Grounding imagined migrant maternal communities in shared values
Imagined maternal communities are structured according to different logics and underpinned by different values. Like many of the mothers’ groups, the Swedish mothers’ imagined maternal communities were grounded in a logic of shared experience, language, history, food, and practices. They were also grounded in what they understood to be a shared value of gender equality, which is underpinned by Swedish state legislation, policy, and rhetoric, such that “gender equality has been constructed as part of the [Swedish] national identity” (Kvist & Peterson 2010, p. 188). This was evident in the interviews with Swedish mothers. Jenni described Sweden as “culturally [...] gender equal,” and throughout the interviews, gender equality emerged as a key theme, structuring their discussions of their decisions around gender roles, paid employment, their husbands’ experiences around work and paternity leave, their aspirations for inculcating “Swedish values” in their children, and in the ways in which the groups formed and continued to operate.
Through their analysis of policy and political debates, Kvist and Peterson (2010) have demonstrated how the specific form of gender equality espoused in Sweden since the 1970s depended on state provision of childcare, elderly care, and other support services to increase men’s involvement in caring and women’s paid labour market participation.1 The Swedish mothers in this study shared a sense that good Swedish motherhood involved dividing the responsibility and rewards of child-raising and paid employment equally between mothers and fathers and passing on a similar notion of gender equality to their children. While they still imagined themselves as part of a community of mothers who shared this value, this narrative was challenged by their lived experience of mothering away from the structural and social supports that underpinned it. Married to Australian and British men who did not share their identity-based commitment to gender equality, and living in Australia with its more limited state provision of childcare, less political commitment to gender equality, and more widespread acceptance of separate gender roles in parenting and work, they struggled to live up to their aspiration to mother in accordance with their Swedish values.
Lina described gender equality as “a Swedish value 1 would like my children to get,” although she admitted that she and her husband had not modelled it in their division of domestic and paid labour. Besides their differing work patterns when the children were very young, Lina does “all the cooking” and “a lot more of the housework than he does, despite the fact that I'm working now.” Lina described this arrangement as unsatisfactory, primarily because of themessage it sends to their children: “We have to change that before they really grow up!” she laughed. However, she struggled to see how they could change it, in a context in which her husband’s employers took little account of his parenting responsibilities:
Even if he [husband] said, ‘oh yeah, I can stay home,’ in his profession a man is not really allowed to do that. Even though they say he is allowed, but it wouldn't be accepted that he hasn’t produced anything. They can say as much as they want it’s gender equality, it’s not. It’s not.
Here, Lina highlights the importance of unwritten rules based on gender ideology that can override official policies of gender neutrality. Eva had found it difficult to work in Australia because of her husband’s inflexible employment and a lack of childcare beyond school hours. Apart from some periods of temporary, part-time employment as a nurse, Eva had mostly been at home with her son, who was three at the time of the interview, an arrangement she felt would have been unthinkable in Sweden. In terms of support for new mothers, Eva noted that her friends in Sweden provided less support to her as a new mother compared to the support offered by her friends in Australia when she arrived there with a three-month-old baby. Eva ascribed this to her Swedish friends’ and family’s expectation that new mothers’ partners would be around to cook, whereas her friends in Australia provided meals for new mothers in their circle, knowing their spouses would not take on this role. Unfortunately for Eva, this meant that, alone in Sweden with her newborn baby after her husband returned to his job in Australia, she received very little hands-on support.
Eva, Lina, and Sabina drew on their lived experiences as mothers in Australia to explain their matricentric online groups, despite the apparent contradiction they presented to their commitment to gender equality in parenting. By contrast, Jenni drew on the values of her imagined community to explain the importance of including fathers in her online group:
I don't want to bring my babies up in a world where it’s like that. 1 want. I try to be very conscious about trying to be equal, trying to be ... dads are just as much parents as mums.
Jenni articulates a personal narrative in which she, as a Swedish mother, has a vital role in educating her children in the Swedish value of gender equality. This personal narrative relates to a shared national narrative in which gender equality is an aspirational goal which takes conscious effort to achieve. Accordingly, Jenni’s role extends further than her own children into the kind of “community mothering” discussed in an earlier chapter, in which she has a responsibility to shape the world around her, to reflect and encourage the enactment of that value. Jenni’s investment in this “possible world” of gender equality (Kanno & Norton 2003, p. 248) influences how she frames her own
Connected maternal migrants 113 parenting and how she runs her online group. For Lina, this “possible world” of gender equality exists in Sweden but not in Australia. This (im)possibihty frames her judgement of her parenting and work practices as well as her hopes for her children. She pronounces herself “desperate to get them to become Swedish” and notes that while she speaks Swedish to her children “it’s the whole values” she wishes to impart. Migration has challenged her understanding of herself as a Swedish mother who co-parents with her spouse to raise children with the same attachment to a value of gender equality. While Lina maintains a hopeful desire to re-balance her family and work life along more gender-neutral lines and provide an appropriate role model to her children, she acknowledges the structural constraints in an Australian context that inhibit that possibility. Migrant mothers who draw on imagined maternal communities and personal narratives grounded in values strongly underpinned by state and social institutions may find that the migrant context forces them to “renegotiate their identities as moral mothers” (Liamputtong 2006).