Communication Institute for Online Scholarship
Communication Institute for Online
Scholarship Continous online service and innovation
since 1986
Site index
ComAbstracts Visual Communication Concept Explorer Tables of Contents Electronic Journal of Communication ComVista

Article from ejc/rec Electronic Journal of Communication What We Talk About
EJC logo
The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

Volume 10 Numbers 3 and 4, 2000


Annis G. Golden
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Abstract. Discourse analysis was combined with the grounded theory method to analyze in-depth interview accounts of arrangements for managing work and family obtained from parents with young children. Respondents included 24 individuals (representing 12 couples, who were interviewed both conjointly and individually) representing a variety of occupations and childcare arrangements. Six interpretative repertoires emerged from respondents’ accounts: “family first,” “call me irreplaceable,” “emotional intimacy with children,” “parents have needs too,” “other care is good care,” and “work and selfhood.” The repertoires presented a two-domain structure, repertoires of “the self” and repertoires of “the other.” Analyzed collectively, the domains and repertoires reflected dialectics of autonomy and intimacy, and enterprise and relatedness, as well as an ideology of individualism. The potential for conflict between public programmatic solutions for work-family conflict and the meanings for work-family arrangements expressed in private discourse within the family was examined.


As overviewed by Gilbert (1993), the study of work and family has shifted from an emphasis in the 1980s on equitable sexual division of labor in the domestic sphere (Hochschild, 1989) to a focus in the 1990s and beyond on workplace accommodations for employees with families. Advocates of workplace reform study conditions in the workplace that lead to work-family conflict and lobby for more widespread adoption of accommodations like on-site childcare, flextime, job-sharing, teleworking (Galinsky & Bond, 1998; Galinsky & Johnson, 1998; Reskin & Padavic, 1994; Shore, 1998) and a general revision of organizational cultures that value face-time over productivity (Bailyn, 1993; Rapoport & Bailyn, 1996). As Gilbert (1993) observes, the latest phase of work and family research represents a much needed correction to earlier notions that the individual alone or even two cooperating spouses can successfully manage the conflicts that inevitably arise between work and family without accommodations from the world of work.

While constituting an essential advance in the study of work and family and social action, the workplace accommodation approach in turn requires augmentation and qualification, just like the approaches to work and family that preceded it. An analytical framework in which workplace accommodations are identified as the key to managing work and family emphasizes structural explanations for work-family conflicts. When the underlying causes of conflicts between work and family are located primarily in the workplace, it follows that changes in the workplace can resolve these conflicts. Moreover, this type of framework often premises the meaning of workplace accommodation solutions as unequivocal and universally appealing. It assumes that this new public discourse on work-family conflict and workplace accommodations is fully consonant with the private discourse on managing work and personal life that occurs within families and leaves potential discrepancies unexamined.

This study questions the unqualified validity of these assumptions. First, the feasibility of universal solutions is called into question by the diverse strategies families employ for managing work and parenting. Work and family research tends to presume a norm of full-time dual-earner couples working 9 to 5 with children in full-day childcare – whether it is held up as an ideal to be championed in the fight against unenlightened workplaces and family values proponents (see Barnett & Rivers, 1996; Coontz, 1997) or decried as evidence of a culture of selfishness that devalues children and their needs (see Blankenhorn, 1994; Leach, 1994; Lewis & Yoest, 1996). In fact, 57.6 percent of married women with children under the age of one year are currently participating in paid employment (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1999), by no means a massive majority. And the dual-earner couples who have attracted so much attention are scarcely monolithic in their arrangements for managing work and parenting. While some parents work parallel tracks and delegate caretaking during their work hours to non-family members, other parents work opposite swing shifts or even different days of the week, so one parent can be with the children at all times. Equally important, a substantial proportion of working parents are not employed by the large organizations that are typically assumed in the profile of the dual-earner couple. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (1995) 37.9 percent of Americans work for organizations with fewer than 100 employees (and 19.5 percent in organizations of fewer than 20), which has significant implica­tions for the type of workplace accommodations that employers can feasibly offer to working parents.

Second, this study questions the assumption that accommodations in the workplace enjoy complete transparency of meaning to the employees whose lives they impact. A given strategy for managing work and family may be interpreted quite differently by employers and employees, and may also vary among employees. Accordingly, this study approaches managing work and family from the standpoint of meaning rather than logistics, focusing on individuals’ interpretations of their particular arrangements for managing work and family. The importance of incorporating a consideration of the variability of meaning into work and family research is implicit in Bailyn’s (1993) taxonomy of workplace accommodations, which divides programs into those designed to allow work to proceed uninterrupted by family considerations and those designed to allow employees to attend to family by reshaping work. Likewise, Galinsky’s (1999) study of the meaning of parents’ work to their children takes the potential for discrepant interpretations as a given.

This study attempts to identify what concerns, values, and underlying ideologies are expressed when women and men talk about their own work and parenting arrangements: in other words, what we talk about when we talk about work and family. Having identified a set of common interpretations, the goodness of fit is then examined between the programmatic solutions proposed by work-family advocates and the meanings for various work-family arrangements that are expressed in private discourse within the family.

It is emphatically not the purpose of this study to argue against further research on work and family that focuses on the workplace or to contend that workplace accommodations like flextime, telework, on-site childcare, and job sharing are not potentially useful tools in managing work and family. Rather, the goal is to augment research that focuses on the utility of workplace accommodations. This study explores a reframing of managing work and family in which work-family conflict is located at another (additional) site than the workplace. Such a reframing will suggest that some programmatic accommodations may be more effective than others, and may moderate the expectation that work-family conflict is a problem with a definitive solution.


Sample Selection

Sample selection in this study was guided by the grounded theory method; both selective and theoretical principles of sampling were employed (Sandelowski, Holditch-Davis & Harris, 1992). Theoretical sampling refers to a "sampling decision made on analytic grounds developed in the course of a study” (p. 302). The initial profile for selective sampling of couples included the following criteria: both partners had been employed in income producing activities prior to the birth of their first child; the couple had made their first transition to parenthood at least one year before being interviewed; none of the couples’ children was old enough to be capable of self care.

Five of the couples who participated in this study were also participants in an earlier study that focused on appropriation of parental role-identities across the transition to parenthood and redefinition of work role-identities (Golden, 1994, 1995, 1996). They were originally recruited primarily from childbirth preparation classes. The remaining seven couples were recruited through personal referrals, including two couples who were referred by snowball sampling. All of the couples were white; with respect to income, none were in poverty and none were wealthy, though there was wide variation in occupations and presumably in incomes (respondents were asked to identify their occupations but were not requested to provide income information).

Participants in the study ranged in age from 29 to 46, with an average age of 34. They were married from 4 to 11 years, averaging 6.8. Their range of occupations included (but were not limited to) electrician, software engineer, hair stylist, probation officer, law enforcement officer, stock broker, waitress, music teacher, journalist, physician, and attorney. Respondents’ level of education ranged from high school diploma (n=3), through college (n=12), to postgraduate degrees, including master’s degrees (n=5), J.D.s (n=2), and M.D.s. (n=2). To preserve the respondents’ anonymity, their names have been changed in the interview excerpts that are presented here.

Data Collection

The primary method of data collection for this study was in-depth interviews. Semi-structured interviews, first with the couple together, and then with each spouse individually, were conducted, tape recorded, transcribed, and analyzed. Interviews averaged approximately 60 minutes. Respondents were asked to describe their arrangements with respect to work and family, including their management of household responsibilities, child care, the conditions at their place of employment, and the ways in which they perceived the two role-identities interacting.

Potter and Wetherell (1995) suggest that the mode of transcription be chosen consistent with nature of the dis­course practices and resources that are the focus of the study: “If the topic is interpreta­tive reper­toires and ideologi­cal practices on a broad scale, then a reduced transcrip­tion scheme may be sufficient . . .” (p. 87). Thus, the transcription scheme used in this study is a reduced one in comparison to the Jeffersonian transcription system commonly used in conversation analysis (Mishler, 1986). To indicate pauses, one “p” in parentheses is used for each second of pause. Where one speaker’s brief utterance does not interfere with the flow of the other speaker’s discourse, it is enclosed in square brackets to make the transcript easier to read. Square brackets also enclose text that has been interpolated into the transcript for the purpose of providing context and clarity for the reader. Emphasis is indicated by enclosing the stressed words in asterisks (*). Ellipses (...) are used to indicate that some dialogue has been skipped to move to the next section of interest in the transcript.

Data Analysis

This study melds the grounded theory method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990) with the form of discourse analysis described by Wetherell and Potter (1988), which focuses on the identification of interpretative repertoires. The interview transcripts were coded and analyzed using the QSR NUD.IST (Non-numerical Unstructured Data Indexing and Theorizing) software program (Revision 3).

As described by Burr (1995), “[interpretative repertoires] are seen as analogous to the reper­toire of moves of a ballet dancer: finite in number and available to all ballet dancers for the design of a variety of different dances suitable for a variety of different occasions. If you went to enough ballet performances, you would eventually begin to recognise the repertoire of moves that the dancers have available to them. The idea of a repertoire therefore also involves the idea of flexibility of use; the moves can be put together in different ways to suit the occasion (a feature not present in the idea of discourses as coherent, organised sets of statements)” (p. 176). Likewise, in the context of this study, after analyzing a number of interviews, it was possible to recognize the range of repertoires (and their constitutive moves) that are available to construct accounts of work and parenting.

An interpretative repertoire, then, is both a representation of a domain of experience, and a particular lens for interpreting the meaning of that experience. For example, the same domain of experience, non-parental caregiving, is represented in two quite different interpretative repertoires: “Call me irreplaceable” and “Other-care is good care.” Both repertoires reference the same activity, but with two different interpretative lenses. In the “Call me irreplaceable” repertoire, non-parental caregivers are contrasted unfavorably with parents. “Other-care is good care” legitimizes the delegation of care-giving, typically by praising specific care-givers, and by offering the child’s well being as an exhibit in evidence of its effectiveness.

Respondents’ accounts contained more interpretative repertoires than will be discussed here. The repertoires that follow were chosen based on their prominence in the respondents’ accounts __ they were recurrent both within and across accounts, and collectively accounted for a large proportion of the respondents’ talk (with 23 of 24 respondents’ accounts combining repertoires of both self and other) __ and because they exhibit a compelling structural coherence.

The purpose of the discussion that follows is to demonstrate the validity and ultimately the usefulness of a particular interpretative lens. Every attempt has been to present sufficient “represen­tative set of extracts along with detailed interpretations which link the analytic points to specific features of extracts in such a way that the reader is able to assess the success of interpretations ... the overall goal is to openly present the entire reasoning process from data to conclusions” (Wetherell & Potter, 1988, p. 183). Space constraints, however, circumscribe the extent of the excerpts that can be presented from respondents’ accounts.

The Interpretative Repertoires of Work and Parenting

The content of and the effects produced by the interpretative repertoires identified in respondents’ accounts suggest a two domain structure: repertoires of “the self” and repertoires of “the other.” Repertoires of “the other” revolve around showing primary concern for an other __ as embodied in the child, spouse, or family __ rather than the self, through love, protection, guiding, and/or providing. Self denial is a feature of some of these repertoires, and when they are framed in terms of conflicts between competing interests, they always construe conflicts as being resolved in favor of the “other.” These repertoires privilege interpersonal concerns and relationships of emotional intimacy over the needs of an autonomous self. The repertoires of “the other” that will be discussed here are labeled: Family first, Call me irreplaceable, and Emotional intimacy with children.

Interpretative repertoires of the self legitimatize the needs of the self, sometimes by claiming that self will provide more to the other if it is well nourished. These repertoires generally decentralize the self in the life of the other (as in “other care is good care”) rather than centralizing the self to the other. The dominant vocabulary in repertoires of the self is autonomy rather than connectedness. The repertoires of “the self” that will be discussed here are labeled: Parents have needs too, Other care is good care, and Work and selfhood. The repertoires and their constituent moves are summarized below in Table 1.

Repertoires of the Other
Repertoires of the Self
R1: Family first
Move #1 - work is greedy and heartless; workers are replaceable commodities 
Move #2 - family relationships are unique and irreplaceable
Move #3 - the opportunity to develop personal relationships in the context of the family is time limited in contrast with the opportunities to accomplish things in the outer world 
R1: Parents have needs too
Move #1 - asserts the right to set limits on the extent to which the child’s needs will dominate and displace the parents’ needs
Move #2 - "less is more," affirms that part of the definition of good parenting is taking good care of yourself
Move #3 - effective parenting is role modeling agentic (work related) behavior
R2: Call me irreplaceable
Move #1 - parental love and attention is qualitatively better than the attention of alternative caregivers
Move #2 - parental love produces positive outcomes for the child 
Move #3 - parenting is a science; child development is enhanced through the choice of experiences and environments the parent selects for the child 
Move #4 - misgivings about other care, in terms of effects on child development, or actual physical safety of the child
R2: Other care is good care
Move #1 - praising the non-parental caregiver
Move #2 - pointing to the child's well being

R3: Emotional intimacy with children
Move #1 - the direct expression of love for the child, often with a kind of romantic intensity
Move #2 - demonstrates the ability to apprehend the child’s inner world
Move #3 - the "communication move"; parent-child verbal interaction, especially disclosure, is endorsed as a means of achieving emotional intimacy
R3: Work and selfhood
Move #1 - work is the medium for realizing self-fulfillment, growth, progress, challenge, engagement, and accomplishment
Move #2 - work's importance to self-identity derives from its contrast to the "job" of parenting (e.g., immediately observable outcomes, circumscribability)
Move #3 - work is a medium for the expression of personal integrity
Move #4 - work is a medium for the expression of agency or freedom from controls
Move #5 - work is a balancer to the parental role, a medium for realizing the agentic, non-relational self, in contrast to the parental role
Table 1. Summary of domains, repertoires, and their constituent moves.

Interpretative Repertoires of “The Other”

The “Family first” repertoire. This repertoire is presented first because it provides the widest angle lens on the management of work and family. The label “Family first” is drawn directly from respondents’ accounts, which in turn draw upon a prominent public discourse. If interpretative repertoires simultaneously represent a domain of experience and a lens for interpreting that experience, the domain that this repertoire represents is the allocation of time, attention, emotional energy, and allegiance between the realms of work and family. The lens for interpreting this domain is competition, or, as succinctly captured by one respondent, “It’s which do you choose first.” Work and family are interpreted as binary or oppositional along several different dimensions, which constitute the “moves” of this repertoire. According to the “Family first” repertoire, work-family conflicts are always settled in favor of the family.

Robert: In my first marriage work was almost like an escape for me on lots of occasions. I was not very happy for many years, so work was a good counter­balance to that so a lot of time and effort and emotional investment in work or whatever. The transition to parenting then was an interesting one for me because I’m still hugely committed to work but it’s now abso­lutely without any question secondary to my family identifications or whatever. So anytime there’s a choice between the two, like if I have a lot of work to get done but my daughter needs to go to the doctor, I go to the doctor. It just isn’t even a question for me. I’d postpone anything at work in order to deal with situations in my family life.

Barnett and Rivers (1996) present a definition of the relationship between organizations and workers, and of the meaning of work in the lives of American workers that is consistent with this repertoire. They suggest that American men and women alike believe that it does not make sense to sacrifice one’s personal life for an organization “in an era when flux is just about all [they] can count on” (p. 82). Moreover, they tell us that a 1991 study by the Families and Work Institute “shows that American workers [of both sexes] are willing to trade bigger paychecks and the fast track for more time with their families” (p. 82) and are rebelling against the new careerism of the 70s and 80s that replaced the unquestioning organization man of the 50s and early 60s.

Thus, one aspect of the oppositional character of work and family as character­ized in the Family first repertoire is the different natures of the two realms of experience and endeavor, which tend to divide up along the lines of Sennett’s (1974) analysis of public and private life: public or work life is part of the realm of the instrumental, while private or family life belongs to the realm of the affective.

The first two moves in this repertoire tend to run hand in glove: move #1, the nature of the world of work, is often defined by the copresence of move #2, the nature of the world of family. Move #1 claims that work is greedy and heartless and therefore must be controlled by the exercise of will on the part of the individual. Workers are replaceable commodities to the organization, and jobs are therefore replaceable to the workers. Unquestioning loyalty to an organization is consequently an outmoded concept. There is often an explicit challenge to or rejection of the traditional assumptions about careers and what constitutes success, especially the concept of “facework” (Bailyn, 1993, p. 30).

David: Yeah. You let me know if I’m not doing my job. And if I can do my job in one hour a day, you know, more power to it. But I’m not going to work X hours just for the sake of existing here. Not doing anything. I’m not going to do that. I’m not here to, not living to work. As I’ve read in many management books, you don’t want to have on your tombstone, boy he worked hard at work. It’s not gonna be there. Nobody cares. What you do want to have on there is he was a good dad. He was a good husband. He was a good provider, so on and so forth. And that’s the perspective I think we need to have, more than sitting here working.
Move #2 frames the relationship between individuals in the family setting as unique and irreplaceable, in contrast to the relationships that inhere in the world of work (i.e., jobs are replaceable by workers, and workers are replaceable by organiza­tions). Jobs are not enduring, but families are. Personal relationships, rather than worldly achievements, are the ultimate measure of individual success. This move is sometimes signaled by the tombstone trope (also referenced in David’s account above), in which the speaker references an imaginary epitaph as confirmation of the standard for measuring a good life. The idea of the epitaph, which constitutes a summary description of the self, suggests that, in addition to being a more appropriate measure of individual success or a life well spent, family relationships and the achievement of intimacy are more authentic expressions of self than work is. And relatedness, or intimacy, is the ultimate expression of selfhood.
Helena: I will work as hard as I possibly can at this job, but three months after I’m gone from this job, they’re gonna be Helena who? My kid will always be my kid and so when she’s you know, 30 years old, and whether she’s a juvenile delinquent or she’s you know um, magna cum laude, she’s you know, it’s gonna make a difference, I will make a difference with her. With work, Mmm, you know, I really won’t. I’m just working there. So I mean it really sets a, a tone. I haven’t slacked off, but I know what is truly important.
Move #3 heightens the urgency of the choice between the two realms by adding a temporal dimension. It suggests that you have your whole life to work and to acquire material goods, whereas childrearing, particularly the extremely labor intensive parenting required by pre-school children, is very time-limited. Paradoxically, though family endures, the opportunities for participation are in some ways evanescent; once these opportunities are missed, they will not present themselves again.
Carla: Families should come first, but I think it’s so easy, it’s easier said than done for sure. But I still think that anything that you’re striving to get through work, okay, anything material, definitely, you can always get it. You can always get a nicer car, you can always get a bigger house, you can always, always get that stuff somewhere down the road. But your kids are only this age once, and then once it’s gone, it’s gone.
The “Call me irreplaceable”repertoire. This repertoire has two aspects, an affective and an instrumental, parenting as love and parenting as skill. The two aspects are tied together by two threads. First is the idea that the parent is uniquely well suited both to provide love and to perform the skills associated with parenting. This discourse is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it has taken on the appearance of common sense; that is, who could be better positioned to “parent” than the parent? Who could better give love and guide a child’s development than a mother or father? Cultural alternatives, of course, (for example, kibbutzim) highlight the constructed nature of these assumptions.

The second thread that unites parenting as love and parenting as skill is that both are intimately linked to outcomes for children. The reason, ultimately, as the respondents’ accounts demonstrate, that the unique quality of parental love is so important in the life of a child is that it is crucial to achieving positive outcomes for the child, especially in the area of self esteem. Likewise, parental skills, in the form of disciplining, providing proper learning and socialization experiences, and instilling moral values, are also vital to successful child development. A close look at the moves that constitute this repertoire will illustrate how all of these notions are embodied in respondents’ accounts and provide an opportunity for more specific analysis.

Move #1 explicitly or implicitly asserts that there is something qualitatively different (and better) about the love and attention of parents and even other family members when compared with alternative caregivers. This is the basic assumption that undergirds all of the succeeding moves in this repertoire.

Carla: The main reason [that I decided to stop working outside the home completely] was (p) I felt that I, nobody else was gonna love her and care for her the way that I would. That was the first thing. And somewhere down in there is the whole fact of not trusting how__ I just knew, I know I’m very very conscientious person, I always have been. With my job. And this was my baby so I knew I was going to be as good as I could possibly be, and I just knew that nobody else, because it wasn’t their child. So when I say trust, it’s not even so much that someone would be bad to her but (ppppp) I wouldn’t trust that they would pick her up when she cried.
Move #2 builds on the assumption of Move #1 to further assert that the qualita­tively superior nature of parental attention produces positive outcomes for the child. Particularly, parental love and attention is proposed as a necessary requirement for the development of a child’s self esteem. In the first two excerpts that follow, that principle is further emphasized by the speakers’ connection of their own current state of selfhood to interactions with their own mothers. That is, the speaker makes reasonable her assumption of cause and effect with respect to herself and her own child by offering as evidence the connection between inputs and outputs in the parent-child dyad that the speaker knows best, namely her own mother and self.
Kathy: But I really felt that whatever positive things I’m giving my children. Love. Hopefully self esteem. I don’t really know yet. I mean I’ll know. At some point I’ll know. Whether I’ve given them anything positive, but I’m certainly giving them my love at this point. Whatever I’m capable of giving them, my mother gave to me. And I feel so grateful to my mother for giving those things to me. So that I can give them to my children. Because I just don’t think, I think it’s hard for those things to come out of a vacuum.
This discursive claim of unidirectional causality between parental (and more especially maternal) love and positive child outcomes is, as Barnett and Rivers (1996) point out, informed directly or indirectly by Freudian and neo-Freudian theories of personality development. Sennett (1974) calls attention to the historical alternative to the personhood as personality paradigm. He argues that the 18th century idea of an essential human nature, universal in its orientation, is replaced in the 19th century by the idea of personality, which is formed by the individual’s experiences and is unique rather than universal. These assumptions pervade popular culture in the form of self-help literature, movies (Woody Allen’s work being only the most explicitly referential __ many of the plots of made-for-tv movies are premised on the ramifications of unhealthy parent-child relationships), television talk shows, and of course, the parent press.

Move #3 extends the idea of the uniqueness of parental inputs to child development beyond the realm of love into more self-consciously scientific or expert-informed parental guiding. It takes parenting from the realm of emotion work into the realm of scientific endeavor. This move identifies the parent as the prime mover in child development. While the expression of love and affection can be conceptualized as requiring the copresence of parent and child, the guiding of child development can take place even when the parent is not actually with the child, through the choice of experiences and environments the parent selects for the child. Thus, even when parents are not with their children, they can feel that they are controlling and influencing their lives by choosing the kind of activities that their children are engaged in. And when parents are with children, their interactions are carefully considered in terms of their effects on child development, as the following interview excerpt illustrates. Frank, a systems analyst who works at home and has primary responsibility for caring for his not quite two year-old daughter, explains what, in his view, makes for effective parenting.

Frank: A careful balance of playing, discipline, teaching, just a good balance of all that stuff. Like some parents are too disciplinarians. The kids end up feeling like they’re living with Adolf Hitler. You know. Too much playing they’re not going to take it seriously. And too much joking and rough housing. So a good balance of all that stuff I think would lead to a person who is, who can be thought of in all those areas, you know, a good play person, a good teacher. A good leader. I’m always keeping my mind on all these things. . . . I get some ideas from books and things. My wife suggests a lot of things. I just kind of combine all that stuff. But mostly it’s kind of like a cause and effect thing. I try to think about, if I act this way, all the time with her, what’s gonna happen to her development. How’s it gonna affect her development? So that’s kind of, I try to tailor it to that way of thinking. Everything I do.
Underlying all forms of the parent-as-prime-mover-in-child-development move is an assumption of the potential perfectibility of human nature. This is a distinctly American assumption, rejecting as it does the idea of a life course determined by circumstances of birth, and socioeconomic status as a fixed aspect of identity. In this move of the Call me irreplaceable repertoire, it is parenting skill, in a way, that determines life outcomes for children, since parenting skill is associated with choosing the experiences, such as education, and imparting the values that are assumed to influence these outcomes. So pervasive is this belief that parental influence is of paramount importance in determining children’s outcomes, and that successful parenting is more than just loving one’s children, that even parents who delegated little to no care of their children to others worried over their children’s outcomes, wondering if they were providing the kinds of activities and opportunities for their children at home that would be provided in a more structured setting.

Move #4 affirms the positive nature of parental caregiving by expressing misgivings about other-care. This move exists in two alternative forms: misgivings about the effects of other-care on child development, and misgivings about the actual safety of other-care. Mike is one of several respondents who expressed misgivings about the safety of other-care.

Mike: Actually, the decision, what made it an easy decision is the fear of childcare today, especially. I mean, I have a major fear. Who would you, beside your family, who would you entrust your child to today? I mean even people that you see on a consistent basis, people that you’ve known for 8, 10 years, and they’re molesting children and stuff, and in a church and what have you. I would never feel comfortable with somebody else watching [our son].
Jim’s expressed reservations about the long-term effects of other-care on child development typifies respondents whose children were being cared for solely by themselves or their spouse. The following excerpt is from Jim's joint interview with his wife, Carla.
Jim: Well with me ideally, the mother’s home, the father’s working, there’s plenty of money and everybody’s happy. Ideally that’s to me that’s a perfect world but uh, probably not realis­tic. [laughs] I think it was at one__ [Carla: I know] That’s how I thought it was when I was a kid. Now I find out that it wasn’t exactly that way. .... But ideally, to me, that would be the ideal situa­tion for everybody. Because I’m a firm believer that we don’t know yet what daycare does. You know you’re gonna have the daycare generation in 15, 20 years, 25 years and we’re gonna see. Because it’s never occurred before. I think you know the world just doesn’t know yet because we’re in the daycare generation. You know, and they’re not in the workforce yet. We know what the baby boomers are doing. You know, they’re taking over. But you know the daycare generation we just don’t know yet.
For individuals who are delegating at least some of their children’s care to someone other than their spouse, this move takes the form of talking about how their use of other-care is self limited. They wish to make it plain that they use other-care no more than necessary and, more importantly, that they use it for a shorter amount of time than is potentially available and than specifically named or generalized others use it. Like the form just illustrated, this form also asserts that children need a great deal of parental attention and that parental attention is qualitatively different from the attention of other caregivers.

The “Emotional intimacy” repertoire. The final repertoire of the other that will be considered here is emotional intimacy with children. This repertoire situates love as the basis for effective child rearing. But more than that, it defines the nature of that love as reciprocal. It is this assumption of reciprocity that alters the nature of parent-child emotional bonds and the parent’s experience of them, compared with previous generations of Americans. For it is reciprocity that makes possible the experience of intimacy. The parent does not merely love the child from the distance of adulthood, and the child adore the parent as an unapproach­able authority figure. The connection is much closer, much more like what we have traditionally thought of as romantic love. And indeed parenting manuals frequently describe the connection between parent and infant as falling in love with your baby (Hays, 1996).

Giddens (1992) sees the shift in assumptions about parent-child relation­ships as part of a larger shift in interpersonal relations, away from relation­ships based on social convention, duty, power or economics, and toward “pure relationships,” which assume that “a durable emotional tie can be established with the other on the basis of qualities intrinsic to that tie itself” (p. 2). While marriag­es based on romantic love are the most obvious manifestation of this concept, Giddens argues that even parent-child relation­ships are affected by the world of pure relation­ships. He traces a shift from a culture in which children were considered the property of their parents with no rights (which prevailed up until the early twentieth century), to a sort of benign authori­tarian attitude in which parents were advised to keep emotional distance from children to maintain their authority (prevalent in the mid-twentieth century), to the idea that parents should develop affectionate ties with their children but these ties should be balanced with recognition of the child’s need for autonomy (beginning in the early 1970s). Thus intimacy replaces authori­tativeness as the basis for the parent-child rela­tionship.

Move #1 in the emotional intimacy repertoire is the direct expression of love for the child. As indicated above, there is often a kind of romantic intensity to these expressions, as typified below by Robert’s response to a query asking him to identify what he likes best about the particular arrangements he has created for managing work and parenting.

Robert: The change in my life from not being a parent to being a parent has been challenging in lots of ways but unbelievably rewarding, even beyond anything I ever dreamed of in my wildest dreams, and it’s just wonderful. So like I say, it’s not part of the arrangements, but it’s like a part of my, part of what keeps me going. Partly what makes it easier to deal with the fact that life is chaotic and all the distraction and so forth is that I can hold [my daughter] in my arms and she can say “I love you daddy,” and that makes it all worthwhile.
Robert uses the most ardent modifiers to describe his emotional experience of parenting: “unbelievably rewarding,” “wildest dreams,” “just wonderful.” But ultimately, the event that Robert relates in order to particularize the intensity of his parental love is one that demonstrates its reciprocal nature, confirming that a good deal of the power of the experience derives from the fact that it is not unidirectional.

Move #2 constructs the claim of emotional intimacy by demonstrating the ability to apprehend the child’s inner world through linguistic characterizations of that world. Generally this discursively claimed sensitivity to the child’s feelings is confirmed through the respondent’s relating how it influenced choosing a particular course of action. In Carla’s account this move is particularly highly elaborated; she compares her daughter’s inner world to her own inner world, and the way her own mother’s lack of sensitivity to that world negatively affected her.

Carla: But so with [my daughter] I guess that’s what I always think of. I want her to be happy for what she did because of her, not because she pleased me. So if she did something good, I’ll say, I’m so happy for you, you must feel really good that you did that. Instead of you’re mommy’s good girl. Every now and then that comes out but I guess the overall feeling that I give her isn’t that, you did that and that makes mommy happy so keep__ You know you’re not here to sort of fill my needs. ... In a way I’m glad for [the difficulties in my relationship with my own mother] because I know I would not be the mother I am right now. I know a lot of my friends that didn’t have hard, really hardships in their lives growing up? They almost don’t know the importance of things. They sort of take it for granted in a way. Like, oh the kid will get it. She understands, she knows I don’t mean it when I yell at her. And I feel like, no, when you yell, and I do sometimes too, it’s not that I don’t but I’m aware that__ She could feel really bad about herself right now because__ And then I’ll stop and I’ll think. Her feelings are more important than the stain on my furniture. She__ Her feelings are important. And so I’m not perfect, but I can like catch myself and I know how to say I’m sorry to a three year old and it works wonders because she forgives me. You know?
Move #3 is the communication move, in which the speaker espouses parent-child verbal interaction, and especially disclosure, as a means of achieving emotional intimacy and as a measure of intimacy. The children of the individuals who participated in this study were mostly too young for their verbal abilities to provide an effective vehicle for self-disclosure. So as a move in the intimacy repertoire, parent-child communication was referenced as something that the respondents looked forward to cultivating in the course of their children’s development rather than as something that they were actively engaged in at the time they produced these accounts. The following responses were produced in answer to my request to participants to describe their aspirations for themselves as parents.
Will: I want to be the type of father where the girls can come and talk to me about anything anytime. That would be uh, I want to be the person that they can always depend on. That they don’t have to hide anything from me. They can tell me anything they want, whether it’s good or bad. And you know, I want them to know that I love them, no matter what they do. Those, I think those are the most important things.
Jim: I want to spend time with her and I want her to be able to talk to me. *Any* of my kids, if we have more kids, be able to talk to me. Not be afraid to tell me things. You know, and just be able to open up and confide in me, so yeah. Yeah, that’s what I would want.

Ironically, it seems that a greater premium is placed on intimacy between parents and children at the very point that people have less real time to devote to these relationships. On the other hand, the relationship between practices and discourse may not be merely an ironic one. It may be that the very possibility of emotional intimacy is what underlies the concept of “quality time,” since the essence of quality time is that it is time spent in activities that closely connect the parent and child, as opposed to parent and child simply occupying the same space. Moreover, the concept of quality time was born as women entered the workforce in greater numbers, beginning in the 1970s, as a counterforce to the erosion of the “quantity time” that stay at home mothers had been able to provide.

Interpretative Repertoires of “The Self”

The “Parents have needs too” repertoire. The domain of experience that this repertoire represents is the relationship between parents’ needs and chil­dren’s needs, and the lens for viewing this domain construes parents’ needs as legitimate needs, though never at the actual expense of children. This is a complex repertoire, with multiple moves and dimensions, in which statements of needs are bound up with justifica­tions for needs. As a whole, the repertoire legitimates the need for an identity that is not defined by the relational connection of parenting. Five types of needs were asserted in respondents’ ac­counts: material needs, the need for personal­ly satisfying activities that do not involve children, the need for space apart from family (perhaps in which to do abso­lutely nothing), the need for spousal togetherness, and the need for other general adult contact.

Move #1 of the “parents have needs too” repertoire explicitly asserts the right to set limits on the extent to which the child’s needs will dominate and displace the parents’ needs. In offering the following excerpt as an example, it is important to contextualize it with the information that both respondents are highly involved, role-sharing parents, yet they still assert unequivocally the need to circumscribe the amount of time and energy that their two and a half year old daughter is permitted to claim out of their total available resourc­es.

Joann: With a two and a half year old, I don’t think. Um so, that’s why I’d like to see this... That’s my main reason for getting her into bed earlier. My attitude toward it, and I admit it and Robert admits it too is, one of the reasons we’re so heavily invested in__the reason we’re most heavily invested in it is for her sake, that I think she needs more sleep. But we both admit that we’re also invested in it because we want that, we need that time after she goes to bed, and if she’s not asleep until 9, 9:30, we don’t get any time.
Move #2 in this repertoire asserts that “less is more.” In sum, this move affirms that part of the definition of good parenting is taking good care of yourself. Andrea contrasts her situation, in which her husband is home with their daughter but also working at the same time, and which she will soon begin to do as well, with people who are home full time but not engaged in any other activities than parenting, as well as with people who work full time outside of the home. In both sets of comparisons, she emphasizes the futility of trying to spend more time with your children than you are constitutionally capable of doing in a positive way.
Andrea: If I was um, like I know my girlfriend stays home and she doesn’t work, she’s home full time, I would die. Because like sometimes on a Saturday or a Sunday, [my husband will] be gone and I’m with her all day and all night and I can’t imagine doing that everyday. Without anything else. You know? It would drive me crazy. So I think other people, you know, sometimes if people both go to work, maybe they can only deal with being around their kids three or four hours a day, and if that works for them, that’s good. Cause they’re better off. I think they’re better off being around them three hours a day and being happy people, you know, than wanting to kill them because they never get away from them, you know?
Move #3, "effective parenting is role modeling," provides the final means by which parents’ pursuit of the fulfillment of their personal needs is legitimized. Again, like the less is more move, this move could be used to validate any need that takes the parent’s attention from the child, including the five types of needs listed above as well as paid employment. In the accounts obtained for this study, this move seemed to be used most commonly by working mothers with daughters to legitimize the often considerable amount of time spent out of the parenting role engaged in paid employment. However, it was also used by stay at home mothers to legitimize taking time for the self, and was used by one father as well. In the following excerpt, Joann asserts the value that her work in environmental conserva­tion has not just for herself but for her daughter.
Interviewer: Do you, in terms of the two different roles, do you ever feel that there's anything about your job that prevents you from or comes into conflict with your being the kind of parent that you want to be, whatever in your mind constitutes good parenting?

Joann: No. No. I mean some occasional travel that prevents me from being home but I recognize that as inevitable. I mean there are parents who have to travel a lot more and that would, a lot of travel would conflict with my values as a parent but the amount of travel that I have to do I see as inevitable. But no, in fact I'm very grateful that I have a job in a, that is dedicat­ed to doing something that I value. I feel that work­ing, and working for the environment are things that I'm very proud to pass onto my child.

The “Other care is good care” repertoire. While this repertoire is placed among the repertoires of the self (indeed, as an essential repertoire of the self), this repertoire is not directly about the self in the same way that “Parents have needs too” is. Rather it serves the self indi­rectly by legiti­mizing the delegation of child care. It decenters the self in the world of the other, by confirm­ing not only that it is possible for the other to thrive in the absence of the self, but that in fact the other needs more than just the self in order to thrive. In short, this repertoire lays a significant part of the moral founda­tion on which rests the expression of parental needs. Without this repertoire, other repertoires of the self might be framed as putting parents’ needs ahead of children’s.

Two well defined moves can be distinguished in this repertoire: “praising the caregiver” and “pointing to the child.” Praising the caregiver includes three distinct categories of activities on the caregiver’s part that are potentially praiseworthy. The first, nurturing, tends to be the focus for parents of infants and toddlers (children less than two years old), though the child’s apparent liking for the caregiver, another interpersonal dimension of the arrangement, remains important regardless of the child’s age. For parents of somewhat older children, while nurturing remains important, two other aspects of caregiving assume greater significance __ social­iza­tion (e.g., learning to play with other children and sharing) and teaching (e.g., learning letters, developing motor skills).

In Helena and Steve’s descriptions of two different caregivers their daughter has had, the “praising the caregiver” move tends to focus more on the nurturing aspect of caregiving, consistent with their child’s younger age.

Helena: I absolutely loved the women that were there that took care of her. . . . They were wonderful, and you could just, you could tell, Brittany loved being there, she’s a very affectionate kid. . . .

Steve: What was great is you saw, and if you watched people, how they interact, the teachers were right on the floor with the kids and they were constantly hugging and kissing the kids.

. . . (Later in the interview, speaking of the new daycare center they began using after Helena changed jobs)

Helena: Sally, one of her teachers there, she’s an older woman, Brittany absolutely loves her. And when I drop her off in the morning, and what’s important is like, I don’t just drop her off and they leave her on the floor. And even if I just see it for 10 minutes at least I know that somebody’s paying attention to her. When I drop her off, Sally comes up and walks right over and takes her from me.

Steve: And Brittany hugs her and they have breakfast together. It’s good.

Helena: It’s not like when I leave she’s pulling away to cry for me to take her. You know, she’s not doing that.

This excerpt concludes with a shift in emphasis from the caregiver to the child. Like “praising the caregiver,” “pointing to the child” has multiple dimensions. One dimension is the parent’s ability to discursively represent the child as thriving and enjoying the experi­ence of being with the caregiver(s). Another dimension is the parent’s construction of how the child handles separation. When the parent is able to construct an image of the child as free from distress over separation, this confirms for the parent that he or she has been effectively decentered, at least for the time being, in the child’s world. This in turn frees the parent to focus on other aspects of the self. Moreover, it also reflects a cultural value of individuation and autonomy. That is, the child’s ability to deal with separation (as constructed in the parent’s discourse) is valuable not only insofar as it facilitates the parent’s separation from the child but is valued as a personal achievement for the child in the context of a culture that revolves around the twin suns of individualism and competition.

The “Work and selfhood” repertoire. Like the “Parents have needs too” reper­toire, “Work and selfhood” turns away from the other to legitimate the non-parental, non-relational self. This repertoire can be distinguished from the earlier repertoire, however, by the infrequency with which the other is referenced and by the exclusive focus on work as the medium for realizing an American definition of selfhood. Work, in this interpretative repertoire, is discursively constructed as a vehicle for personal growth, self-fulfill­ment, social identity (in the sense of strongly identifying oneself with a particular profession), integri­ty, and control. As is evident from this list, the work and selfhood repertoire is rich and complex, composed of multiple and often interlocking moves. The discussion that follows does not claim to exhaust the possibilities of the meanings of work, which is a well established subject of sociological inquiry (e.g., Erikson & Vallas, 1990). The focus here is more on the meaning of work in relation to parenting.

Move #1 in this repertoire links work to selfhood by constructing work as the medium for realizing a cluster of related constructs: self-fulfillment, growth, progress, challenge, engagement, and accomplishment. Will, an endocri­nolo­gist at a teaching hospital, characterizes his work as a complex of all these elements:

Will: For me personally, [the most gratifying thing] is the ability to have time to do more reading and get into patients’ problems in more detail and learn from them. If you’re busy in a private practice situation, it’s very difficult to find time for me, very difficult for me to find time to read and keep up with the latest, and I want to be the expert on every thing I do but especially in diabetes. And I have the privilege of working with a group of people over there that not only are smart, but we all trained at different places, so our perspec­tives are all different. ... And we’re sort of like, the assistant/associate professor level type people, and then the full professors in our department are just brilliant. Brilliant. And they have a completely basic research approach, which is a nice mix for those of us who are dealing mostly with clinical medicine. So we can bring like what’s really basic and bring it right down to what we think is applicable to the patient. And it’s that, for me, that’s the mix that I missed when I was in private practice. So having the time to interact with them. Having time to go to conferences and present difficult cases and understand how, and present easy cases too, to understand how to manage them better, that’s great, because it always makes you think. . . . And so I’m learning and we’re all becoming better because of it. So that’s the part that I like.
As with the “Parents have needs too” repertoire, this repertoire, and this move in particular, rests on an assumption, promulgated by Maslow’s concept of self-actualization and the human potential movements it inspired in the 1960s and 70s (Hergenhahn, 1992), that personal growth and self-fulfillment represents a moral good. In this case, however, the case is made even stronger by linking self-fulfillment to the cultural imperatives of progress and productivity through making work the vehicle for self-fulfill­ment.

A variation on this move is the construction of work as a vehicle for self-fulfillment and growth through its impact on individuals other than the self. This is often a salient aspect of the way the meaning of work is con­structed by individuals in traditional helping professions such as health and human services (for example, it shows up in other locations in Will’s account, as well as Judy’s __ a physical therapist, Faith’s __ Will’s spouse and another physician, and Carla’s __ a former juvenile probation officer). However, individuals outside these professions were also able to construe their work as meaningful through its impact on others. For example, Lisa sees part of the value of her work as a hair stylist, and hence her satisfaction in it, as deriving from the good that it does others.

Lisa: I like my work because I feel that I’m good at it, and it is a talent. And I think personally, anybody would get a lot of satisfaction out of that. I mean I feel I have God given talents and not just do my hands do the work but I also, and some of it is obviously developed skill, if you’ve been with something for any period of time, you develop a skill as well, but, I make a lot of people happy. On an individual basis, I make them happier with themselves. I, over a period of time, help them build confidence. And it’s funny because we like to think that our looks aren’t everything, but they are something.

Another variation on this move was the construction of work as an expression of something akin to the essence of the self. These were individuals who identified very strongly with their specific occupations. For them the particular form of their work, whether it be medicine, music, or writing, was framed as an essential expression of selfhood. Some explicitly framed their occupations as “callings,” a linguistic construction that implies a force larger than the self as responsible for their “choice” of their profession.

A distinctly different move, Move #2, is the construction of work as important to self-identity because of what it offers in contrast to the “job” of parenting. Faith, a physician who works part-time, discur­sively con­structs her work as intrinsically satisfying, in part because of its positive impact on others and but also because of the contrast it offers in terms of observable outcomes to her parental role and as a balance to the absorptiveness of her parental role (a contrast also noted by many of the working parents who participated in Hochschild’s (1997) study).

Faith: I like what I do in terms of helping. I always loved that reason for going into medicine. . . . Working now I definitely think I like the companionship of older, you know, adults and I think that was something I certainly didn’t understand I would miss when I was with [my older daughter] the first year. Because when [my younger daughter] was born I knew was gonna have to go back, and Will was, I don’t want you home all the time, because I probably was more on edge and uh, not that he found me less inter­esting. He doesn’t, he always said he never cared whether__ If I was *happy* in what I was doing, he’d be happy as well but I don’t know if he noticed me not quite as happy with myself and I think seeing other people, and you feel you make a little bit of a difference, which I don’t want to say that you don’t make a difference at home, but there’s no gauge. There’s no way of measuring what you’re doing. If you’re doing it right or wrong.
Move #3 defines work as a medium for the expression of another important aspect of self-identity, personal integri­ty, through respondents’ self descrip­tions of the standards they hold themselves to in their work.For John, integrity, the sense of a job well done, is his primary source of satisfaction from his work.
John: I work in a freezer. We fill orders for the trucks going out. . . . It’s 40 below, I think, so it’s cold [laughs]. And it’s manual labor. You bend over 2,000 times, fifteen hundred, two thousand times a day. So [laughs] best part when you’re at work is you’re looking at getting out of the cold on your breaks, so at the end of the day, you wanna, you know, that’s the best part because you get to take all your clothes off and you’re done. The satisfaction for me is, is just doing a good job, it’s not the job itself, obviously. You wouldn’t be in your right state of mind to say that that’s what you wanted to do. . . . So as far as work goes, satisfaction, mainly like I’ve been there a year and a half. We usually lose one to two guys every day. I’ve only called in once and been late once since I’ve been there.
Move #3, work as a vehicle for the expression of personal integrity is often linked to move #4, work as a medium for the expression of agency or freedom from controls. The two constructs are linked by the idea that if you are meeting standards, if you are self motivated, then you should not be held to rules for the sake of rules. If you are controlling yourself, outside controls are unnecessary and are therefore construed as a legitimate object of resentment. Frank, a systems analyst whose output is clearly measurable, and who works remotely from home, links these two moves in the following excerpt from his account.
Frank: I mean you see, if I was confronted by somebody, like my account manager at work and he said, well you only worked, I know you only worked 20 hours last week, you know. Whether you thought I knew or not. And I’d say, well do you remember the week I worked, you know, 80 hours? Or you know, I balanced it off last week or the week before? So it’s not like I’m trying to lay down on the job as they say. Because going back to the responsibility I was talking about before. You know I see the job as a responsibility. I’m getting paid a good salary for a job that many people would kill for. And I appreciate that. And I do the work. You know. I think I’m, uh, uh, an above average person. You know. Comparing with other people at the office. And uh, I think I’ve maintained that, even after we moved up here. So um. I guess it takes a person with a conscience. [chuckles] To really do that, to do that right.
Move #5, work as a balancer to the parental role, was used only by women in this set of respondents, and is a work-specific form of the move that was earlier cited as having the same function in the “Parents have needs too repertoire.” This move emphasizes work as the medium for realizing the agentic, non-relational self, in contrast to the parental role, which, particularly in the context of nurturing very young children, requires a frequent surrendering of the self to the needs of the child. In both of the following excerpt, Kathy reflects on the possibility of doing her work as a journalist from home and the potential loss of selfhood that would result from not leaving the home to work and separating from her children for at least some portion of the day.
Kathy: If I had been working out of home, I think I would have lost my mind. And I would not have gotten as much work done? And I would have missed the interaction with adults every morning? I love, I love my girls, but if I were around them all day long, I think I would feel as though I had lost a part of myself. And I love it. I mean it’s like vacation going into work. Having adult conversations for a few hours a day? Wow!

It is important not only to examine the repertoires in detail individually, but also to consider the interpretative implications when they are viewed as a whole. Potter and Wetherell (1995) argue that discourse analysis comprises two equally important and complementary tasks: the identification of interpretative repertoires that present recurrently in respondents’ accounts, and the identification of absent repertoires, which provide an additional dimension of collective meaning for what is present. Looking at the sum total of what is present here, the most salient and potentially problematic characteristic is the oppositional, two-domain structure suggested by the content of the repertoires that emerged from respondents’ accounts. >From the standpoint of what is absent, collectively these repertoires display a notable absence of structural rather than personal explanations for work and parenting arrangements. These two characteristics – the oppositional nature of the two domains of repertoires, and the absence of structural explanations for work and parenting arrangements – have important implications individually and in relationship to each other, as well as potential ramifications for practice in the workplace.

Self and Other as Dialectic

In her analysis of the messages sent by parenting manuals to mothers, Hays (1996) discerns an oppositional relationship between a cultural prescription for “intensive mothering” and a cultural norm that endorses self-interested pursuit of gain or self-fulfillment (particularly in the realm of work), which is similar to the two-domain repertoire structure proposed here. Hays characterizes this relationship as a “cultural contradiction.” However, this study interprets this oppositional relationship not as a cultural contradiction but as a dialectic (it is also seen here as an issue for men as well as women).

The distinction is that “contradiction” implies a deficiency, a way in which our culture does not make sense that should be resolved. The argument here is that while there is a tension between the realms of self and other, this kind of tension constitutes a dialectic rather than a contradiction. Baxter (1988), who considers dialectics within the context of interpersonal relationships, defines a dialectic as forces or ideas that are interdepen­dent even while they are potentially mutually negating. We can trace to Plato the notion that these opposing forces may be discursively embodied in either interpersonal or intrapersonal dialogue (Golden, 1984). (In the case of these interpretative repertoires, the emphasis is more on audible intraper­sonal dialogue.) Plato, however, saw the endpoint of dialectic as resolution and discovery, whereas the very essence of the dialectic of the repertoires of self and other is that the individual holds them in ongoing tension that energizes both realms of experience, and the goal is not resolution but management.

The management of work and parenting in America evokes this dialectic so powerfully in part because parenting so compellingly invites the breaching of boundaries between self and other, particularly when children are infants. Conceptualizing maturation as a process of individuation has traditionally focused on the child’s separation from the parents (see Erikson [e.g., 1982] as the most prominent exponent of this view). However, the process of individuation has relevance for parents as well, since parental boundaries are being renegotiated in the early childhood years (Dinnerstein, 1976; Kaplan 1978). This experience is represented in the repertoires of the other. Conversely, work is a domain of human experience that, particularly in America, often leads people to experience themselves primarily as individuals who are competing for recognition, rewards, and advancement, who must also potentially shoulder responsibility and bear blame, and who can be singled out for elimination when organizations restructure.

In earlier historical periods, the dialectic of self and other might be viewed as having been managed by separating the two halves of dialectic into two different people through a pronounced sexual division of labor that apportioned activities of caring to women and worldly endeavor to men. One of the conditions associated with modernity, however, is diminished sexual division of labor and role convergence (Stephen, 1994). At the same time that women have entered the workplace in massive numbers and heightened the salience of work in their personal identities (Gerson, 1987; Barnett & Rivers, 1996), expectations regarding men’s emotional and practical involvement in their children’s lives have also markedly increased (Gerson, 1993; Griswold, 1993; Kimmel, 1996; Lamb, 1986). Thus, both halves of the dialectic of self and other are now more likely to be contained within a single individual, which makes management a necessity and avoidance through focusing on only one half of the dialectic a virtual non-option. The accounts obtained for this study are consistent with this trend: the accounts of 23 out of 24 individuals who participated included repertoires of both the self and the other.

While Hays (1996) frames this situation as inherently problematic, especially for women, whom she sees as far more heavily burdened with expectations regarding “the other,” an alternative interpretation is offered here. Over twenty years ago, Dinnerstein’s (1976) classic argument on the destructive effects of psychological complementarity between the sexes, The Mermaid and the Minotaur, exhorted men and women to integrate what she refers to as the capacities for enterprise and relatedness rather than linking them differentially to gender. To reject either one or other, accord­ing to Dinnerstein, is to miss half of the essential nature of human experience. The accounts provided by the respondents in this study indicate that they are actively engaged in just the sort of project that Dinnerstein envisioned, and while it is undeniably a demanding project, it also has the potential to confer substantial benefits.

Individualism and the Management of Work and Family

Both sides of the dialectic of self and other are rooted in an ideology of individualism. Some repertoires manifest the “expressive individualism” identified by Bellah and his colleagues (1985), while other repertoires reflect Bellah et al.’s “utilitarian individualism.” The utilitarian side is manifested in the repertoire of the self that embraces the culture of consumption, which in turn must be underwritten by economic advancement: the “getting ahead” move in the “Parents have needs too” repertoire. Expressive individual­ism manifests in repertoires associated with both sides of the dialectic. One aspect of expressive individualism is the quest for psychological or spiritual growth and self actualization, which is reflected in the “Parents have needs too” and “Work and selfhood” repertoires on the self side of the dialectic. As Riessman (1990) points out, “We are a society obsessed with personal life, just as work on the self now constitutes a legitimate form of work” (p. 68). She notes that the vocabulary for this comes from major social movements of the 1970s __ “consciousness-raising groups of the women’s movement, the human potential movement, and the associated culture of psychotherapy” (p. 181). Another aspect, however, of expressive individualism is what Sennett (1974) refers to as the “ideology of intimacy,” which holds that closeness between persons is a moral good, that personality is developed through closeness with others, and that the evils of society are due to impersonality, alienation and coldness. The ideology of intimacy is most clearly exhibited in the repertoire that values emotional closeness with children, which connects expressive individualism with the “other” side of the dialectic.

Weigert, Teitge and Teitge (1986), acknowledging their debt to David Riesman and Christopher Lasch, maintain that “American culture is pervaded by a nominalist psychologistic bias lending plausibility to a natural attitude that sees atomistic individuals responsible for their fate, happiness, and especially success or failure” (p. 57). Likewise, Riessman (1990), in her study of divorce in America, notes of her respondents, “In their accounts, women and men seek explanations in their personal situa­tions and psychologies and for the most part eschew structural and political explanations” (p. 73). She concludes that “central to American consciousness is a vocabulary that emphasizes freedom, self-determination, and personal control” (p. 204). Indeed, the issue of control underlies the two very different faces of the world of work that respondents present in their accounts. In the context of the domain of the other, work is framed as representing the soulless organization and reviled as the enemy of the family and the antithesis of intimacy. In the domain of the self, however, work may be exalted as an instrument of self-realization. The common theme in these two seemingly contradictory representations of work is control: respondents vilify work when they perceive it as attempting to control them, but valorize it when they can construe work as a medium for the exercise of control.

Given the well documented preference among Americans in everyday life for personal rather than structural explanations when interpreting other realms of social experience, it should not be surprising to find that this is the case with managing work and family. Only the current pervasiveness of structural explanations for work-family conflict in public discourse would lead us to think otherwise. Advocates of workplace reform like Coontz (1997), Bailyn (1996) explain difficulties in managing work and parenting not as the inevitable result of women’s entry into the workforce but rather as the product of the workplace’s inflexi­ble or inadequate response to dual earner families. However, the accounts obtained for this study suggest that this discourse is seldom conversationally adapted into an interpretative repertoire.

Implications for Workplace Practices

The absence in private discourse of structural explanations for the challenges of managing work and parenting invites two potential responses. First, workplace reform proponents and researchers could do more to introduce the “structural” interpretative framework into private discourse by explicitly acknowledging its absence there in their public discourse (e.g., “don’t blame yourself or your spouse, but ask what changes could be made in the world of work to make managing work and family easier”). Given the compelling case presented by researchers on work and family for the impossibility of families on their own adapting themselves to the requirements of the world of work without accommoda­tions from employers, this discourse could have the effect of lightening the burden of responsibility that working parents feel for the relative success of their own arrangements.

Second, workplace programs designed to accommodate families must take into account the meanings expressed in private discourse on work and family, which include an ideology of individualism and an associated penchant for control. Bailyn (1993) classifies organizational responses to families into two categories. The first type of response takes the form of directly provided services or financial aid or information aid in securing services from other organizations that help individuals meet family responsibilities (e.g., childcare, sick child care, emergency childcare for when regular arrangements break down) and keep work responsi­bilities unaffected. The second type of response takes the form of arrangements that offer workers more control over the conditions of work (e.g., flex­time, flexplace or telecommuting, part-time work, job-sharing, family leaves), which are aimed at freeing employees themselves to attend to family needs.

The implication of the findings presented here is that workplace accommodations emphasizing flexibility will be more attractive to employees than those that are designed to keep the flow of work unaffected by interruptions from family and keep the locus of control within the organization. Thus, while many proponents of workplace reform (e.g., Reskin & Padavic, 1994; Coontz, 1997) argue that on-site childcare is one of the most valuable employee benefits, this study would predict a potential conflict between such pragmatic solutions and the meanings that individuals are likely to ascribe to these solutions. The accounts of respondents in this study suggest that what may be more attractive than on-site child care is the freedom and flexibility to make the arrangements that suit them best, arrangements consistent with the way they have chosen to define themselves as workers and parents. Even when respondents brought work into their homes, they framed their arrangements as controlled by themselves rather than by the work itself or their employers. Several respondents articulated a vision of themselves which emphasized their independence from and even mistrust of larger social structures that might potentially dictate their work and parenting arrangements. Flexibility is also a more affordable and hence more feasible response for the smaller organizations that employ close to 40 percent of American workers.

Unfortunately, flexibility options can be freighted with undesirable side effects. Given the traditional organizational standard of face time as a key ingredient in career success, flexibility responses are problematic because they can be used only by individ­uals who are willing to jeopardize their career ambitions (Levine, 2000). Bailyn (1993) maintains that as long as women are the only people using flexibili­ty options, there will be a high cost associated with their use. In order for men and women alike to feel that they are an option, a rethinking of taken for granted procedures and underlying assumptions must occur: “Neither ad hoc accommodations for individual employees nor the setting of policies at the margin will create the kind of environment that will allow employees to manage their lives better while helping the business become more productive. [What is required is] change at a basic, cultural level” (p. 141).

Perhaps, however, a more profound implication of this discourse analysis arises from recognizing that a dialectic is inherent to the management of work and family. That is, if the management of work and parenting is at least as much about managing a dialectic of self and other as it is about logistics, then it will not be reasonable to expect any form of workplace accommodation to resolve completely the conflicts that will inevitably arise. If work-family conflict is reframed as the natural tension between enterprise and relatedness, it follows that it is not the function of, nor is it a logical possibility for workplace accommodations to provide a resolution, since the site of the conflict is not solely or even perhaps primarily in the workplace as much as it is in the self. It also follows that an understanding of managing work and family that frames it as a problem with a definitive solution should be reconsidered. An alternative frame would be that the opportunity for both men and women to engage in enterprise and relatedness requires more of them at the same time that it offers more to them. Individuals are living more complex internal as well as external lives, which are potentially richer but also considerably more challenging.

This assertion does not diminish the importance of the kind of revisioning of organizational culture called for by Bailyn (1993) because such a revision will undoubtedly create a more hospitable environment for effectively managing the dialectic of self and other represented in work and family. Rather, reframing work-family conflict as the playing out of the dialectic of self and other asks us to modify our expectations for its resolvability and to acknowledge the limits of what workplace accommodations can accomplish.


It is important to acknowl­edge that while the interpretative structure offered for these accounts can be well validated in the texts of the interviews, and that the process of analysis included the testing of alternative interpretative frames and the rejection of frames that did not fit the data as well as the one presented here, other interpretative frames are still possible. The knowledge claims of this study are contin­gent, and while every effort has been made to specify the nature and extent of those contin­gencies, this study is presented, “not as a picture of the world, but as a form of lens, a way of seeing things” (Gergen, 1991, p. xii).

One of the contingencies in this study is the makeup of the respondents, who exhibited considerable diversity in their occupations and their work-parenting arrangements but not in their ethnicity or in their family forms. Therefore, one way in which the findings of this study might be extended and the interpretative framework it proposes confirmed or refined would be through the analysis of accounts from additional respondents who would expand the diversity of the sample. Data could also be analyzed to examine discursive strategies employed for managing tensions in the dialectic of self and other, and for the relationship between management techniques and expressed satisfaction with arrangements. Another direction for future research suggested by this study is the exploration of consonance and dissonance between private discourse about managing work and family that occurs in the home and in the workplace. A series of networked interviews with individuals and their conversation partners at home and at work might be conducted to evaluate consistency and techniques for managing inconsistencies. Including workplace conversation partners in the respondents would also provide an opportunity to focus more specifically on perceptions of accommodations offered by employers.

*Author's Note: The research reported here represents part of the author's doctoral dissertation work, which was completed under the direction of Timothy Stephen, Department of Language, Literature, and Communication, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


[1]. The author acknowledges a debt to Raymond Carver. The title of this article was inspired by his short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1982), which, like this study, explores the meanings contained in the patterns of everyday discourse.


Bailyn, L. (1993). Breaking the mold: Women, men, and time in the new corporate world. New York: The Free Press.

Barnett, R. C. & Rivers, C. (1996). She works/he works: How two-income families are happier, healthier, and better off. New York: Harper Collins.

Baxter, L. A. (1988). A dialectic perspective on communication strategies in relationship development. In S. W. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research, and interventions (pp. 257-273). Chichester: Wiley.

Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., and Tipton, S. M. (1985). Habits of the heart. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.

Blankenhorn, D. (1994). Fatherless America. New York: Basic Books.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (1999). Employment characteristics of families summary. In Labor force statistics from the current population survey [On-line]. Available:

Burr, V. (1995). An introduction to social constructionism. London: Routledge.

Coontz, S. (1997). The way we really are: Coming to terms with America’s changing families. New York: Basic Books.

Dinnerstein, D. (1976). The mermaid and the minotaur. New York: Harper­Collins Publishers.

Erikson, E. H. (1982). The life cycle completed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Erikson, K. & Vallas, S. P. (Eds.). (1990). The nature of work: Sociological perspectives. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Galinsky, E. (1999). Ask the children: What America’s children really think about working parents. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Galinsky, E. & Bond, J. T. (1998). The 1998 work-life study: A sourcebook. New York: Families and Work Institute.

Galinsky, E. & Johnson, A. A. (1998). Reframing the business case for work-life initiatives. New York: Families and Work Institute.

Gergen, K. (1991). The saturated self: Dilemmas of identity in contemporary life. New York: Basic Books.

Gerson, K. (1993). No man’s land: Men’s changing commitments to family and work. New York: Basic Books.

Gerson, K. (1987). How women choose between employment and family: A developmental perspective. In N. Gerstel & H. E. Gross (Eds.) Families and work (pp. 270-288). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Giddens, A. (1992). The transformation of intimacy: sexuality, love and eroticism in modern societies. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gilbert, L. A. (1993). Two careers/one family. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Glaser, B. G. & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Golden, A. G. (1996). Together talking: The collaborative construction of worker-parent identities in dual earner couples. Paper presented at the meeting of the Speech Communication Association, San Diego, CA.

Golden, A. G. (1995). Juggling work and family: The effects of modernity on the communicative management of multiple roles. Paper presented at the meeting of the Speech Communication Association, San Antonio, TX.

Golden, A. G. (1994). Men and women, work and family: The communicative management of couples’ work in the transition to parenthood. Paper presented at the meeting of the Speech Communication Association, New Orleans, LA.

Golden, J. L. (1984). Plato revisited: A theory of discourse for all seasons. In R. J. Connors, L. S. Ede, and A. A. Lunsford (Eds.) Essays on classical rhetoric and modern discourse (pp. 16-36). Carbon­dale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Griswold, R. L. (1993). Fatherhood in America: A history. New York: Basic Books.

Hays, S. (1996). The cultural contradictions of motherhood. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hergenhahn, B. R. (1992). An introduction to the history of psychology. Pacific Grove, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Hochschild, A. R. (1989). The second shift. New York: Avon Books.

Hochschild, A. R. (1997). The time bind: When work becomes home and home becomes work. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Kaplan, L. J. (1978). Oneness and separateness: From infant to individual. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Kimmel, M. (1996). Manhood in America: A cultural history. New York: The Free Press.

Lamb, M. E. (1986). The changing roles of fathers. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The father’s role: Applied perspectives. (pp. 3-28). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Leach, P. (1994). Children first: What society must do -- and is not doing -- for children today. New York: Vintage Books.

Levine, S. B. (2000). Father courage: What happens when men put family first. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Lewis, D. S. & Yoest, C. C. (1996). Mother in the middle: Searching for peace in the mommy wars. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Mishler, E. G. (1986). Research interviewing: Context and narrative. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Potter, J. & Wetherell, M. (1995). Discourse analysis. In J. A. Smith, R. Harre, L. Van Langen­hove (Eds.) Rethinking methods in psychology (pp. 80-92). London: Sage Publications.

Potter, J. & Wetherell, M. (1987). Discourse and social psychology. London: Sage Publications.

Rappoport, R. & Bailyn, L. (1996). Relinking life and work: Toward a better future. New York: Ford Foundation.

Reskin, B. & Padavic, I. (1994). Women and men at work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Riessman, C. K. (1990). Divorce talk: Women and men make sense of personal relationships. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Sandelowski, M., Holditch-Davis, D. & Harris, B. G. (1992). Using qualitative and quantitative methods: The transition to parenthood of infertile couples. In J. F. Gilgun, K. Daly, & G. Handel (Eds.), Qualitative methods in family research (pp. 3-11). Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, Inc.

Sennett, R. (1974). The fall of public man. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Shore, R. (1998). Ahead of the curve: Why America’s leading employers are addressing the needs of new and expectant parents. New York: Families and Work Institute.

Stephen, T. (1994). Communication in the shifting context of intimacy: marriage, meaning, and modernity. Communication Theory, 4, 191-218.

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

U.S. Census Bureau. (1995). Statistics about small business and large business from the U.S. Census Bureau [On-line]. Available: and

Weigert, A. J., Teitge, J. S. & Teitge, D. W. (1986). Society and identity: toward a sociological psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wetherell, M. & Potter, J. (1988). Discourse analysis and the identifica­tion of interpretative repertoires. In C. Antaki (Ed.) Analysing everyday explanation: A casebook of methods (pp. 168-183). London: Sage Publica­tions. 

Copyright 2000 Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, Inc.

This file may not be publicly distributed or reproduced without written permission of the Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, P.O. Box 57, Rotterdam Jct., NY 12150 USA (phone: 518-887-2443).