Redefining marriage motherhood and community
Black Career Women and Strategic Mothering
I was excited to have Riché Daniel Barnes join one of our Thursday webinars. Her amazing book, Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood and Community taught me how much the Black professional mothers in her study have in common with our Shared Care families.
Her study reinforced how the dichotomy between work and family isn’t working for anybody.
To challenge this, these Black professional mothers had adopted a more flexible approach that provided a wider range of options to meet their responsibilities around work, family, community and marriage.
When I asked Riché what prompted her to begin this study, she explained, “I was in grad school, so I had time to take my daughter to the library a couple times each week and I kept on noticing the same Black mothers who were there as well. Every Black woman I knew had always worked. But this group of women were showing up week after week. Some of these mothers were taking time for family alongside their careers. Some were not planning to go back to work. Some were planning to go back, they just weren’t yet sure when.” And all of them, Riché pointed out, were doing this without any role models.
Riché uses the concept of “Strategic Mothering” to describe what she observed.
This is an approach Black women have used for generations as a way to strengthen their communities through their work as caregivers, culture bearers and community builders. Whether flexing a full time job, working reduced hours, or temporarily stepping away from their careers, these Black professional women were searching for ways to break down the dichotomy between work and family.
In a previous interview, when asked how their more flexible approach to work and family was an example of “Strategic Mothering”, Riché answered, “In the time span that I interviewed these families, only 2 have ended in divorce. These women saw having an intact family as important to the community. Family life is devalued. Marriage is devalued. The majority of black children are being raised in single-parent households. These women saw what they were doing — by staying together — as ‘raising the race.’”
However, as Riché clarified, these mothers hadn’t arrived at these answers just by choice.
Their strategy was based on a history that included slavery and racism. This historical context helped illustrate why, as Black women, it was assumed they would combine work and motherhood. It also underscores how the ongoing racism Black families face – including Black professional families – makes it extremely risky to rely on just one parent’s income.
Riché explained, “These families knew they were making a precarious decision. Even as professional families, most were just one generation away from not having had anything. And because their financial circumstances were often dependent on an employer – they knew they had to put other types of financial solutions in place for themselves.” For many, this meant having some other type of income producing activity on the side, whether it was real estate, something entrepreneurial, or something else.
Riché and I ended our conversation by talking about the growing divide between the haves and the have nots.
Riché argued, “We are putting more responsibilities on families to take care of themselves, and we’ve eroded the safety net that so many of us have worked hard to create.” Going forward, we need to create good public policy and good workplace policies. Unfortunately, Riché concluded, our country does not seem to be going in this direction. “We need to pivot our conversation and recognize that families can’t do all of this work themselves.”
Check out the above YouTube video for our full conversation with Riché. Get inspired by how these mothers redefined marriage, motherhood and community.