This qualitative study reveals the challenges mothers are facing in rapidly growing cities in their efforts to provide adequate care for their children.
Though the experience of motherhood has been described as an important part of a women’s life, this role is confronted by a range of hurdles that make the provision of adequate food and care difficult.
The social and self-imposed expectations about being a ‘good mother’ in rapidly changing context cause heavy stress on mothers. Despite that, the mothers exhibited resilience and an unwavering faith to be everything they could for their children. The theme ‘Mixed blessings’, portrays the state of confusion the women are in when trying to balance their dual roles of becoming a full-time-stay-at-home versus a working mother. The dilemma faced by the mothers in this study is consistent with earlier research which highlights motherhood as an important transition in a women’s life warranting women a higher status within the society as well as establishing their sense of fulfilment in life.
However this transition is accompanied with an unprecedented amount of physical, emotional and social changes (2426). Mothers are expected to balance changes, within themselves and their surroundings while catering to unique needs of their children (2730). In recent years, women’s domain of responsibilities has expanded beyond child care and household chores (31); an increasing number of women are joining the work force (32).
The combination of these stressors compromises their wellbeing and in turn, the health and nutritional status of their children. The ongoing reconstruction and rapid development of the built environment within the city is adding to the stress of mothers as uncertainties related to whether or not they would live in the same housing unit, and for how long cripples their ability to plan long term.
Moving away from the familiar neighborhood often disrupted their social networks, and affected their source of revenue. Research focusing on urban resettlement in Ethiopia has pointed out that the reconstruction processes have neglected the social and economic cost of moving and that it has left urban dwellers, especially the poor, in constant fear of displacement (21, 22).
The city has received an unprecedented surge of migrants (33) which has resulted in shifting the family structure, leading to loss of support from extended family and households with an absent fathers. Studies from south America; found that although families get financial benefits from the remittance sent back to them, the absence of supportive family especially when it is the father missing reflects negatively on their families’ wellbeing, child’s development and forces mother to play a dual role of both mother and father (34, 35). The responsibility of child care which was once a collective duty as reflected in the old African saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is no more applicable in the urban settings. The continually dissolving social support systems are forcing urban mother to shoulder the full pressure of child care alone; leaving her overwhelmed. This is of great significance for any kind of program, nutritional or otherwise, which depends heavily on the mother’s full participation. The constraining environment does not deter women’s determination to provide for their children; with her mothering responsibilities being the driving force behind her tenacity. However the presence of support from people in the social network was described as the biggest enabler for women to balance their role as a mother and a financial contributor for her family.
Literature also supports that social support is instrumental in creating opportunities for the mothers to work and earn an income (25) and has also been linked with improved child feeding practices (36). The evolving context in rapidly growing urban cities in low income countries call for innovative programs to support mothers who are enduring very stressful situations. One such initiative could be initiating mother to mother support networks, which has been shown to be successful breast feeding promotion initiatives (37). Additionally, developing subsidized and trustworthy center-based child care services would be economically beneficial for families freeing both parents to participate in the labor market.
However this should be considered with caution as studies from low and middle income countries did not yield conclusive results on the impacts of subsidized daycare (38, 39). Despite the struggles they encountered, the mothers showed a great deal of determination to offer the best they could for their children. In this context the most prevailing element that seemed to have sustained the mothers and improved their resilience was their strong religious faith, which has also been identified as source of support system by other researchers (40).One can wonder how sustainable this resource can be in the face of frequent resettlement and a shattered collective.
Pargament et al. (41), speak of religious affiliation as having multiple meanings to people. There is the personal spiritual feeding that a belief system provides; a sense of hope that God will provide which was evident amongst the study participants. Then, there is also a social network that is accessed through group worship; this was not evident in the context of our mothers. Utilizing the existing faith-based organization as a hub for social networking could be an ideal initiative worth exploring. If this mother is the vital linchpin in programs targeting/designed to improve child health, it would therefore be critical to understand the context she operates in. This paper makes an important contribution as much of the existing qualitative studies focusing on women’s status are from South Asia and often directed towards rural populations.
It serves as an addition to the small number of studies in sub-Saharan Africa and offers an urban focus. It exclusively depicts the experiences of women, although some information was revealed about the partner and other family members from the perspective of the mothers. The fathers’ perspectives would be an important adjunct and future studies would be wise to consider the changing role of fathers in overall child care and feeding.