This study identifies the ways low-income white daughters negotiate normative childhood when describing their responsibilities while growing up.
Though family scholars have long theorized the power of family norms, we know little about the ways children navigate those norms. Using insights from scholarship about social class, whiteness, and childhood, this study explores the ways whiteness, classed experiences, and family life intersect in daughters’ and mothers’ lives.
This study uses 40 in-depth retrospective interviews with financially struggling white mothers and adult daughters to understand how daughters and mothers negotiate classed, aged, gendered, and racialized norms about childhood responsibilities.
A majority of daughters hold major family care responsibilities at some point in their childhood, caring for siblings, parents, and themselves for long stretches of time. Though daughters explain why their responsibilities make sense given their classed circumstance, most daughters come to explain their own family work around some version of a “normal” childhood that they do not explicitly tie to class. Mothers may explicitly class the norm more, but also come to express agency and guilt over their daughters’ responsibilities.
This work reveals how class, childhood, whiteness, and gender intersect in the lives of financially struggling white mothers and daughters, and shows how family difference becomes coded language for classed experiences.