Annotation: Parreñas, Rhacel S. 2001. Mothering from a Distance

Parreñas, Rhacel S. 2001. Mothering from a Distance: Emotions, Gender, and Intergenerational Relations in Filipino Transnational Families. Feminist Studies, 27(2):361-390.

The migration of Filipino mothers leads to a paradox: the achievement of financial security, and the increase of emotional insecurity. The various structural inequalities of globalization force Filipino mothers to sacrifice their emotional needs and those of their children (386). In this article, Parreñas looks at gender and intergenerational relations of mothering through the lens of emotions. She uses data from interviews with 46 domestic workers in Rome and 26 in Los Angeles, as well as with 10 children in Los Angeles who grew up in transnational households. The existence of emotional strains, Parreñas writes, is a prominent characteristic of transnational Filipino families. The notion of women as nurturers complicates family relationships: female Filipino migrants are expected to be emotionally invested in both the paid domestic work they do as migrants and in the long-distance motherhood they are forced to practise. Migrant Filipino mothers negotiate the resulting emotional strain in three ways: through 1) the commodification of love through gifts, 2) the repression of emotions by denying the existence of emotional costs caused by separation, 3) the self-reassurance that separation is manageable and does not mean loss of familial intimacy. On the other hand, three conflicts are experienced by their children: 1) the belief that financial stability cannot replace the emotional costs of separation, 2) the lack of reassurance that mothers understand the children’s sacrifices in the maintenance of the family, and 3) the doubt if their mothers exert enough effort to maintain the family. Parreñas suggests that gendered expectations (women as nurturers and ideas of “maternal love”) and the traditional practices of mothering contribute to these emotional tensions. Parreñas argues that Filipino families have not yet experienced a major ideological shift, despite the increasing participation of women in migration and labour. She suggests that, instead, there must be a “reconstitution of gender ideologies,” which would not diminish the sacrifices of the children, but would help “temper the pain of separation.”

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