Mom-ing During a Pandemic Lockdown

By Grace Collins ’23, September 12, 2020
Professors recognized for COVID-related research on the competing demands of motherhood and work.

Jennifer Huemmer, assistant professor of strategic communication, and Lauren Britton, assistant professor of media arts, sciences, and studies, are balancing being mothers with working fulltime during the Coronavirus pandemic. So they decided to conduct research that could serve as a snapshot of women’s experiences during this unprecedented moment in time.

That ongoing research project, titled “Mom-ing During a Pandemic Lockdown: Navigating Identity, Labor, and Media,” earned the pair the Mary Ann Yodelis Smith Award for Feminist Scholarship from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s (AEJMC) Commission on the Status of Women 2020.

Over the past several months, Huemmer and Britton have been examining how the identities and experiences of working mothers have changed as a result of COVID-19. They conducted their research virtually, examined how working mothers are currently navigating their environments.

“Plenty of studies have already established that mothers in the U.S. shoulder the majority of the childcare and household responsibilities,” said Huemmer. “We were interested in exploring how mothers, who are already overtaxed under normal circumstances, navigated this crisis.”

“Once Covid-19 hit and separation of space was no longer an option, the weight of educating, supporting, and sustaining children while also succeeding at their careers, came crashing down."

Jennifer Huemmer, assistant professor of strategic communication; and Lauren Britton, assistant professor of media arts, sciences, and studies

For this study, the professors asked participants about their sense of self and family dynamics, as well as how media and technology have both positively and negatively impacted their experience during the lockdown. They also looked for the strategies women had developed to make it through the challenges the pandemic presented in their daily routines. And while their research is still in progress, preliminary patterns have begun to emerge from their data.

One of the biggest observations that has emerged is how the pandemic has revealed just how deeply working mothers are impacted by the unequal division of labor at home, as well society’s inability to sway from the expectation that women are the ones responsible for childcare. Working mothers, once given the space to be “mom” at home and “career person” at the office, were suddenly expected to perform both roles at once.

“Once Covid-19 hit and separation of space was no longer an option, the weight of educating, supporting, and sustaining children while also succeeding at their careers, came crashing down,” they wrote.

The professors hope this project gives a voice to working mothers and develops a deeper understanding of their experiences “negotiating the complexities of self, family, work, and media” during the COVID-19 crisis.

“As part of this research agenda, I have been engaged in multiple projects over the last three years examining media and motherhood,” Britton said. “Such as how new mothers create alternative infrastructures and support systems for their transition to motherhood through information-communication technologies. This study is in many ways an extension of this prior work.”

“This award recognizes that there is value in pursuing a better understanding of the lived experiences of mothers in the U.S. and the strategies and resourcefulness they employ to survive their current circumstances.”

Jennifer Huemmer and Lauren Britton

The AEJMC’s Commission on the Status of Women was founded to encourage diverse research on women in journalism and mass communication education. The Mary Ann Yodelis Smith Award is intended to fund feminist scholarship that has the potential to make significant contributions to the literature of gender and media.

The pair said that winning the award was especially meaningful considering the focus of their research.

“We were honored to win this award for a project we hope will shed light on the inequities, struggles, and labor of mothers in the U.S. that often go unseen and unacknowledged,” they said. “This award recognizes that there is value in pursuing a better understanding of the lived experiences of mothers in the U.S. and the strategies and resourcefulness they employ to survive their current circumstances.”

Huemmer and Britton are continuing to apply for grant funding and foresee the project continuing in several phases throughout the duration of the pandemic.