Power Struggles: The Paradoxes of Emotion and Control among Child-Centered Mothers in the Privileged United States


  • Diane M. Hoffman


In the discourse on contemporary parenting in the United States, the parent–child “power struggle” is often spoken of as a common event in the everyday lives of parents and children. On the basis of ethnographic interviews with economically privileged white mothers of preschool and elementary-age children, I analyze the power struggle as a cultural trope. Despite refusal to be considered “mainstream” and outright denigration of what they considered to be “mainstream” parenting, mothers’ discourse reveals cultural understandings about power and its relationship to the self that reflect broader themes of emotional control, choice, rationality, and individualism that are in fact characteristic of “mainstream” views of child development. Further, although mothers explicitly valued emotional connectedness and freedom of expression with their children, the actual strategies advocated for dealing with emotions during the power struggle are centered on control and constraint of emotional discourse and expression. The article explores this theme in the light of tensions surrounding parental identities in privileged communities in the contemporary United States [parenting, emotion, self, power, child development]