February 2021

What We’re Reading

Jennifer Randles, Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Fresno, recently published research on a challenge faced by a large and growing share of families across the nation: diaper need, or the inability to afford enough diapers without foregoing other essentials. Randles’ research, focused specifically on mothers facing diaper need, reveals that they adopt a variety of innovative strategies in order to provide their children with this basic necessity. As she described in a summary of the work:

The women I interviewed did three types of what I call diaper work, the physical, emotional, and cognitive labor involved in managing diaper need and related anxiety and stigma. Mothers carefully tracked limited diaper supplies, asked others they knew for diapers or diaper money, and went without their own basic needs to afford diapers.

In discussing the implications of her research, Randles offers an important conclusion: “Studying mothers’ experiences of diaper need and the diaper work they do to manage it … reveals how intersecting race, class, and gender inequalities intensify certain aspects of parenting and why we need to revise existing theories of parental labor to account for that.”

What a critically important reminder for those of us who work with and for parents. Surely, this is true of all kinds of parental labor—from providing diapers to creating a rich early language environment and promoting school readiness.

Read ‘”Willing to Do Anything for My Kids’: Inventive Mothering, Diapers, and the Inequalities of Carework” in American Sociological Review or Randles’ summary in The Society Pages.