Framing Mothers: Childcare Research and the Normalization of Maternal Care Academic Article uri icon


  • 2016 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. The National Institute of Child and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), conducted from 1991 to 2009, reveals how the discourse of childcare research normalizes primary maternal care and distinctly gendered parenting responsibilities. Although the SECCYD deliberately challenges the idea that all children and all forms of care are analytically interchangeable, it implicitly accepts the notion that primary maternal care is normal for every child, or the standard by which any other care should be evaluated, by relying on theories, concepts, and methods that position mothers as uniquely responsible for healthy children. Assumptions about the normatively maternal architecture of child development shaped the questions the authors asked, how they went about answering them, and how they interpreted the results. The study ultimately concludes that nonmaternal care does not put children at developmental risk. But it does so by demonstrating that such care neither displaces childrens primary relationship with their mothers nor upsets the normal gender functioning of nuclear families. This normalization arbitrarily limits what constitutes a healthy family by foreclosing the possibility that nonmaternal primary relationships, such as those between a developing child and a father, two fathers, two mothers, grandparents, or any other constellation of caregiving, might offer a distinct and healthy developmental path. It also suggests that the central concepts and outcome measures of psychology discourse on childcare need substantial rethinking.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Wolf, J. B.

citation count

  • 2

publication date

  • March 2016