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Fun Morality and the Relational Contours of Maternal-Child Play in US Working Family Life

Karen Gainer Sirota

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 95


Drawing upon videotaped family interactional data, I explore the practice of mothering as an ethically rooted endeavor that transpires amidst a situated, relational field. I offer a view of contemporary US working mothers, their children, and the transactional matrix that they constitute and navigate in the course of everyday life. Examining the moral terrain of mothering as spontaneous, on-the-ground practice, I consider Martha Wolfenstein’s (1951, 1955) psychoanalytically informed conception of “fun morality” in the context of contemporary US maternal-child relations. I highlight the interactional contours of maternal-child play as middle-class US mothers and children employ implicit and explicit communicative means in crafting imaginative interludes that cultivate valued aspects of personhood and relationality, and that mediate often times competing instrumental and affiliative aims in US family life.

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