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Keywords:

  • African American;
  • motherhood;
  • maternal role attainment;
  • maternal identity;
  • hermeneutic phenomenology;
  • media and motherhood

Abstract

Purpose: To provide an understanding of the experiences of three generations of African American women in the transition to motherhood.

Design and Methods: Hermeneutic phenomenology from an Afrocentric feminist perspective is the methodological approach used in this study. Using the snowball technique, a purposive sample of 18 African American women from three generations who were mostly middle class, partnered, and educated was recruited. Individual open-ended interviews were used to identify information-rich cases that would provide an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon. Generation 1 included seven women, between the ages of 65 and 83 years, who became mothers between 1950 and 1970, prior to the Civil Rights Movement. Generation 2 included five women, between the ages of 51 and 58 years, who became mothers between 1971 and 1990, after the Civil Rights Movement. There were six women in Generation 3, between the ages of 30 and 41 years, who became mothers between 1991 and 2003.

Findings: Three constitutive patterns and their associated themes were identified. The first pattern, It Took Me a Minute, had three themes: Finding Out, Realizing What Mothers Do, and Way Tricked! The second pattern, Preserving Our Home, had four themes: Mothering Within the isms: Racism, Classism, and Sexism, I Did the Best I Could, Mothers and Others, and Spiritual Mothers. Eat the Meat, Throw Away the Bone, the third pattern, had two themes: The Ways in Which We Learn and Someone Who Looks Like Me.

Conclusions: The results of this study reveal some consistency with current descriptions of maternal identity and becoming a mother and add to our understanding of the complexities that racism, classism, and sexism play in the lives of African American mothers and their families. The data from this study also suggest that future development of theoretical frameworks and analytical tools, used to assess the effects of stress and other psychosocial factors on health, need to be grounded in a historic understanding of the African American experience and of the African influence on family and cultural knowledge. Additionally, this study demonstrated the impact that the media, both professional and mass media outlets, have in defining and perpetuating our beliefs and feelings of the “good mother—bad mother” dualism. The description of motherhood for this group of African American women illustrates that motherhood is a source of power and provides significant meaning, satisfaction, and respect within the family and the larger community. It also highlighted the communal role that “othermothers” and spiritual mothers have in facilitating the transition to motherhood and providing strong social support.

Clinical Relevance: Analysis of the stories in this study adds to the current literature on becoming a mother and Black feminist descriptions of motherhood. This study adds to our understanding of how negative portrayals of African American mothers and the lack of representation in the media perpetuate negative stereotypes of African American motherhood. The stories, told by the 18 women in this study, provide a positive description of African American motherhood.