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CHILDREN'S SCHOOLING AND MATERNAL WELL-BEING: EVALUATING THE ROLE OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS AS SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS IN MOTHERS' LIVES
Warner, Catharine H.
Milkie, Melissa A.
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Motherhood is accompanied by costs to well-being, and the mechanisms that negatively affect mothers' health are not clearly defined. Using a stress process perspective, this dissertation examines the role of strains associated with children's education to explain racial/ethnic and class variation in maternal well-being. Using mixed methods, I argue that much of the literature on family-school "partnerships" ignores the ways in which schools affect family life. Additionally, stress process literature fails to analyze stressors within schools, which house a myriad of potential difficulties for mothers. In short, while much research considers children's success in school, we know little about how this social institution affects mothers' lives and relationships. Multi-level modeling with the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K, N=6,995), illustrates which strains affect mothers' self-rated health and depressive symptoms. Key strains associated with children's health and school problems include children's disabilities, poor health, and poor behavior. Strains associated with mothers' own time pressures include looking for work, employment transitions during elementary school, and missed events/activities at the school. Strains in the school context include the proportion of students in poverty and the school neighborhood conditions. Longitudinal analyses show that school context is a central mediator of the relationship between mothers' racial/ethnic status and self-rated health and depressive symptoms, explaining health differences between African-American and white mothers and accounting for nearly one-third of the differences between Latina and white mothers. Finally, I explore whether social integration through school involvement benefits mothers. Though associated with improved well-being, school involvement does little to mitigate the effects of schooling strains. In-depth interviews with a racially/ethnically diverse group of 27 middle class mothers show that school involvement often comes at a cost to mothers in terms of time with family, difficult interactions with fellow parents, and concerns for an equitable distribution of labor at the school. Moreover, mothers' motivations for involvement vary with some mothers, more commonly mothers of color, focused solely on involvement as a component of good mothering, while other mothers, mainly the white mothers in the sample, also refer to their involvement as an opportunity to expand their own friendship networks.