Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Sociology (Applied), PhD

Committee Chair

Christopher, Karen

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Gagne, Patricia

Committee Member

Gagne, Patricia

Committee Member

Marshall, Gul

Committee Member

Hognas, Robin

Committee Member

Theriot, Nancy

Author's Keywords

Mothering/motherhood; maternal support; intersecitionality; race; class; family


Maternal support contributes to maternal and child well-being, yet not all mothers incorporate support into their maternal practices. Most research on mothering standards and practices in the U.S. focuses on white, middle-class, married mothers. This study expands upon this research by incorporating an intersectional lens to explore how mothers interpret standards of “good mothering” across race, class, and family structure. I conducted a mixed-method evaluation of a nonprofit program offering peer-based maternal support to mothers of color, lower-income mothers, and single mothers; 41 in-depth interviews with mothers to learn why maternal support resonated with some, but not all, mothers; and an in-depth focus group interview with the founders of the peer-based support program. Employing systems-centered intersectionality (Choo and Ferree 2010) and multi-institutional politics (Armstrong and Bernstein 2008), I found that some lower-income, single mothers practiced the parenting style “nurtured growth,” allowing them to supplement their limited income and physical and emotional presence with free and low-cost resources from public institutions (e.g., schools, churches, parks). Some other lower-income, single, mothers of color resisted normative parenting practices rooted in self-sacrifice by practicing “empowered mothering.” This practice incorporated self-care and mother-centric support systems to challenge race-based interpretations of good mothering. Finally, the theme “cultural mismatch” explains the difficulty faced by the nonprofit organization in attracting mothers of color and single mothers. I argue that racial, economic, and marital variations in maternal standards, practices, and support rendered the program’s curriculum incompatible with its intended participants. I conclude by offering recommendations for this and other maternal support programs.