16), son (27) Mariah 32 < high school unemployed sons (3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15) Marielle 39 high school health carea son (16) Maya 43 some college medical technician daughters (13, 18, 25), sons (22, 23, 25) Millicent 42 < high school homemaker daughters (17, 18, 25), son (28) Nina 40 high school unemployed daughters (4, 5, 22), sons (7mo, 7, 17, 19) Paula 37 some college student sons (2, 10, 14) Rita 34 high school customer service daughter (6), sons (2mo, 13, 14) Rosie 33 < high school food servicea daughter (16), son (5) Shironda 42 some college veterinarian technician daughters (16), son (19) Sydney 33 high school food servicea daughter (10), sons (8, 15, 17) Sonya 33 < high school student daughters (5, 8, 11, 13, 15) Tasha 39 < high school unemployed daughters (17, 20, 21), sons (18, 21, 24) Theresa 32 bachelor’s loan specialist sons (11, 16) Tiana 36 some college unemployed daughter (7), sons (11, 15, 18) Vanessa 48 some college customer service daughter (17), son (18) Victoria 52 some college homemaker daughters (18, 19), son (17) Yashondab 35 some college student daughters (2, 13, 17) Pseudonym Age Education Occupation Children (sex and age) Adrianna 35 bachelor’s management daughter (17), sons (11, 14) Anastasia 29 < high school language translation daughters (7, 11, 13), son (8) Angelique 42 bachelor's preschool teachera daughters (4, 20, 21, 22), sons (9, 17, 19) Berna 39 high school certified nursing asst. daughter (19), son (16) Candice 34 associate’s childcare provider/janitor daughters (7, 9, 14, 15), son (6) Cherise 43 high school nursing aidea daughters (9, 13), sons (15, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25) Christina 27 GED unemployed sons (2, 6, 10, 13) Debbie 41 some college clerk daughter (18) Doreen 41 some college homemaker daughter (13), sons (17, 18) Dorothy 54 bachelor’s student daughter (15), sons (18, 28, 31) Elizab 39 in college patent officer daughter (18), son (18) Felicia 32 high school service technician son (13) Janelle 43 some college certified nursing asst. daughters (4, 7, 24), sons (12, 16, 22) Louisa 51 high school customer service daughter (16), son (27) Mariah 32 < high school unemployed sons (3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15) Marielle 39 high school health carea son (16) Maya 43 some college medical technician daughters (13, 18, 25), sons (22, 23, 25) Millicent 42 < high school homemaker daughters (17, 18, 25), son (28) Nina 40 high school unemployed daughters (4, 5, 22), sons (7mo, 7, 17, 19) Paula 37 some college student sons (2, 10, 14) Rita 34 high school customer service daughter (6), sons (2mo, 13, 14) Rosie 33 < high school food servicea daughter (16), son (5) Shironda 42 some college veterinarian technician daughters (16), son (19) Sydney 33 high school food servicea daughter (10), sons (8, 15, 17) Sonya 33 < high school student daughters (5, 8, 11, 13, 15) Tasha 39 < high school unemployed daughters (17, 20, 21), sons (18, 21, 24) Theresa 32 bachelor’s loan specialist sons (11, 16) Tiana 36 some college unemployed daughter (7), sons (11, 15, 18) Vanessa 48 some college customer service daughter (17), son (18) Victoria 52 some college homemaker daughters (18, 19), son (17) Yashondab 35 some college student daughters (2, 13, 17) a Employed part time b Residents of contiguous county Interviews lasted approximately 1.5 hours and were digitally recorded. Most interviews took place in participants’ homes. Two participants were living in homeless shelters during interviews, and one was renting a long-term hotel room. All authors conducted interviews and are middle- and upper-middle-class white women. One was raised by a single mother when the author was a teenager and two are mothers, information we shared with participants. Interviews are an occasion for meaning making (Holstein and Gubrium 1995), and our particular social locations likely shaped what the mothers were willing to share with us (Corbin Dwyer and Buckle 2009). We analyzed the interview transcripts in light of the fact that black low-income single mothers were offering an account to white academic women. That is, we consider the interviews not as fact or the truth, but rather as accounts the mothers shared, understanding that what they said may be held up for interpretation and judgment (Scott and Lyman 1968). White academics and policy makers have long participated in creating and perpetuating controlling images of black family life (Collins 2000; Moore 2011) and black study participants may mistrust the motives and ethics of white researchers as a legacy of their historical mistreatment in research. In our analysis, we thus treat the mothers’ interviews as narratives they shared with us, given their ideas about who we were, how we might view their families, and what our motives might be. At the same time, we made efforts to develop rapport with the mothers and listened carefully and respectfully, following up on what they said and encouraging them to tell us what they thought it was important for us to know. The analysis and perspective come from an outsider location but reflect our commitment to conducting antiracist, intersectional, and feminist research. In line with these perspectives, we sought a group of mothers who shared certain defining characteristics (e.g., race, marital status, motherhood status) but differed in other ways (e.g., level of education, income, relationship history) to demonstrate the diversity of their experiences and perspectives. Moreover, we avoided treating race, class, and gender as permanent characteristics of individuals, and were instead attentive to how these categories mattered to the participants, may interact with one another, and are embedded in and work through larger institutions (Choo and Ferree 2010). For example, race and class do not simply interact with gender in the meanings and experiences of motherhood, they are central to the construction of the gendered institution of motherhood (Collins 1994, 2000; Roberts 2002). Our interviewing goal was to develop an understanding of mothers’ lives from their perspectives and without homogenizing their experiences (Collins 2000; DeVault 1996). We began each interview by asking participants to describe their neighborhood, probing for their perceptions of safety, trust, and social ties. The interview continued in this vein, asking broad questions and following up to construct detailed stories. In order to elaborate on themes of ideal family life and gendered power relations that we identified in the initial round of interviews, we used a strategy of theoretical sampling—a process that involves starting with data, forming tentative ideas, and elaborating and refining these ideas through further inquiry (Charmaz 2006). After the initial 16 interviews, we coded the data and developed nascent conceptual categories. In the second round of 15 interviews, we included more questions to better understand how mothers think about family life and interpret and negotiate the help of male family, friends, and institutions when raising teens. In each wave, interviews were transcribed verbatim. The authors wrote a three- to five-page interpretative summary after each interview. These sketches included important details of the interview as well as analytic insights, which we further developed through a process of open and focused coding in NVivo. We wrote memos to elaborate and refine conceptual categories that led to the present analysis. Through open coding, we initially identified how common it was for mothers to discuss older sons helping to parent younger siblings, and the power and respect their sons, along with other men, are able to garner. During focused coding, we paid careful attention to when, how, and with what consequences brothers participate in raising siblings. Overall focused coding helped us to understand the concerns mothers hold for their children’s well-being, the contexts within which they parent, and how their efforts to protect and discipline their teen children are intimately shaped by race, gender, and class inequalities. FINDINGS Participants relayed the struggles they experience and the strategies they adopt as they seek to respond to their gendered racialization as deviant mothers and their family’s marginalization. We find that mothers distanced themselves from controlling images of single mothers and asserted a strong belief in the value of two-parent households. Mothers also described calling upon men’s authority in their parenting, including enlisting sons in parenting siblings (what we call brothermothering). Our analysis demonstrates the ways low-income black single mothers’ racialized gender concerns for their children inform the strategy of brothermothering as well as how their responses can maintain male power in the heterosexual household. Idealizing the Two-Parent Heterosexual Household Accounting for Single Motherhood Despite changes in the organization and make up of families, the heterosexual two-parent middle-class household continues to be promoted as the ideal. Given this context, single mothers experience stigmatization and high expectations to account for their single status and their parenting. The mothers we interviewed are acutely aware of this. Sonya, who has two teenage daughters and three younger girls, said, “I really do feel that some people do look down at them [my children] because I am a single mom of five and I’m not married.” She added: I just wish that I did get married [and that] they all had the same father. But, you know, things happen and we learn from everything and even though I am alone and, you know, there’s nobody here to help me [crying], I still get up every morning with a smile on my face, regardless of what happens, no matter what … I take care of my kids regardless. Don’t matter about two-person home … As long as my kids be happy when they leave here everything is fine. I’m not worried about what the outsiders say because they don’t see what goes on in this house. It’s nothing but love in here, and that’s all you need. Believing that “outsiders” might negatively judge her family, Sonya described her children as friendly and loved by others as evidence that single mothers can provide children with sufficient love, guidance, and support. Even as they discussed the lengths they go to meet their children’s needs, the mothers typically endorsed marriage as the ideal arrangement for raising children. Cherise tells her children that being “married before you have a baby … is the best way to do it.” Louisa criticized women who have children outside of marriage. Describing a neighbor who is the same age as Louisa’s 16-year-old daughter, Louisa said she is “fast. She always have boys coming [over].” She added that the girl’s “mother had her out of wedlock and she’s very promiscuous ’cause she’s got five kids. So it’s all generational.” Code words disparaging single motherhood, such as “out of wedlock” and “intergenerational,” dominated public discourse after the release of the 1965 Moynihan report (Nathanson 1991). Emphasizing the Role of Fathers In line with the societal valorization of marriage and heterosexual two-parent households, mothers uniformly said that children should have a mother and a father and stressed the irreplaceable role fathers play. Tasha stated, “I think every child need they daddy in they life. Every child.” The idealized model of a mother and father is partly rooted in the pervasive cultural belief that men and women are fundamentally different (England 2005; Hill 2005; West and Zimmerman 1987), and that children need both mothers and fathers to model these roles (Parsons and Bales 1955). This idea of gender difference was common in the mothers’ narratives. Victoria said she regrets the absence of a male influence in her 17-year-old son’s life: I can’t be a substitute for a father. I’ve had to be a substitute. But I’m a poor substitute for a father. There are things that he [my son] won’t talk to me about, with the sex issues. The father could tell them about those things, about the diseases. You know, it’s just difficult to raise a little man. Expressing a similar sentiment, Christina said some of the problems she is having with her 13-year-old son’s temper are the result “of his father not being around a lot … [and] not doing all the fatherly things that need to be done.” She encourages her son’s father to take an active role in his life: “[I tell him], ‘There’s a lot that you can do that can make his temper change, versus me with three other young ones and not being able to go out there … to the basketball field.’” The mothers’ narratives demonstrate gender-essentialist ideas, such as the notion that fathers, not mothers, can talk with boys about sex and play sports with them. In an effort to socialize their boys into young men, eight mothers discussed enrolling their sons in community programs that provide boys with male role models. These programs serve low-income families who cannot afford expensive organized activities. Five of these mothers in particular mentioned a local organization that Theresa described as follows: “African American males that can volunteer their time to being with the young black boys … They’ll talk about different things about leadership and responsibility and all that kind of stuff.” Theresa likes the program because “it gives [my son] some positive male role models that he can look up to.” Mothers are glad such programs exist, and Joseph B. Richardson (2012) finds they provide black male youth with important forms of social capital. Yet they also solidify the idea that mothers, or women in general, are not adequate role models; instead, boys need to have male behavior (i.e., leadership and responsibility) modeled for them by other males. Mothers also expressed concerns about their daughters’ well-being when fathers are not actively involved in their lives. One spoke of the importance of exposing girls to “a male perspective” for a successful transition into womanhood, and another expressed concern that girls without a father look for relationships with older men as a replacement. As we discuss later, mothers want older sons to be involved in their sisters’ lives, hoping these boys will fill father-like roles. Contradictions in the Idealized Two-Parent Family The emphasis on the value of two parents and the signature role men play in family life can mean mothers feel inadequate about their ability to raise their children alone because they suggest that fathers play a role that mothers, as women, cannot—a notion that was contentious for a subset of participants. Nine women spoke of leaving bad relationships with men. They shared feelings of pride in being self-reliant, yet also guilt that their children’s fathers are not playing an active role in their children’s lives or that their families do not conform to the idealized model. Adrianna said that she was beginning to think that leaving her husband might have been a selfish decision, because it has deprived her three children of “a two-parent household.” In response to the question, “What is most challenging for you, in general, in your life?,” Adrianna responded: A child should really have a mother and a father. And you really should not make that decision to have children selfishly thinking that I’m just gonna do it on my own. They really do need two parents. So for me right now, I think the most challenging is not having a two-parent household … Me and my ex had to go through some things to come to the realization and understanding that we needed to [divorce]—[but] he’s kind of always told me that we needed to be together to raise the kids. I felt like I wasn’t willing to [be] in the relationship just because of the kids. Over time, Adrianna appears to have accepted her ex-husband’s argument that it is better to stay in an unhappy relationship for the children’s sake. This change of heart may stem in part from the fact that she is now parenting with very little help from him. Because her ex-husband was against the divorce, she is also reluctant to ask him for help. Black women must also navigate the controlling image that they are too domineering to keep a husband, what Patricia Hill Collins (2000) calls the “black matriarch” (see also Burton and Tucker 2009; Johnson 2013). Yashonda, for example, would like to have a male partner and a father figure for her teenage daughters, yet believes that for a man to want to be in a relationship with her she must “learn to be submissive:” I’m not in a relationship right now. I have to learn how to, I guess, be submissive … I don’t know if I come across as controlling or dominant. I don’t think I do. I think I’m pretty laid back. But some people might wonder when they start—especially if it’s a guy, he’s gonna be intimidated. He’s gonna feel like I’m controlling. Yashonda faces a contradiction: she believes and regularly hears that children should have a male presence, yet, in accordance with the ideology of intensive mothering (Elliott et al. 2015; Hays 1996), believes that good mothers put children first. “I have kids I have to think about. They come first and foremost,” she told us. Bringing a man into her family could potentially make her children vulnerable, Yashonda said. If he turned out to be a bad man, as happened in a past relationship, she explained, by submitting to him he would be in a position to make decisions that could negatively affect her children. Thus, even as mothers expressed the belief that they should make sacrifices or be submissive to keep men in their children’s lives, their stories also revealed the challenges this poses. Overall, however, the valorization of the two-parent heterosexual family preserves men’s power in the household. Drawing on Male Power: Brothermothering The mothers’ narratives suggest that male power in their lives is complex: for those who can access the power of men, it can aid in their parenting efforts, yet drawing on men’s power also reflects and reinforces mothers’ deauthorization as women. As part of the study criteria, the mothers have been neither married nor cohabiting for three years. But some fathers are active in their children’s lives, and some women have boyfriends who help on occasion. Doreen discussed how her children respect the authority of their stepfather, from whom Doreen is separated: “[All] I got to say [is], ‘I’m going to make a phone call.’ And they straighten right up. I’ve done it many times.” Similarly, Rita, referring to her children’s father whom she is no longer with, said, “He might yell a little bit, but not yell, but just like raise his voice a little bit, try to make them [see] like, ‘I’m the man. I’m Dad.’” Men do not have to raise their voices much, Rita suggested, to remind their children of the authority vested in them through masculinity and fatherhood. Debbie expressed frustration that she has to threaten her 18-year-old daughter with calling her father before she will comply with Debbie’s rules. Discussing a time her daughter missed curfew, Debbie said: “I texted her, ‘If you don’t call me right away, I’m going to call your father.’ She called me right back.” Afterwards, Debbie confronted her: I was like, “I do more for you than your dad do.” She said, “Well it’s different, my dad will judge me more. You won’t. You’ll listen to what I have to say.” She said, “My dad will just assume the worst, won’t ask me where I was, won’t ask me what I did.” Believing that mothers should be emotionally attuned (Parsons and Bales 1955), Debbie thinks it is important to listen to her daughter but she is frustrated that she does not wield the same authority as her ex-husband. Mothers also described how men sometimes undermine their authority by, for example, telling children that they do not have to follow a rule mom has issued, or buying children things like cell phones when their mother has said no to the item. Especially in the case of phones and technology, mothers said they cannot always regulate their use because they are not paying for them. Mothers’ narratives thus detailed the complexities of male authority in their lives. Mothers also described turning to sons for help with parenting, including disciplining and mentoring younger siblings—what we call brothermothering—a strategy that also presents dilemmas. Enlisting Sons as Father Figures Of the 19 participants with multiple children and at least one teenage or older son with younger siblings,1 1 This count excludes one mother, Millicent, who has not seen her son since he was a small child (see Elliott et al. 2015). 14 spoke of sons performing father-like roles with siblings. Enlisting a son as a “father figure” is one way mothers alleviate some of their concerns for their children about the consequences of their family deviating from the two-parent ideal. For example, Dorothy spoke highly of her 28- and 31-year-old sons’ willingness to help her with her 15-year-old daughter. Dorothy believes that she has “power struggles” with her teen daughter because there is no father. So, I have to use [my sons] as, see, not the bad guy, or not the disciplinarian, but for her to understand from a male perspective. If I feel like she’s not listening to me or if I have a bad enough issue with her, then I generally get [my oldest son] to address it with her. It could be argued that if Dorothy had older daughters, she might rely on them in similar ways. Yet she and other mothers specifically noted that their sons, not their daughters, are well-positioned to help because they can offer a “male perspective” that mothers, following popular discourse around absent fathers, believe is necessary. Dorothy also said she wants her 18-year-old son “to be more responsible. So he could be a better role model and example for his sister.” Although 15 mothers have teen or older daughters with younger siblings, and even as some described having peer- or sibling-like relationships with daughters, none referred to their daughters as role models or mother-like figures to siblings. Pointing to differences in access to power and authority, some mothers said that sons are able to garner respect from siblings in ways that mothers cannot. Dorothy explained that her sons carry authority with her daughter—“They come across as being really serious and stern. And they don’t repeat themselves more than one time”—whereas Dorothy said she often has to repeat herself and still does not feel heard. When we asked Cherise if her 13-year-old daughter was dating, she replied, “Oh no. She’s not dating. She’s got five brothers so they not having that. Her brothers, they think that they are her daddy.” Cherise also wants her daughter to delay dating, yet points to her sons as responsible for preventing this outcome, suggesting the power they hold in this regard. Saying, “they think that they are her daddy,” also implies that fathers are responsible for defending (Johnson 2013) and controlling girls’ sexuality. In another example, when Tiana’s 15- and 11-year-old sons did not come home on time, she enlisted her 18-year-old son to help find them: So we pull up [to the shopping center where they were] and my [18-year-old] son [was] like, “Where you all coming from?” So, my [15-year-old] son just [was] like, “We didn’t see you all.” My [oldest] son said, “You seen us, fucker.” He’s mad at this point. Like, “You running from Mom, are you serious?” They’re standing outside. They just scared. These mothers described sons who assist them and play an active role in parenting by demonstrating male authority with their siblings, including threatening and scaring them. Brothermothering as a Racialized Gender Strategy Participants’ differing concerns for their sons and daughters, based on the intersections of race, gender, and class, also inform the strategy of brothermothering. Mothers’ narratives were replete with heterosexual double standards, informed by their own experiences as teenage girls and the controlling images they and their daughters face around sexuality. Sexual double standards and the politics of respectability rest heavily on girls and women of color (Johnson 2013; Jones 2010; Moore 2011), and mothers spoke at length about their fears for their daughters’ sexual safety and honor but were less concerned about their sons’. For example, Janelle said she told her daughters that they can date boys when they are 31, but not her sons because it is different for boys: “Because they’re boys. Boys are always into something. Boys are always looking at women anyway, so they always have sex on their minds.” Other mothers described their daughters as sexually “at-risk” because they are girls and because boys are out to get one thing (i.e., sex), congruent with studies that show gender distrust is a strong theme in parents’ lessons to their children about sexuality (Elliott 2012; Harding 2010). Louisa, referring to her 16-year-old teen daughter, said, “I’m real finicky with her. ’Cause she’s so vulnerable. She’s so vulnerable and she’s a full-figured girl, as you’ve seen.” Mothers also palpably tied their concerns for their daughters’ safety and futures to their neighborhoods. Longstanding racist policies and practices mean that lower-income blacks are more likely than lower-income whites to live in disadvantaged, racially segregated neighborhoods (Reardon, Fox, and Townsend 2015), with their parenting strategies subsequently informed by the intersections of race, class (Elder et al. 1995), and gender (Harding 2010). Mothers often described their neighborhood or housing complex as a “drug area” (Mariah), mentioned robberies, shootings, and “violent gang stuff” (Christina), and, using gender-, race, and class-coded language, referred to “street” or “hood” males (Anderson 1999; Jones 2010). Louisa cautions her daughter, “You want nothing ’bout no hood [guy].” Similarly, Cherise tells her daughter, “‘Don’t mess with them old sorry boys out in that street now.’ I said, ‘They only want but one thing. You get pregnant, you’re going to be fatherless.’” Janelle dropped out of school to have a child and does not want this outcome for her daughter. She wants her daughter to see “education is key, because when I went to school, I wish someone would have influenced me. I want her to either go to college or go in the Air Force, and then think about, you know, getting married or a relationship within a family.” The mothers want their daughters “to be better than your mom” (Tasha), including avoiding early pregnancy and neighborhood men with “street mentality” (Candice) (see Kaplan 1996). Stemming from concerns about their daughters’ futures and sexual safety, mothers use older sons to monitor and advise their sisters in ways that align with the historical practice of men controlling women’s sexuality (Nathanson 1991). For example, Cherise described how her 25-year-old son checks his 13-year-old sister’s texts, adding, “He never seen anything bad on there.” A few mothers directly tied concerns about their daughters’ sexuality to the lack of a father in their lives, a lack that, if made up for, might prevent future problems. Louisa worries about her teen daughter because she thinks “for females, if they don’t get a relationship with their dad, they’re going to look for older men.” She hopes her 27-year-old son can fill an absent father’s shoes to prevent this. Mothers also want their daughters to have responsible family men in their lives as models to counter the influences of “street” boys and men and to back up mothers. Louisa is proud of her older son’s marriage, “He got married, I told him, because he’s not [hood], he’s a very good young man.” Expressing relief that her daughter looks up to her brother and he participates in parenting her, Louisa said: “She always got this little thing right here about her brother. She can’t let her brother down ’cause she knows that he’ll be on her too.” Louisa said she relies so much on her son that her daughter sometimes accuses them of “teaming up on her.” Mothers also hope an emphasis on family life is a way for boys to avoid the negative influences of peers and minimize their exposure to racialized gender discrimination. Mothers worry about sons getting “caught up” in dangerous places like “the streets” (Rendón 2014). Louisa said, “It’s really hard on our young black men if they leave themselves out there to be caught up and if they don’t have person of interest [looking out for] them, it’s easy to get caught up.” Just as fears about their daughters’ sexual vulnerability reflect the controlling images of girls of color as hypersexual, as well as mothers’ fears of predatory “street” males, mothers’ concerns for sons reflect the controlling images of boys of color as hypercriminals (Ferguson 2000; Rios 2011; Russell-Brown 1998). Theresa, who has two sons, said, “They already have two strikes against them. They’re black and then they’re males. So, society already has put them in the category of either ending up dead or in jail.” Pointing to the consequences of racialized gender stereotypes for black men, Theresa added, “When a black male walk into the room, or walk around somewhere, it’s like an instant fear that, oh my god, he’s going to do something … Just because he’s a black male, you already assume that he’s trouble.” Adrianna also described the intersections of race and gender informing her worries for her children: The boys definitely have had more difficulties in school than my daughter. I think the system is set up for them to fail, especially as African American children … Disciplinary actions are taken more severely upon my sons than my daughter, and I think they’re basically discriminated against. I have a big fear for my sons living in this world period. Although not all participants with sons spoke in such explicit terms, the majority discussed fears for their sons’ safety and well-being as they navigated poor, racially segregated neighborhoods and discriminatory contexts, revealing the intersections of race, class, and gender. Doreen said she tells her 18- and 17-year-old sons, “Which road do you want to go down? The bad road or the good road?” The bad road involves “being in the gangs, getting high, and stuff” whereas the good road means being “happy” and “successful,” having “money [and] a house.” With one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 behind bars (Pew Research Center 2008), mothers also worry about their sons getting into “legal trouble” (Shironda). Nina said that when they were younger and did something wrong, she would tell her now 17- and 19-year-old sons, “I don’t want you to be in and out of jail and prisons. I want you to grow up and be men.” In Nina’s estimation, men are good fathers and providers. As the criminal justice system has disproportionately affected low-income black and Latino neighborhoods, parents and other adult authority figures in the lives of young men of color “rely on criminal justice discourses and metaphors to deal with these young ‘risks’” (Rios 2011:5; see also Jones 2010), as Nina does here. Mothers’ narratives reveal the high stakes for low-income black boys. Just as they want their daughters to avoid “street” men and early pregnancy, they want their sons to avoid “the streets” and incarceration to have “a better life than the one we have at the moment” (Nina). In this context, brothermothering represents a way mothers try to instill responsibility in sons as they seek to protect them and their siblings from surrounding dangers. Mothers spoke of older sons who act as role models to younger brothers, for example. Theresa tells her 16-year-old son that his 11-year-old brother looks up to him and therefore he needs to model good behavior. After watching an episode of a television show in which a boy was murdered because he was following in his older brother’s footsteps, Theresa warned her oldest, “‘If you do something bad and [your brother] is following you, this could happen.’ He was like, ‘No, I don’t want that to happen.’” Similarly, Christina wants her 13-year-old son to be a good role model for his younger brothers. She counsels her friends with teenage sons who Christina thinks are heading in the wrong direction to seek help because they have “several more [children] that’s actually growing up and seeing what’s going on.” Thus, brothermothering creates a family role for older sons as role models for their siblings amid mothers’ concerns about boys’ well-being, and it is a way to help their existing family. Janelle emphasizes to her oldest son that she and his siblings are “really depending on you,” adding he needs to focus on school to be “successful and transition to a man. Being successful to hold his own, to hold his family—if we need something, he can help us out.” Janelle hopes her son succeeds and stays tied to the family so he is in a position to financially help out. In discussing their desire for their sons to stand by their families and become family men, mothers at times revealed that to be a family man means to be dominant. Vanessa, for example, said she gives her 18-year-old son a degree of freedom to help him develop the characteristics necessary to someday lead a family: I try to give him [some freedom], because he is a boy and he’s going to be a man. He’s got to be able to get out there on his own and take care and handle himself ’ cause, you know, he’s going to be the man in the house. So he’s got to have that type of freedom to do, you know, on his own. So I give him that. Vanessa has long stressed to her son the importance of being a responsible man, committed to his studies and family: “I continuously ask him, ‘What kind of man are you?’” Even as Vanessa worries, she believes that she should give her son more freedom to be independent as a future (family) man. The belief in male primacy in the heterosexual household, coupled with mothers’ fears that their sons will seek manhood in the streets, may thus encourage mothers to give sons more power in family life, reinforcing male authority. In discussing how she allows her son freedom and independence, Vanessa may also be responding to the idea, prominent in parenting books and popular discourse, that dominant, overprotective mothers emasculate sons (du Plessis 1993; Robinson and Spivey 2007) or the notion that single mothers are responsible for the so-called crisis of masculinity (Blankenhorn 1995; Popenoe 1996). Speaking to this larger context, Felicia said of her 13-year-old son: “I feel like I don’t have a, you know, a tight grip on him, but other people may say I hover [over] my son.” When asked who might think she hovers, Felicia revealed that she has heard this from men in her life, “guys that, you know, I’ve dated in the past. Maybe some of his friends may think that.” Several mothers discussed fearing that they are “overprotective” or not giving children, especially sons, enough space. Mothers’ descriptions of their interactions with their teenage children often revealed power struggles. Power Struggles As Vanessa did above, mothers talked about their expectations for their sons to someday become the “man of the house”; a status that clearly means having power and authority (Anderson 1999; Burton and Tucker 2009) and a role they are already practicing by exerting power over siblings. Mothers also described sons who jostle for family power, competing with other siblings and even mothers themselves. Mothers often referred to boys in particular as “strong-willed” and attributed this to masculinity. Mariah discussed the challenges of raising teenage boys: “You tell them, ‘Don’t go, or you can’t go outside today.’ Soon as you turn your back, he’s out the door, like you didn’t just tell him nothing.” She went on, “Boys is just so—they’re just hardheaded … They’re going to do what they want to do regardless.” Shironda similarly described her 19-year-old son as “being stubborn sometimes as a man will [be]. He’s definitely all man.” In a few instances, mothers’ descriptions suggest boys are not just angling for more freedom to come and go as they like or taking on more responsibilities around the home, but engaging in power struggles in efforts to gain control of siblings or mothers. When Shironda found out her 16-year-old daughter had kissed a boy, for example, her 19-year-old son reacted punitively: And my son told her, “You’re trying to grow up too fast.” He said, “Don’t grow up too fast.” I said, “He’s right.” … And he put [her] on punishment. If he found out she went and did something she shouldn’t be doing, “I’m not taking you over there; I’m not picking you up.” He be tripping. [I was] like, “You act like you her daddy or something. You need to go pick her up.” He put her on punishment. In this instance, Shironda suggested, her son went further than she wanted in taking charge of his sibling. Mothers frequently described sons who act like their siblings’ “daddy” by disciplining them. Some see this as a good and helpful thing, yet also mentioned the challenges it poses, particularly when two or more brothers vie for this status or try to elevate their position above their mother. As Shironda did, some mothers described rebuking boys for overstepping their authority—when Sydney’s 15- and 17-year-old sons compete for power over their siblings, Sydney reproaches them, saying, “Everybody think they be daddy. Nobody’s the daddy. I’m the momma and the daddy, okay!”—but not all feel they are effective or heard. And these power struggles wear on mothers, especially given their concerns about their children’s futures. Conclusion Drawing on 31 in-depth interviews with low-income black single mothers of teenagers, this article illuminates family interactions and power dynamics given current gendered and racialized discourse around the family. Much has been made about the rise in single-mother households in recent decades, with the emphasis largely on absent fathers and the challenges single mothers face. Poor black single mother households are often the focus of this debate. Symbolically and materially, these mothers struggle to define their families as acceptable and to raise their children safely to adulthood. As single motherhood increases for all groups of women (Martin et al. 2013), the experiences and strategies of black single mothers offer important theoretical contributions to the literature on family life, race, and gender as well as implications for public policy. Our analysis reveals that given the belief in fathers performing an essential and distinct role, coupled with mothers’ deauthorization and the intersecting race, class, and gender inequalities they experience, mothers employ older sons and former male partners as they try to protect their children from the streets and potentially predatory relationships. The strategy of brothermothering gives mothers access to male authority, helps tie sons to family life, and is a way mothers instill responsibility in sons amid fears for their safety and well-being as young black men. It also allows black single mothers to organize and represent their families in ways that more closely resemble the ideal version of family, which all mothers said means a mother and father actively participating in raising children. Mothers expressed concern about the consequences of not having a father figure for their children’s behaviors and futures. Involving sons in their parenting may alleviate some of mothers’ worries about their family’s deviation from the ideal. As other scholars note, the “ideal family” and the “deviant family” are gendered, racialized, and classed constructs (Collins 2000; Kaplan 1996; Moore 2008). Our research shows what these sociopolitical and hierarchical constructs mean for family members’ everyday practices and interactions. The creative ways families labeled as “deviant” engage in strategies to align their family with the ideal provide insight into the ideological power of “the family” as well as the reproduction of inequality. This research also adds to the literature by examining family power dynamics. Mothers engage sons as role models and to help monitor and discipline younger siblings. Although these sons aid their mothers, brothermothering can reinforce male dominance in families, such as brothers regulating sisters’ sexual behavior or adopting a threatening, punitive role with younger siblings. Brothermothering may also lead to power struggles, as mothers and sons jostle with two competing hierarchies: between parent and child, and masculinity and femininity. The mothers’ stories suggest that boys and men carry, or vie for, power through their masculine status. These dynamics can produce a relationship that more closely mirrors a peer than parent-child relationship. Mothers also described sons who try to take over as “daddy” or “man of the house.” Some stated boys need more independence and authority to develop into family leaders. In sum, clearly families benefit when many people are invested in children’s well-being and are able to help raise them. Carving out a distinctive family role for fathers incorporates and ties men to the family. Yet these efforts create an auxiliary narrative: that single mothers are deficient. Notions of separate parenting roles do not make sense for single mothers but they also do not make sense in the history of family life: children have long been raised by single parents (Coontz 1992) and extended kin (Collins 2000; Stack and Burton 1993). Overemphasizing the singular role of fathers can deny women authority and create a belief that punitive and authoritarian parenting is required to keep children safe, in line, and out of jail. Rather than dichotomizing parenting roles, conceptualizing the work of raising children in terms of caring or carework, regardless of who does it, would help to support children’s well-being and challenge the ideology of gender difference that underlies the gender hierarchy. But we also need to better support family life so that children and families, regardless of family makeup, have what they need to thrive. Although this study focused on low-income black single mothers, showing the complexities and contradictions in their racialized gender strategies, our research highlights the structural and cultural conditions that inform these women’s mothering and that matter, in general, for family well-being: poverty and dangerous neighborhoods, frayed and contested social safety nets, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of youth of color, coupled with sexual double standards and the valorization of fathers and two-parent households. The carework of the women in this article occurs at the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexual hierarchies, bringing into clear focus the challenges they face and the support that they—indeed all families—need and deserve to nurture the next generation. The authors thank the anonymous reviewers, editor Pamela Anne Quiroz, Michael Schwalbe, and Kim Ebert for their helpful feedback. This research was supported by funding from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University. Direct correspondence to: Sinikka Elliott, Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia, 6303 NW Marine Dr., Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1. E-mail: sinikka.elliott@ubc.ca. REFERENCES Anderson Elijah. 1999 . Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City . New York : W. W. Norton . 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Brothermothering: Gender, Power, and the Parenting Strategies of Low-Income Black Single Mothers of Teenagers

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Abstract

Abstract Much has been made about the rise in single mother households over the past several decades, with significant focus on absent fathers and the challenges single mothers face. Black single mother households are often the face of this debate. Drawing on 31 in-depth interviews with low-income black single mothers of teenagers, we examine the racialized gender strategies these mothers develop in their carework. Findings reveal that amid current gendered and racialized discourses that emphasize the crucial role fathers play in children’s lives, and in a context of intersecting race, gender, and class inequalities, mothers draw heavily on the help of older sons—a phenomenon we call “brothermothering”—as well as other men and the symbolic power of male authority. We argue that male power in the lives of low-income black single mothers poses dilemmas and contradictions, which both support mothers in their parenting efforts and reproduce patriarchal underpinnings of “the family” based on male dominance. We situate these findings within the larger contexts of widespread anxiety about single motherhood, dominant beliefs about the roles of “mother” and “father,” gendered sexual double standards, and processes of criminalization and hyperincarceration that are particularly salient for low-income black youth, families, and communities. single motherhood, race, gender, othermothering, power relations Scholars call to move beyond theoretical approaches that “either romanticize or pathologize black families” (Sarkisian and Gerstel 2004:815) to instead examine what family members do, given their ideas about family and the settings within which they act and interact, while being attuned to race, class, and gender inequalities (Collins 2000; Hill 2005; Moore 2011). Drawing on 31 in-depth interviews with low-income black single mothers of teenagers, we take up this call. Our analysis documents the strategies these women use to attempt to protect their children as well as to respond to their gendered racialization as “deviant” mothers. We situate these findings within a larger context that includes widespread anxiety about single motherhood, dominant beliefs about the roles of “mother” and “father,” gendered sexual double standards, and processes of criminalization and hyperincarceration that are particularly salient for low-income black youth, families, and communities. MARRIAGE AND FAMILY AT THE INTERSECTIONS OF RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER The number of children being raised in single parent households has risen steadily over the decades, with most headed by women (Vespa, Lewis, and Kreider 2013). Marriage and fatherhood programs, especially those targeting the poor, have represented one type of political response to more single-mother households (Gavanes 2004; Randles 2013). As examples, welfare reform in 1996 included funding to promote marriage and involved fatherhood, and, in 2005, Congress passed the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Act, a discretionary grant program that provided $150 million per year for ten years, with half earmarked for programs emphasizing fathers’ emotional, physical, psychological, and financial roles (Solomon-Fears 2015). In 2010, President Obama launched a nationwide Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative. Describing it, Obama highlighted fathers’ role in their children’s lives, pointing to statistics that show fatherless children are more likely to live in poverty, drop out of school, and end up incarcerated (Office of the Press Secretary 2010). Current marriage and fatherhood promotion policies have roots in welfare’s racist and heterosexist origins (Roberts 2002). Government-funded Mothers’ Pensions developed in the early twentieth century to support almost exclusively white married or widowed women and children without a male breadwinner, with black families largely excluded (e.g., standards for the distribution of benefits effectively disqualified black mothers) (Gordon 1994; Gustafson 2009). As black women and never-married women began to occupy a larger share of welfare rolls in the 1960s and 70s, policymakers began expressing concerns that welfare might discourage marriage by lessening women’s dependence on men as breadwinners and by encouraging non-marital childbearing (Hancock 2004; Nathanson 1991; Quadagno 1994). These attitudes dovetailed with the popular view that mothers and fathers should occupy separate spheres of home and work and should perform different yet complementary family roles (Coontz 1992; Hill 2005; Parsons and Bales 1955). The influential sociologist Talcott Parsons (Parson and Bales 1955), for example, argued that, for familial well-being, fathers should inhabit the instrumental role—provide, lead, and discipline—whereas mothers should occupy the expressive, nurturing role. Americans are less likely to endorse the idea of gendered separate spheres today (Hamilton, Geist, and Powell 2011), yet most view heterosexual marriage as the best setting for raising children (Edin and Kefalas 2005; Pew Research Center 2010). Moreover, dominant meanings of motherhood and fatherhood continue to affect how individuals experience and do parenting. For instance, despite modern norms of “involved fathering” (Coltrane 1996; Milkie and Denny 2014), ideas about fatherhood still center around being a good provider (Roy 2004). Some popular texts position fathers as indispensable in families (Blankenhorn 1995; Popenoe 1996), although others contest this (Pleck 1997; Silverstein and Auerbach 1999). Thus, whether or not couples actually occupy the family roles Parsons envisioned, studies find they wrestle with them (e.g., Burton and Tucker 2009; Elliott and Umberson 2008; Hochschild 2003). As Mignon R. Moore (2008) contends, “Participating in something defined as ‘family’ requires a social group’s members to enact gender in ways that are built into the meanings of family life” (p. 339). Enactments of gender are not static, however. According to the “doing gender” perspective, individuals do gender in interaction with others and in response to situational demands (West and Zimmerman 1987). We can think about family members, then, using what Arlie Russell Hochschild (2003) calls a “gender strategy,” or “a plan of action through which a person tries to solve a problem at hand, given the cultural notions of gender at play” (p. 15). The strategies people employ to navigate gender and family depend on their location in other structures of inequality, including race, class, and sexual hierarchies (Baca Zinn 1992; Collins 1994, 2000; Moore 2008, 2011). For example, racist and sexist stereotypes of black women as strong, independent, and controlling may frame gender strategies in black relationships (Hill 2005). Cultural representations of black men as threatening criminals, hypersexual predators, or “marginalized to the point of oblivion” (Ferguson 2000:78) may also inform black couples’ gender strategies. Reviewing past research on black marriages and longitudinal data from low-income families, Linda M. Burton and M. Belinda Tucker (2009) find black women perform “a delicate dance” to both “elevate and honor manhood (especially those who have committed to families) while carrying out necessary obligations and tasks” (p. 142). Thus, racist controlling images form a backdrop for black women’s gender strategies. Such images arise though a process of racialization: “attaching racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice, or group” (Collins 2000:75). Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, dominant ideologies racialized black single-mother households as a cause of black poverty and the supposed breakdown of the black family. What came to be known as the Moynihan report, prepared by sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1965) for the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, was influential in this process by decrying the so-called matriarchal structure of black families and the strength of black women for allegedly weakening black men’s authority (Hancock 2004; Kaplan 1996; Nathanson 1991). We thus use the term “racialized gender strategy” to highlight the intersections of race and gender in the strategies black low-income single mothers use as they navigate racist and sexist controlling images pertaining to self, family, and children. BLACK FAMILIES, PARENTING, AND POWER Sociologists have long theorized the parent-child relationship as a site of power (Kranichfeld 1987; Moore 2008, 2011). Having the power to direct children’s lives constitutes a crucial aspect of family authority and decision making, for instance. Yet family power dynamics are not merely isolated within family life: they reflect and can reinforce, but may also potentially challenge, social hierarchies rooted in race, class, and gender. For example, numerous studies show that black mothers actively resist racist gendered stereotypes of their children—such as the hypersexualization of daughters (Kaplan 1996; Littlefield 2008) and the hypercriminalization of sons (Ferguson 2000; Russell-Brown 1998)—by advocating on children’s behalf and socializing children to have a sense of racial pride and community (Coard and Sellers 2005; Collins 1994, 2005; Elliott, Powell, and Brenton 2015; Suizzo, Robinson, and Pahlke 2008). Black families seek to foster children’s resilience (Richardson 2012) and self-esteem (Thornton 1997) and to insulate children, especially sons (Hill 2005), from violence and discrimination (Ferguson 2000; Richardson, Johnson, and St. Vil 2014; Richardson, Johnson, and St. Vil 2014). Black parents may also socialize daughters to demonstrate strength and fortitude (Hill 2005). Yet as Maria S. Johnson (2013) finds through interviews with college-educated black women, fathers can encourage daughters to defer to men or assert themselves as their daughters’ protectors against men, reinforcing gender and sexual hierarchies. Low-income black parents may also “idealize marriage and gender traditionalism as a way to strengthen black families” (Hill 2005:164), emphasizing the importance of male leadership in the family (Anderson 1999) and a Parsonian division of labor, even as their everyday practices defy these ideologies and expose children to less gender-differentiated roles (Hill 2005). There is also a rich history of othermothering—sharing the work of raising children—in many black communities (Collins 2000; Dominguez and Watkins 2003; Roy 2004). Othermothering is a practical response to single motherhood, but also involves viewing the larger community as responsible for children’s care (Collins 2000; Richardson, Johnson et al. 2014; Roy and Burton 2007). Girls have long been “kinscripted” (Stack and Burton 1993) into family care and household work (Dodson and Dickert 2004), and boys too may be tasked with caring for siblings and extended kin (Burton 2007; Collins 2000; Roy 2004; Stack and Burton 1993). Burton (2007) suggests that boys may be especially likely to act as their mother’s peer or spouse, filling the role of “man of the house,” yet she does not explore the gendered and racialized meanings behind this. Based on 31 in-depth interviews with low-income black single mothers of teenagers, we analyze how these mothers call on the authority of males and symbolic male power to protect and raise their children. We argue that mothers draw on older male children in particular—what we call brothermothering—to gain their help and to tie boys and men to family life amid fears for their futures, but that these efforts can reify socially constructed gender differences and hierarchies and produce power struggles between mothers and sons. Our findings demonstrate the complex ways mothers’ belief in the value of a two-parent household, their desire for children to be exposed to a “male perspective,” and intersecting gender-, race-, and class-specific meanings and power relations infuse their parenting strategies. DATA AND METHOD Our analysis is based on 31 in-depth interviews with black low-income single mothers. All of the mothers have at least one teenage child between the ages of 13 and 18 and, per our definition of “single” in the study criteria, are unmarried and have been parenting without a co-residential adult partner for at least three years prior to the interview (some of the mothers are dating). Our method is based on a case study design in which “a specific group or individual [is] chosen to represent—even exaggerate—social conflicts that our theories suggest are experienced in the wider society” (Williams 1991:225). Researchers who follow this case study design limit their sample to a group of individuals who are subject to similar conditions. The strength of this design lies in its depth. Focusing on a narrow group (i.e., low-income, black single mothers of teenagers) ensures that the complexities of these individuals’ lives can emerge. But because a case study sample is selected for its illustrative and theoretical value, case study findings have broad implications beyond the sample population. We conducted interviews in two waves. We interviewed 16 mothers in 2010 and an additional 15 mothers in 2012. In both rounds, we recruited mothers from an urban county in a medium-sized city in the Southeast through flyers posted around town, afterschool and community programs, and referrals from participants in an unrelated research project the authors were also working on. All but two of the participants were residents of the county and their teen children attended public schools in the county. The other two lived in a contiguous county of a similar size. The average age of participants was 39 and their children were a range of ages (see Table 1). While all mothers identified as single parents, their social networks varied. Some mothers’ networks included fathers who were actively participating in their children’s lives, although this was not usually the case. More often, mothers described fathers as residing on the periphery of their lives, and fathers were wholly absent in some instances. Mothers’ employment status also varied: over a third of the women were employed full time, just under a third were unemployed or students, and the remaining third were either employed part time or identified as homemakers. Household incomes ranged from $5,000 to $40,000, with $20,000 as the median. Table 1. Participant Demographic Characteristics Pseudonym Age Education Occupation Children (sex and age) Adrianna 35 bachelor’s management daughter (17), sons (11, 14) Anastasia 29 < high school language translation daughters (7, 11, 13), son (8) Angelique 42 bachelor's preschool teachera daughters (4, 20, 21, 22), sons (9, 17, 19) Berna 39 high school certified nursing asst. daughter (19), son (16) Candice 34 associate’s childcare provider/janitor daughters (7, 9, 14, 15), son (6) Cherise 43 high school nursing aidea daughters (9, 13), sons (15, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25) Christina 27 GED unemployed sons (2, 6, 10, 13) Debbie 41 some college clerk daughter (18) Doreen 41 some college homemaker daughter (13), sons (17, 18) Dorothy 54 bachelor’s student daughter (15), sons (18, 28, 31) Elizab 39 in college patent officer daughter (18), son (18) Felicia 32 high school service technician son (13) Janelle 43 some college certified nursing asst. daughters (4, 7, 24), sons (12, 16, 22) Louisa 51 high school customer service daughter (16), son (27) Mariah 32 < high school unemployed sons (3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15) Marielle 39 high school health carea son (16) Maya 43 some college medical technician daughters (13, 18, 25), sons (22, 23, 25) Millicent 42 < high school homemaker daughters (17, 18, 25), son (28) Nina 40 high school unemployed daughters (4, 5, 22), sons (7mo, 7, 17, 19) Paula 37 some college student sons (2, 10, 14) Rita 34 high school customer service daughter (6), sons (2mo, 13, 14) Rosie 33 < high school food servicea daughter (16), son (5) Shironda 42 some college veterinarian technician daughters (16), son (19) Sydney 33 high school food servicea daughter (10), sons (8, 15, 17) Sonya 33 < high school student daughters (5, 8, 11, 13, 15) Tasha 39 < high school unemployed daughters (17, 20, 21), sons (18, 21, 24) Theresa 32 bachelor’s loan specialist sons (11, 16) Tiana 36 some college unemployed daughter (7), sons (11, 15, 18) Vanessa 48 some college customer service daughter (17), son (18) Victoria 52 some college homemaker daughters (18, 19), son (17) Yashondab 35 some college student daughters (2, 13, 17) Pseudonym Age Education Occupation Children (sex and age) Adrianna 35 bachelor’s management daughter (17), sons (11, 14) Anastasia 29 < high school language translation daughters (7, 11, 13), son (8) Angelique 42 bachelor's preschool teachera daughters (4, 20, 21, 22), sons (9, 17, 19) Berna 39 high school certified nursing asst. daughter (19), son (16) Candice 34 associate’s childcare provider/janitor daughters (7, 9, 14, 15), son (6) Cherise 43 high school nursing aidea daughters (9, 13), sons (15, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25) Christina 27 GED unemployed sons (2, 6, 10, 13) Debbie 41 some college clerk daughter (18) Doreen 41 some college homemaker daughter (13), sons (17, 18) Dorothy 54 bachelor’s student daughter (15), sons (18, 28, 31) Elizab 39 in college patent officer daughter (18), son (18) Felicia 32 high school service technician son (13) Janelle 43 some college certified nursing asst. daughters (4, 7, 24), sons (12, 16, 22) Louisa 51 high school customer service daughter (16), son (27) Mariah 32 < high school unemployed sons (3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15) Marielle 39 high school health carea son (16) Maya 43 some college medical technician daughters (13, 18, 25), sons (22, 23, 25) Millicent 42 < high school homemaker daughters (17, 18, 25), son (28) Nina 40 high school unemployed daughters (4, 5, 22), sons (7mo, 7, 17, 19) Paula 37 some college student sons (2, 10, 14) Rita 34 high school customer service daughter (6), sons (2mo, 13, 14) Rosie 33 < high school food servicea daughter (16), son (5) Shironda 42 some college veterinarian technician daughters (16), son (19) Sydney 33 high school food servicea daughter (10), sons (8, 15, 17) Sonya 33 < high school student daughters (5, 8, 11, 13, 15) Tasha 39 < high school unemployed daughters (17, 20, 21), sons (18, 21, 24) Theresa 32 bachelor’s loan specialist sons (11, 16) Tiana 36 some college unemployed daughter (7), sons (11, 15, 18) Vanessa 48 some college customer service daughter (17), son (18) Victoria 52 some college homemaker daughters (18, 19), son (17) Yashondab 35 some college student daughters (2, 13, 17) a Employed part time b Residents of contiguous county Table 1. Participant Demographic Characteristics Pseudonym Age Education Occupation Children (sex and age) Adrianna 35 bachelor’s management daughter (17), sons (11, 14) Anastasia 29 < high school language translation daughters (7, 11, 13), son (8) Angelique 42 bachelor's preschool teachera daughters (4, 20, 21, 22), sons (9, 17, 19) Berna 39 high school certified nursing asst. daughter (19), son (16) Candice 34 associate’s childcare provider/janitor daughters (7, 9, 14, 15), son (6) Cherise 43 high school nursing aidea daughters (9, 13), sons (15, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25) Christina 27 GED unemployed sons (2, 6, 10, 13) Debbie 41 some college clerk daughter (18) Doreen 41 some college homemaker daughter (13), sons (17, 18) Dorothy 54 bachelor’s student daughter (15), sons (18, 28, 31) Elizab 39 in college patent officer daughter (18), son (18) Felicia 32 high school service technician son (13) Janelle 43 some college certified nursing asst. daughters (4, 7, 24), sons (12, 16, 22) Louisa 51 high school customer service daughter (16), son (27) Mariah 32 < high school unemployed sons (3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15) Marielle 39 high school health carea son (16) Maya 43 some college medical technician daughters (13, 18, 25), sons (22, 23, 25) Millicent 42 < high school homemaker daughters (17, 18, 25), son (28) Nina 40 high school unemployed daughters (4, 5, 22), sons (7mo, 7, 17, 19) Paula 37 some college student sons (2, 10, 14) Rita 34 high school customer service daughter (6), sons (2mo, 13, 14) Rosie 33 < high school food servicea daughter (16), son (5) Shironda 42 some college veterinarian technician daughters (16), son (19) Sydney 33 high school food servicea daughter (10), sons (8, 15, 17) Sonya 33 < high school student daughters (5, 8, 11, 13, 15) Tasha 39 < high school unemployed daughters (17, 20, 21), sons (18, 21, 24) Theresa 32 bachelor’s loan specialist sons (11, 16) Tiana 36 some college unemployed daughter (7), sons (11, 15, 18) Vanessa 48 some college customer service daughter (17), son (18) Victoria 52 some college homemaker daughters (18, 19), son (17) Yashondab 35 some college student daughters (2, 13, 17) Pseudonym Age Education Occupation Children (sex and age) Adrianna 35 bachelor’s management daughter (17), sons (11, 14) Anastasia 29 < high school language translation daughters (7, 11, 13), son (8) Angelique 42 bachelor's preschool teachera daughters (4, 20, 21, 22), sons (9, 17, 19) Berna 39 high school certified nursing asst. daughter (19), son (16) Candice 34 associate’s childcare provider/janitor daughters (7, 9, 14, 15), son (6) Cherise 43 high school nursing aidea daughters (9, 13), sons (15, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25) Christina 27 GED unemployed sons (2, 6, 10, 13) Debbie 41 some college clerk daughter (18) Doreen 41 some college homemaker daughter (13), sons (17, 18) Dorothy 54 bachelor’s student daughter (15), sons (18, 28, 31) Elizab 39 in college patent officer daughter (18), son (18) Felicia 32 high school service technician son (13) Janelle 43 some college certified nursing asst. daughters (4, 7, 24), sons (12, 16, 22) Louisa 51 high school customer service daughter (16), son (27) Mariah 32 < high school unemployed sons (3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15) Marielle 39 high school health carea son (16) Maya 43 some college medical technician daughters (13, 18, 25), sons (22, 23, 25) Millicent 42 < high school homemaker daughters (17, 18, 25), son (28) Nina 40 high school unemployed daughters (4, 5, 22), sons (7mo, 7, 17, 19) Paula 37 some college student sons (2, 10, 14) Rita 34 high school customer service daughter (6), sons (2mo, 13, 14) Rosie 33 < high school food servicea daughter (16), son (5) Shironda 42 some college veterinarian technician daughters (16), son (19) Sydney 33 high school food servicea daughter (10), sons (8, 15, 17) Sonya 33 < high school student daughters (5, 8, 11, 13, 15) Tasha 39 < high school unemployed daughters (17, 20, 21), sons (18, 21, 24) Theresa 32 bachelor’s loan specialist sons (11, 16) Tiana 36 some college unemployed daughter (7), sons (11, 15, 18) Vanessa 48 some college customer service daughter (17), son (18) Victoria 52 some college homemaker daughters (18, 19), son (17) Yashondab 35 some college student daughters (2, 13, 17) a Employed part time b Residents of contiguous county Interviews lasted approximately 1.5 hours and were digitally recorded. Most interviews took place in participants’ homes. Two participants were living in homeless shelters during interviews, and one was renting a long-term hotel room. All authors conducted interviews and are middle- and upper-middle-class white women. One was raised by a single mother when the author was a teenager and two are mothers, information we shared with participants. Interviews are an occasion for meaning making (Holstein and Gubrium 1995), and our particular social locations likely shaped what the mothers were willing to share with us (Corbin Dwyer and Buckle 2009). We analyzed the interview transcripts in light of the fact that black low-income single mothers were offering an account to white academic women. That is, we consider the interviews not as fact or the truth, but rather as accounts the mothers shared, understanding that what they said may be held up for interpretation and judgment (Scott and Lyman 1968). White academics and policy makers have long participated in creating and perpetuating controlling images of black family life (Collins 2000; Moore 2011) and black study participants may mistrust the motives and ethics of white researchers as a legacy of their historical mistreatment in research. In our analysis, we thus treat the mothers’ interviews as narratives they shared with us, given their ideas about who we were, how we might view their families, and what our motives might be. At the same time, we made efforts to develop rapport with the mothers and listened carefully and respectfully, following up on what they said and encouraging them to tell us what they thought it was important for us to know. The analysis and perspective come from an outsider location but reflect our commitment to conducting antiracist, intersectional, and feminist research. In line with these perspectives, we sought a group of mothers who shared certain defining characteristics (e.g., race, marital status, motherhood status) but differed in other ways (e.g., level of education, income, relationship history) to demonstrate the diversity of their experiences and perspectives. Moreover, we avoided treating race, class, and gender as permanent characteristics of individuals, and were instead attentive to how these categories mattered to the participants, may interact with one another, and are embedded in and work through larger institutions (Choo and Ferree 2010). For example, race and class do not simply interact with gender in the meanings and experiences of motherhood, they are central to the construction of the gendered institution of motherhood (Collins 1994, 2000; Roberts 2002). Our interviewing goal was to develop an understanding of mothers’ lives from their perspectives and without homogenizing their experiences (Collins 2000; DeVault 1996). We began each interview by asking participants to describe their neighborhood, probing for their perceptions of safety, trust, and social ties. The interview continued in this vein, asking broad questions and following up to construct detailed stories. In order to elaborate on themes of ideal family life and gendered power relations that we identified in the initial round of interviews, we used a strategy of theoretical sampling—a process that involves starting with data, forming tentative ideas, and elaborating and refining these ideas through further inquiry (Charmaz 2006). After the initial 16 interviews, we coded the data and developed nascent conceptual categories. In the second round of 15 interviews, we included more questions to better understand how mothers think about family life and interpret and negotiate the help of male family, friends, and institutions when raising teens. In each wave, interviews were transcribed verbatim. The authors wrote a three- to five-page interpretative summary after each interview. These sketches included important details of the interview as well as analytic insights, which we further developed through a process of open and focused coding in NVivo. We wrote memos to elaborate and refine conceptual categories that led to the present analysis. Through open coding, we initially identified how common it was for mothers to discuss older sons helping to parent younger siblings, and the power and respect their sons, along with other men, are able to garner. During focused coding, we paid careful attention to when, how, and with what consequences brothers participate in raising siblings. Overall focused coding helped us to understand the concerns mothers hold for their children’s well-being, the contexts within which they parent, and how their efforts to protect and discipline their teen children are intimately shaped by race, gender, and class inequalities. FINDINGS Participants relayed the struggles they experience and the strategies they adopt as they seek to respond to their gendered racialization as deviant mothers and their family’s marginalization. We find that mothers distanced themselves from controlling images of single mothers and asserted a strong belief in the value of two-parent households. Mothers also described calling upon men’s authority in their parenting, including enlisting sons in parenting siblings (what we call brothermothering). Our analysis demonstrates the ways low-income black single mothers’ racialized gender concerns for their children inform the strategy of brothermothering as well as how their responses can maintain male power in the heterosexual household. Idealizing the Two-Parent Heterosexual Household Accounting for Single Motherhood Despite changes in the organization and make up of families, the heterosexual two-parent middle-class household continues to be promoted as the ideal. Given this context, single mothers experience stigmatization and high expectations to account for their single status and their parenting. The mothers we interviewed are acutely aware of this. Sonya, who has two teenage daughters and three younger girls, said, “I really do feel that some people do look down at them [my children] because I am a single mom of five and I’m not married.” She added: I just wish that I did get married [and that] they all had the same father. But, you know, things happen and we learn from everything and even though I am alone and, you know, there’s nobody here to help me [crying], I still get up every morning with a smile on my face, regardless of what happens, no matter what … I take care of my kids regardless. Don’t matter about two-person home … As long as my kids be happy when they leave here everything is fine. I’m not worried about what the outsiders say because they don’t see what goes on in this house. It’s nothing but love in here, and that’s all you need. Believing that “outsiders” might negatively judge her family, Sonya described her children as friendly and loved by others as evidence that single mothers can provide children with sufficient love, guidance, and support. Even as they discussed the lengths they go to meet their children’s needs, the mothers typically endorsed marriage as the ideal arrangement for raising children. Cherise tells her children that being “married before you have a baby … is the best way to do it.” Louisa criticized women who have children outside of marriage. Describing a neighbor who is the same age as Louisa’s 16-year-old daughter, Louisa said she is “fast. She always have boys coming [over].” She added that the girl’s “mother had her out of wedlock and she’s very promiscuous ’cause she’s got five kids. So it’s all generational.” Code words disparaging single motherhood, such as “out of wedlock” and “intergenerational,” dominated public discourse after the release of the 1965 Moynihan report (Nathanson 1991). Emphasizing the Role of Fathers In line with the societal valorization of marriage and heterosexual two-parent households, mothers uniformly said that children should have a mother and a father and stressed the irreplaceable role fathers play. Tasha stated, “I think every child need they daddy in they life. Every child.” The idealized model of a mother and father is partly rooted in the pervasive cultural belief that men and women are fundamentally different (England 2005; Hill 2005; West and Zimmerman 1987), and that children need both mothers and fathers to model these roles (Parsons and Bales 1955). This idea of gender difference was common in the mothers’ narratives. Victoria said she regrets the absence of a male influence in her 17-year-old son’s life: I can’t be a substitute for a father. I’ve had to be a substitute. But I’m a poor substitute for a father. There are things that he [my son] won’t talk to me about, with the sex issues. The father could tell them about those things, about the diseases. You know, it’s just difficult to raise a little man. Expressing a similar sentiment, Christina said some of the problems she is having with her 13-year-old son’s temper are the result “of his father not being around a lot … [and] not doing all the fatherly things that need to be done.” She encourages her son’s father to take an active role in his life: “[I tell him], ‘There’s a lot that you can do that can make his temper change, versus me with three other young ones and not being able to go out there … to the basketball field.’” The mothers’ narratives demonstrate gender-essentialist ideas, such as the notion that fathers, not mothers, can talk with boys about sex and play sports with them. In an effort to socialize their boys into young men, eight mothers discussed enrolling their sons in community programs that provide boys with male role models. These programs serve low-income families who cannot afford expensive organized activities. Five of these mothers in particular mentioned a local organization that Theresa described as follows: “African American males that can volunteer their time to being with the young black boys … They’ll talk about different things about leadership and responsibility and all that kind of stuff.” Theresa likes the program because “it gives [my son] some positive male role models that he can look up to.” Mothers are glad such programs exist, and Joseph B. Richardson (2012) finds they provide black male youth with important forms of social capital. Yet they also solidify the idea that mothers, or women in general, are not adequate role models; instead, boys need to have male behavior (i.e., leadership and responsibility) modeled for them by other males. Mothers also expressed concerns about their daughters’ well-being when fathers are not actively involved in their lives. One spoke of the importance of exposing girls to “a male perspective” for a successful transition into womanhood, and another expressed concern that girls without a father look for relationships with older men as a replacement. As we discuss later, mothers want older sons to be involved in their sisters’ lives, hoping these boys will fill father-like roles. Contradictions in the Idealized Two-Parent Family The emphasis on the value of two parents and the signature role men play in family life can mean mothers feel inadequate about their ability to raise their children alone because they suggest that fathers play a role that mothers, as women, cannot—a notion that was contentious for a subset of participants. Nine women spoke of leaving bad relationships with men. They shared feelings of pride in being self-reliant, yet also guilt that their children’s fathers are not playing an active role in their children’s lives or that their families do not conform to the idealized model. Adrianna said that she was beginning to think that leaving her husband might have been a selfish decision, because it has deprived her three children of “a two-parent household.” In response to the question, “What is most challenging for you, in general, in your life?,” Adrianna responded: A child should really have a mother and a father. And you really should not make that decision to have children selfishly thinking that I’m just gonna do it on my own. They really do need two parents. So for me right now, I think the most challenging is not having a two-parent household … Me and my ex had to go through some things to come to the realization and understanding that we needed to [divorce]—[but] he’s kind of always told me that we needed to be together to raise the kids. I felt like I wasn’t willing to [be] in the relationship just because of the kids. Over time, Adrianna appears to have accepted her ex-husband’s argument that it is better to stay in an unhappy relationship for the children’s sake. This change of heart may stem in part from the fact that she is now parenting with very little help from him. Because her ex-husband was against the divorce, she is also reluctant to ask him for help. Black women must also navigate the controlling image that they are too domineering to keep a husband, what Patricia Hill Collins (2000) calls the “black matriarch” (see also Burton and Tucker 2009; Johnson 2013). Yashonda, for example, would like to have a male partner and a father figure for her teenage daughters, yet believes that for a man to want to be in a relationship with her she must “learn to be submissive:” I’m not in a relationship right now. I have to learn how to, I guess, be submissive … I don’t know if I come across as controlling or dominant. I don’t think I do. I think I’m pretty laid back. But some people might wonder when they start—especially if it’s a guy, he’s gonna be intimidated. He’s gonna feel like I’m controlling. Yashonda faces a contradiction: she believes and regularly hears that children should have a male presence, yet, in accordance with the ideology of intensive mothering (Elliott et al. 2015; Hays 1996), believes that good mothers put children first. “I have kids I have to think about. They come first and foremost,” she told us. Bringing a man into her family could potentially make her children vulnerable, Yashonda said. If he turned out to be a bad man, as happened in a past relationship, she explained, by submitting to him he would be in a position to make decisions that could negatively affect her children. Thus, even as mothers expressed the belief that they should make sacrifices or be submissive to keep men in their children’s lives, their stories also revealed the challenges this poses. Overall, however, the valorization of the two-parent heterosexual family preserves men’s power in the household. Drawing on Male Power: Brothermothering The mothers’ narratives suggest that male power in their lives is complex: for those who can access the power of men, it can aid in their parenting efforts, yet drawing on men’s power also reflects and reinforces mothers’ deauthorization as women. As part of the study criteria, the mothers have been neither married nor cohabiting for three years. But some fathers are active in their children’s lives, and some women have boyfriends who help on occasion. Doreen discussed how her children respect the authority of their stepfather, from whom Doreen is separated: “[All] I got to say [is], ‘I’m going to make a phone call.’ And they straighten right up. I’ve done it many times.” Similarly, Rita, referring to her children’s father whom she is no longer with, said, “He might yell a little bit, but not yell, but just like raise his voice a little bit, try to make them [see] like, ‘I’m the man. I’m Dad.’” Men do not have to raise their voices much, Rita suggested, to remind their children of the authority vested in them through masculinity and fatherhood. Debbie expressed frustration that she has to threaten her 18-year-old daughter with calling her father before she will comply with Debbie’s rules. Discussing a time her daughter missed curfew, Debbie said: “I texted her, ‘If you don’t call me right away, I’m going to call your father.’ She called me right back.” Afterwards, Debbie confronted her: I was like, “I do more for you than your dad do.” She said, “Well it’s different, my dad will judge me more. You won’t. You’ll listen to what I have to say.” She said, “My dad will just assume the worst, won’t ask me where I was, won’t ask me what I did.” Believing that mothers should be emotionally attuned (Parsons and Bales 1955), Debbie thinks it is important to listen to her daughter but she is frustrated that she does not wield the same authority as her ex-husband. Mothers also described how men sometimes undermine their authority by, for example, telling children that they do not have to follow a rule mom has issued, or buying children things like cell phones when their mother has said no to the item. Especially in the case of phones and technology, mothers said they cannot always regulate their use because they are not paying for them. Mothers’ narratives thus detailed the complexities of male authority in their lives. Mothers also described turning to sons for help with parenting, including disciplining and mentoring younger siblings—what we call brothermothering—a strategy that also presents dilemmas. Enlisting Sons as Father Figures Of the 19 participants with multiple children and at least one teenage or older son with younger siblings,1 1 This count excludes one mother, Millicent, who has not seen her son since he was a small child (see Elliott et al. 2015). 14 spoke of sons performing father-like roles with siblings. Enlisting a son as a “father figure” is one way mothers alleviate some of their concerns for their children about the consequences of their family deviating from the two-parent ideal. For example, Dorothy spoke highly of her 28- and 31-year-old sons’ willingness to help her with her 15-year-old daughter. Dorothy believes that she has “power struggles” with her teen daughter because there is no father. So, I have to use [my sons] as, see, not the bad guy, or not the disciplinarian, but for her to understand from a male perspective. If I feel like she’s not listening to me or if I have a bad enough issue with her, then I generally get [my oldest son] to address it with her. It could be argued that if Dorothy had older daughters, she might rely on them in similar ways. Yet she and other mothers specifically noted that their sons, not their daughters, are well-positioned to help because they can offer a “male perspective” that mothers, following popular discourse around absent fathers, believe is necessary. Dorothy also said she wants her 18-year-old son “to be more responsible. So he could be a better role model and example for his sister.” Although 15 mothers have teen or older daughters with younger siblings, and even as some described having peer- or sibling-like relationships with daughters, none referred to their daughters as role models or mother-like figures to siblings. Pointing to differences in access to power and authority, some mothers said that sons are able to garner respect from siblings in ways that mothers cannot. Dorothy explained that her sons carry authority with her daughter—“They come across as being really serious and stern. And they don’t repeat themselves more than one time”—whereas Dorothy said she often has to repeat herself and still does not feel heard. When we asked Cherise if her 13-year-old daughter was dating, she replied, “Oh no. She’s not dating. She’s got five brothers so they not having that. Her brothers, they think that they are her daddy.” Cherise also wants her daughter to delay dating, yet points to her sons as responsible for preventing this outcome, suggesting the power they hold in this regard. Saying, “they think that they are her daddy,” also implies that fathers are responsible for defending (Johnson 2013) and controlling girls’ sexuality. In another example, when Tiana’s 15- and 11-year-old sons did not come home on time, she enlisted her 18-year-old son to help find them: So we pull up [to the shopping center where they were] and my [18-year-old] son [was] like, “Where you all coming from?” So, my [15-year-old] son just [was] like, “We didn’t see you all.” My [oldest] son said, “You seen us, fucker.” He’s mad at this point. Like, “You running from Mom, are you serious?” They’re standing outside. They just scared. These mothers described sons who assist them and play an active role in parenting by demonstrating male authority with their siblings, including threatening and scaring them. Brothermothering as a Racialized Gender Strategy Participants’ differing concerns for their sons and daughters, based on the intersections of race, gender, and class, also inform the strategy of brothermothering. Mothers’ narratives were replete with heterosexual double standards, informed by their own experiences as teenage girls and the controlling images they and their daughters face around sexuality. Sexual double standards and the politics of respectability rest heavily on girls and women of color (Johnson 2013; Jones 2010; Moore 2011), and mothers spoke at length about their fears for their daughters’ sexual safety and honor but were less concerned about their sons’. For example, Janelle said she told her daughters that they can date boys when they are 31, but not her sons because it is different for boys: “Because they’re boys. Boys are always into something. Boys are always looking at women anyway, so they always have sex on their minds.” Other mothers described their daughters as sexually “at-risk” because they are girls and because boys are out to get one thing (i.e., sex), congruent with studies that show gender distrust is a strong theme in parents’ lessons to their children about sexuality (Elliott 2012; Harding 2010). Louisa, referring to her 16-year-old teen daughter, said, “I’m real finicky with her. ’Cause she’s so vulnerable. She’s so vulnerable and she’s a full-figured girl, as you’ve seen.” Mothers also palpably tied their concerns for their daughters’ safety and futures to their neighborhoods. Longstanding racist policies and practices mean that lower-income blacks are more likely than lower-income whites to live in disadvantaged, racially segregated neighborhoods (Reardon, Fox, and Townsend 2015), with their parenting strategies subsequently informed by the intersections of race, class (Elder et al. 1995), and gender (Harding 2010). Mothers often described their neighborhood or housing complex as a “drug area” (Mariah), mentioned robberies, shootings, and “violent gang stuff” (Christina), and, using gender-, race, and class-coded language, referred to “street” or “hood” males (Anderson 1999; Jones 2010). Louisa cautions her daughter, “You want nothing ’bout no hood [guy].” Similarly, Cherise tells her daughter, “‘Don’t mess with them old sorry boys out in that street now.’ I said, ‘They only want but one thing. You get pregnant, you’re going to be fatherless.’” Janelle dropped out of school to have a child and does not want this outcome for her daughter. She wants her daughter to see “education is key, because when I went to school, I wish someone would have influenced me. I want her to either go to college or go in the Air Force, and then think about, you know, getting married or a relationship within a family.” The mothers want their daughters “to be better than your mom” (Tasha), including avoiding early pregnancy and neighborhood men with “street mentality” (Candice) (see Kaplan 1996). Stemming from concerns about their daughters’ futures and sexual safety, mothers use older sons to monitor and advise their sisters in ways that align with the historical practice of men controlling women’s sexuality (Nathanson 1991). For example, Cherise described how her 25-year-old son checks his 13-year-old sister’s texts, adding, “He never seen anything bad on there.” A few mothers directly tied concerns about their daughters’ sexuality to the lack of a father in their lives, a lack that, if made up for, might prevent future problems. Louisa worries about her teen daughter because she thinks “for females, if they don’t get a relationship with their dad, they’re going to look for older men.” She hopes her 27-year-old son can fill an absent father’s shoes to prevent this. Mothers also want their daughters to have responsible family men in their lives as models to counter the influences of “street” boys and men and to back up mothers. Louisa is proud of her older son’s marriage, “He got married, I told him, because he’s not [hood], he’s a very good young man.” Expressing relief that her daughter looks up to her brother and he participates in parenting her, Louisa said: “She always got this little thing right here about her brother. She can’t let her brother down ’cause she knows that he’ll be on her too.” Louisa said she relies so much on her son that her daughter sometimes accuses them of “teaming up on her.” Mothers also hope an emphasis on family life is a way for boys to avoid the negative influences of peers and minimize their exposure to racialized gender discrimination. Mothers worry about sons getting “caught up” in dangerous places like “the streets” (Rendón 2014). Louisa said, “It’s really hard on our young black men if they leave themselves out there to be caught up and if they don’t have person of interest [looking out for] them, it’s easy to get caught up.” Just as fears about their daughters’ sexual vulnerability reflect the controlling images of girls of color as hypersexual, as well as mothers’ fears of predatory “street” males, mothers’ concerns for sons reflect the controlling images of boys of color as hypercriminals (Ferguson 2000; Rios 2011; Russell-Brown 1998). Theresa, who has two sons, said, “They already have two strikes against them. They’re black and then they’re males. So, society already has put them in the category of either ending up dead or in jail.” Pointing to the consequences of racialized gender stereotypes for black men, Theresa added, “When a black male walk into the room, or walk around somewhere, it’s like an instant fear that, oh my god, he’s going to do something … Just because he’s a black male, you already assume that he’s trouble.” Adrianna also described the intersections of race and gender informing her worries for her children: The boys definitely have had more difficulties in school than my daughter. I think the system is set up for them to fail, especially as African American children … Disciplinary actions are taken more severely upon my sons than my daughter, and I think they’re basically discriminated against. I have a big fear for my sons living in this world period. Although not all participants with sons spoke in such explicit terms, the majority discussed fears for their sons’ safety and well-being as they navigated poor, racially segregated neighborhoods and discriminatory contexts, revealing the intersections of race, class, and gender. Doreen said she tells her 18- and 17-year-old sons, “Which road do you want to go down? The bad road or the good road?” The bad road involves “being in the gangs, getting high, and stuff” whereas the good road means being “happy” and “successful,” having “money [and] a house.” With one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 behind bars (Pew Research Center 2008), mothers also worry about their sons getting into “legal trouble” (Shironda). Nina said that when they were younger and did something wrong, she would tell her now 17- and 19-year-old sons, “I don’t want you to be in and out of jail and prisons. I want you to grow up and be men.” In Nina’s estimation, men are good fathers and providers. As the criminal justice system has disproportionately affected low-income black and Latino neighborhoods, parents and other adult authority figures in the lives of young men of color “rely on criminal justice discourses and metaphors to deal with these young ‘risks’” (Rios 2011:5; see also Jones 2010), as Nina does here. Mothers’ narratives reveal the high stakes for low-income black boys. Just as they want their daughters to avoid “street” men and early pregnancy, they want their sons to avoid “the streets” and incarceration to have “a better life than the one we have at the moment” (Nina). In this context, brothermothering represents a way mothers try to instill responsibility in sons as they seek to protect them and their siblings from surrounding dangers. Mothers spoke of older sons who act as role models to younger brothers, for example. Theresa tells her 16-year-old son that his 11-year-old brother looks up to him and therefore he needs to model good behavior. After watching an episode of a television show in which a boy was murdered because he was following in his older brother’s footsteps, Theresa warned her oldest, “‘If you do something bad and [your brother] is following you, this could happen.’ He was like, ‘No, I don’t want that to happen.’” Similarly, Christina wants her 13-year-old son to be a good role model for his younger brothers. She counsels her friends with teenage sons who Christina thinks are heading in the wrong direction to seek help because they have “several more [children] that’s actually growing up and seeing what’s going on.” Thus, brothermothering creates a family role for older sons as role models for their siblings amid mothers’ concerns about boys’ well-being, and it is a way to help their existing family. Janelle emphasizes to her oldest son that she and his siblings are “really depending on you,” adding he needs to focus on school to be “successful and transition to a man. Being successful to hold his own, to hold his family—if we need something, he can help us out.” Janelle hopes her son succeeds and stays tied to the family so he is in a position to financially help out. In discussing their desire for their sons to stand by their families and become family men, mothers at times revealed that to be a family man means to be dominant. Vanessa, for example, said she gives her 18-year-old son a degree of freedom to help him develop the characteristics necessary to someday lead a family: I try to give him [some freedom], because he is a boy and he’s going to be a man. He’s got to be able to get out there on his own and take care and handle himself ’ cause, you know, he’s going to be the man in the house. So he’s got to have that type of freedom to do, you know, on his own. So I give him that. Vanessa has long stressed to her son the importance of being a responsible man, committed to his studies and family: “I continuously ask him, ‘What kind of man are you?’” Even as Vanessa worries, she believes that she should give her son more freedom to be independent as a future (family) man. The belief in male primacy in the heterosexual household, coupled with mothers’ fears that their sons will seek manhood in the streets, may thus encourage mothers to give sons more power in family life, reinforcing male authority. In discussing how she allows her son freedom and independence, Vanessa may also be responding to the idea, prominent in parenting books and popular discourse, that dominant, overprotective mothers emasculate sons (du Plessis 1993; Robinson and Spivey 2007) or the notion that single mothers are responsible for the so-called crisis of masculinity (Blankenhorn 1995; Popenoe 1996). Speaking to this larger context, Felicia said of her 13-year-old son: “I feel like I don’t have a, you know, a tight grip on him, but other people may say I hover [over] my son.” When asked who might think she hovers, Felicia revealed that she has heard this from men in her life, “guys that, you know, I’ve dated in the past. Maybe some of his friends may think that.” Several mothers discussed fearing that they are “overprotective” or not giving children, especially sons, enough space. Mothers’ descriptions of their interactions with their teenage children often revealed power struggles. Power Struggles As Vanessa did above, mothers talked about their expectations for their sons to someday become the “man of the house”; a status that clearly means having power and authority (Anderson 1999; Burton and Tucker 2009) and a role they are already practicing by exerting power over siblings. Mothers also described sons who jostle for family power, competing with other siblings and even mothers themselves. Mothers often referred to boys in particular as “strong-willed” and attributed this to masculinity. Mariah discussed the challenges of raising teenage boys: “You tell them, ‘Don’t go, or you can’t go outside today.’ Soon as you turn your back, he’s out the door, like you didn’t just tell him nothing.” She went on, “Boys is just so—they’re just hardheaded … They’re going to do what they want to do regardless.” Shironda similarly described her 19-year-old son as “being stubborn sometimes as a man will [be]. He’s definitely all man.” In a few instances, mothers’ descriptions suggest boys are not just angling for more freedom to come and go as they like or taking on more responsibilities around the home, but engaging in power struggles in efforts to gain control of siblings or mothers. When Shironda found out her 16-year-old daughter had kissed a boy, for example, her 19-year-old son reacted punitively: And my son told her, “You’re trying to grow up too fast.” He said, “Don’t grow up too fast.” I said, “He’s right.” … And he put [her] on punishment. If he found out she went and did something she shouldn’t be doing, “I’m not taking you over there; I’m not picking you up.” He be tripping. [I was] like, “You act like you her daddy or something. You need to go pick her up.” He put her on punishment. In this instance, Shironda suggested, her son went further than she wanted in taking charge of his sibling. Mothers frequently described sons who act like their siblings’ “daddy” by disciplining them. Some see this as a good and helpful thing, yet also mentioned the challenges it poses, particularly when two or more brothers vie for this status or try to elevate their position above their mother. As Shironda did, some mothers described rebuking boys for overstepping their authority—when Sydney’s 15- and 17-year-old sons compete for power over their siblings, Sydney reproaches them, saying, “Everybody think they be daddy. Nobody’s the daddy. I’m the momma and the daddy, okay!”—but not all feel they are effective or heard. And these power struggles wear on mothers, especially given their concerns about their children’s futures. Conclusion Drawing on 31 in-depth interviews with low-income black single mothers of teenagers, this article illuminates family interactions and power dynamics given current gendered and racialized discourse around the family. Much has been made about the rise in single-mother households in recent decades, with the emphasis largely on absent fathers and the challenges single mothers face. Poor black single mother households are often the focus of this debate. Symbolically and materially, these mothers struggle to define their families as acceptable and to raise their children safely to adulthood. As single motherhood increases for all groups of women (Martin et al. 2013), the experiences and strategies of black single mothers offer important theoretical contributions to the literature on family life, race, and gender as well as implications for public policy. Our analysis reveals that given the belief in fathers performing an essential and distinct role, coupled with mothers’ deauthorization and the intersecting race, class, and gender inequalities they experience, mothers employ older sons and former male partners as they try to protect their children from the streets and potentially predatory relationships. The strategy of brothermothering gives mothers access to male authority, helps tie sons to family life, and is a way mothers instill responsibility in sons amid fears for their safety and well-being as young black men. It also allows black single mothers to organize and represent their families in ways that more closely resemble the ideal version of family, which all mothers said means a mother and father actively participating in raising children. Mothers expressed concern about the consequences of not having a father figure for their children’s behaviors and futures. Involving sons in their parenting may alleviate some of mothers’ worries about their family’s deviation from the ideal. As other scholars note, the “ideal family” and the “deviant family” are gendered, racialized, and classed constructs (Collins 2000; Kaplan 1996; Moore 2008). Our research shows what these sociopolitical and hierarchical constructs mean for family members’ everyday practices and interactions. The creative ways families labeled as “deviant” engage in strategies to align their family with the ideal provide insight into the ideological power of “the family” as well as the reproduction of inequality. This research also adds to the literature by examining family power dynamics. Mothers engage sons as role models and to help monitor and discipline younger siblings. Although these sons aid their mothers, brothermothering can reinforce male dominance in families, such as brothers regulating sisters’ sexual behavior or adopting a threatening, punitive role with younger siblings. Brothermothering may also lead to power struggles, as mothers and sons jostle with two competing hierarchies: between parent and child, and masculinity and femininity. The mothers’ stories suggest that boys and men carry, or vie for, power through their masculine status. These dynamics can produce a relationship that more closely mirrors a peer than parent-child relationship. Mothers also described sons who try to take over as “daddy” or “man of the house.” Some stated boys need more independence and authority to develop into family leaders. In sum, clearly families benefit when many people are invested in children’s well-being and are able to help raise them. Carving out a distinctive family role for fathers incorporates and ties men to the family. Yet these efforts create an auxiliary narrative: that single mothers are deficient. Notions of separate parenting roles do not make sense for single mothers but they also do not make sense in the history of family life: children have long been raised by single parents (Coontz 1992) and extended kin (Collins 2000; Stack and Burton 1993). Overemphasizing the singular role of fathers can deny women authority and create a belief that punitive and authoritarian parenting is required to keep children safe, in line, and out of jail. Rather than dichotomizing parenting roles, conceptualizing the work of raising children in terms of caring or carework, regardless of who does it, would help to support children’s well-being and challenge the ideology of gender difference that underlies the gender hierarchy. But we also need to better support family life so that children and families, regardless of family makeup, have what they need to thrive. Although this study focused on low-income black single mothers, showing the complexities and contradictions in their racialized gender strategies, our research highlights the structural and cultural conditions that inform these women’s mothering and that matter, in general, for family well-being: poverty and dangerous neighborhoods, frayed and contested social safety nets, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of youth of color, coupled with sexual double standards and the valorization of fathers and two-parent households. The carework of the women in this article occurs at the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexual hierarchies, bringing into clear focus the challenges they face and the support that they—indeed all families—need and deserve to nurture the next generation. The authors thank the anonymous reviewers, editor Pamela Anne Quiroz, Michael Schwalbe, and Kim Ebert for their helpful feedback. This research was supported by funding from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University. Direct correspondence to: Sinikka Elliott, Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia, 6303 NW Marine Dr., Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1. E-mail: sinikka.elliott@ubc.ca. REFERENCES Anderson Elijah. 1999 . Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City . New York : W. W. Norton . 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Social ProblemsOxford University Press

Published: May 30, 2017

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