What happens when first-time mothers take maternity leave?
For one thing, they begin to socialize with each other. With months or years away from the workforce and a whole new identity as a parent, women often seek out groups where they share parenting-related knowledge and, in many cases, gain emotional and social support. The women benefit in obvious ways – they feel less isolated, they share knowledge and insights, and they experience mental and physical health benefits.
But the benefits may also reach beyond the individual.
A new research project undertaken by Professor Neda Maghbouleh will study the ways in which involvement in mothers’ groups affects civic engagement, and how this varies in different parts of the city and by different axes of inequality.
In Toronto, there are examples of mothers’ groups, initially formed for post-partum socialization, that engage in civic work like neighbourhood revitalization, refugee sponsorship, and local fundraising. Some of the groups are formally organized by provinces and local municipalities and led by public health nurses or social workers; others are formally or informally established among neighbours, library patrons, or local café “regulars.” In either case, they are deeply embedded in the local community.
Which might explain a growth of civic engagement.
It is unlikely, however, that the experience is uniform across the city. Social life in Toronto has increasingly polarized around axes of inequality like income/class, immigration status, and race/ethnicity/religion. Given rising levels of inequity in the city, any positive outcomes associated with mothers’ groups are likely to be deeply entwined with, and shaped by, social inequality
Professor Maghbouleh has recently received a Connaught New Researcher Award to fund the initial stages of this project. With this funding, she and a graduate student will map the formal and informal mothers’ groups in Toronto and conduct pilot interviews with a strategically sampled selection of the women in these groups.