Migrant Motherhood, Global Care Chains, and Transnational Families

Summary of Research Topic

Migrants are motivated not only by a desire for changes to workplace conditions but are also driven by a need to improve their personal (family) lives. ‘Transnational hyper-maternalism’ is defined as the way migrant mothers exhibit maternal care through financial support and through surveillance techniques enabling close communication across borders. Dr. Tungohan reveals how migrant mothers intensify their efforts to show their children their love despite being physically away. They do this by assuming both traditional breadwinning and caregiving roles in order to counter popular discourses of ‘absentee’ motherhood in sending countries like the Philippines that state that migrant mothers living apart from their children become less active participants in their children’s lives and thereby risk alienating their children. Assuming both roles also allows these women to rebel against traditional gender roles that primarily see women as caregivers, encouraging some women to feel economically empowered and autonomous for the first time in their lives. She reveals how the use of Skype, text messaging and other modes of technology-supported communication enable migrant mothers to fulfill their ‘caregiving’ roles by keeping abreast of their children’s activities, whereas the constant provision of gifts and money allow them to fulfill ‘breadwinning’ roles. While physical distance was painful for migrant mothers and their children, the availability of information technology helps alleviate the challenges wrought by separation.

Dr. Tungohan’s research illuminates the ways modes of transnational hyper-maternalism are used to bridge the chasm between migrant mothers and their children and illustrates the diverse ways in which motherhood is enacted. At the same time, her research also shows that these experiences often become the catalyst behind migrant mothers’ and their children’s involvement in activist efforts contesting policies that enshrine family separation.

Related Publications

  • Tungohan, E. (2013). Reconceptualizing Motherhood, Reconceptualizing Resistance: Migrant Domestic Workers, Transnational Hyper-Maternalism, and Activism. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 15(1), 39-57. doi:10.1080/14616742.2012.699781. (Permalink)