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Making It All Better in Insecure Times

Ana Villalobos (Author)

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In a time of economic anxiety, fear of terrorism, and marital uncertainty, insecurity has become a big part of life for many American mothers. With bases of security far from guaranteed, mothers are often seeking something they can count on. In this beautifully written and accessible book, Ana Villalobos shows how mothers frequently rely on the one thing that seems sure to them: the mother-child relationship. Based on over one hundred interviews with and observations of mothers—single or married, but all experiencing varying forms of insecurity in their lives—Villalobos finds that mothers overwhelmingly expect the mothering relationship to "make it all better" for themselves and their children.

But there is a price to pay for loading this single relationship with such high expectations. Using detailed case studies, Villalobos shows how women's Herculean attempts to create various kinds of security through mothering often backfire, thereby exhausting mothers, deflecting their focus from other possible sources of security, and creating more stress. That stress is further exacerbated by dominant ideals about "good" mothering—ideals that are fraught with societal pressures and expectations that reach well beyond what mothers can actually do for their children. Pointing to hopeful alternatives, Villalobos shows how more realistic expectations about motherhood lead remarkably to greater security in families by prompting mothers to cast broader security nets, making conditions less stressful and—just as significantly—bringing greater joy in mothering.

1 Introduction


2 Shielding & Antidote Strategies: Mothering that Saves the Child

3 Compensatory Connection Strategy: Mothering that Saves the Mother

4 Light-Motherload Connection: Love Without Saving


5 Inoculation Strategy: Punching Back at Fear

6 Friendship Strategy: Punching Back at Responsibility

7 Light-Motherload Independence: Mothering Without the Ordeal

8 Conclusion

Appendix A
Research Participants

Appendix B
Research Methods


Ana Villalobos is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Brandeis University.
"In this brilliantly original book, Ana Villalobos illuminates an unobserved link between insecurity as a mother experiences it and the unnoticed 'security project' she infuses into her mothering. . . . Based on over 150 interviews with young mothers—most followed over a course of three years—Villalobos shows what can happen when one relationship is made to bear the increasing weight of 'society-sized insecurity.' A highly important book." —Arlie Hochschild, author of The Outsourced Self and So How’s the Family?

"Villalobos shows how today’s mothers are being asked to provide a sense of security that American society no longer offers. Yet these unattainable expectations are not only destined to fall short; they also undermine the well-being of families and communities by diverting attention from the social roots of rising economic and interpersonal uncertainties. This important and timely book is a powerful call to address the institutional sources of personal insecurity rather than leaving mothers to shoulder this impossible task on their own." —Kathleen Gerson, author of The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family

"In this perceptive book, Villalobos offers a fresh take on the anxieties of contemporary mothers. Shifting attention from mothers' attempts to find the perfect child-rearing strategy, she focuses instead on the ways mothers burden the mother-child bond with security concerns, even when doing so threatens to destabilize family life. And rather than blaming mothers for their actions, Villalobos expresses profound compassion for them while offering a hopeful vision of less stressful parenting. This wonderful book will ignite vibrant conversation both inside and outside the classroom." —Margaret K. Nelson, author of Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times

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