Incarcerated Women and Role Strain: The Importance of Doing Mothering

Phyllis Berry, University of Tennessee - Chattanooga
Helen M. Eigenberg, University of Tennesse at Chattanooga

Women in prison are particularly vulnerable to role strain because research suggests that the maternal role is so closely tied to a woman's primary sense of identity (Simon, 1992). This study gathers data from 102 incarcerated mothers at a minimum-security prison to determine if race, length of incarceration, age, type of crime committed, educational level, drug/alcohol use, or commitment to the maternal role had a significant effect on the role strain scores of incarcerated mothers. Interestingly, we find that women who are able to "do" mothering experience less role strain than those who are only allowed to "be" mothers. We argue that mothering, like gender, is a social status which is actively created and re-created in daily social interactions. Policies which allow women in prison to actively engage in the process of doing motherhood then will experience less role strain which may, in turn, allow these mothers to maintain better family ties with their children.

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Updated 05/20/2006