Heather Dillaway and Elizabeth Paré


Heather Dillaway

Heather Dillaway is a Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Her research focuses on women’s experiences of menopause and midlife, the reproductive health experiences of women with physical disabilities, and women’s motherhood experiences. In all of her research she seeks to highlight women’s everyday voices and lived experiences.

Elizabeth Paré, PhD

Elizabeth Paré is an Evaluation, Research, and Assessment consultant, a faculty member in the Public Health program at Wayne State University, and the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work and Criminal Justice at Oakland University. Her focus has been inclusive of women’s experiences as mothers and their social agency. Further, she has researched and consulted on social-behavioral decision-making in one’s own health. Her work also connects the family, the educational system, and local community throughout the life course across the life entire lifespan with a focus on human agency.


Women are portrayed as making a series of sequential decisions about whether to work for pay while mothering or make mothering their sole social role. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, then, our cultural conversations often defined the difference between “stay-at-home” and presumably “full-time” mothers, and “working mothers” or those who prioritize paid work over caregiving. Inferred within this pre-pandemic construction was women’s physical location as well—either women are at home or work, not both. In this article we extend our previous work on motherhood and paid work to focus on the mothers’ struggles to carry out motherhood and paid work during the pandemic, and how the time- and space-based contexts of mothers’ lives have changed considerably. To keep in tune with contemporary media conversations and extend recent feminist scholarship on the impact of COVID-19, we also investigate what contemporary cultural discourse about mothers illustrates about our definitions of “home” as a physical location. We specifically follow the conversation about “working mothers” to assess how time and physical space contexts matter for mothers who have found themselves forced to return full-time to the home, or at least have children who have returned to the home. In writing this conceptual piece, our goal is to initiate further feminist research on the time- and space-based contexts of motherhood and paid work, and relocate working motherhood in time and physical space in the ever-unwinding context of a public health crisis.

Reconfiguring Motherhood and Paid Work: The Time- and Space-Based Contexts of COVID-19

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