Active Learning Activity: The Motherhood Penalty, at Work and Home

Kermit The Frog Drinking Tea - men are seen as harder workers when they have kids but mothers are "less into the work" but thats none of my business

A student meme from Autumn 2017.

My absolutely favorite assignment every semester is the “family science meme” assignment. I have them make a meme related to our class, and write a short paragraph explaining it. This assignment really helps me understand what stood out to them during the semester, plus the memes are really funny. I noticed last semester that more than half of the memes were about microaggressions! I do a class every semester on microaggressions – what they are and how they affect families. I use these videos from MTV. My students find these videos so compelling, they often end up being one of the most memorable activities of the semester.

I wanted to create an assignment/learning experiences that would be as memorable and profound for a topic I am passionate about – the Motherhood Penalty. I worked with Michael Garrett from my college’s Ed Tech team to create a series of videos in which women (all friends of mine) tell their experience of the motherhood penalty. The students then complete an assignment in which they read an article and watch a video about the motherhood penalty, and watch the scenarios (linked below). Next they describe how they would have handled each scenario and how, collectively, the scenarios illustrate the penalty.

Next, in class, or in an online discussion forum, they watch the resolution videos, where the women describe how they handled it and how it made them feel, if they would handle it differently now, and offer some advice. I follow this with a lecture or discussion of this cartoon which illustrates the mental load that mother’s take on at home, and some of my research on the division of labor at the transition to parenthood (Dads are often having fun while moms work around the house and When the baby comes, working couples no longer share housework equally). We then discuss the motherhood penalty at home. At the end of class, we bring it all together.

My students have just completed these activities, and the student feedback was amazing. Note in the first class period/discussion of this module, we talked about the gender pay gap with these videos, so you will some mention of the pay gap.

“One thing that really surprised me in this module were all of the microaggressions and the penalties that mothers face in the work force. I always knew that it was difficult for mothers to keep a career and mothers often make significantly less money than single women and fathers. I also thought the one fact was interesting: “The pay gap between childless women and mothers is greater than the pay gap between men and women.” This just really solidified how prevalent the problem is to me. I think something that is also troubling is I’m not sure how we can fix it. There is no law-breaking, it is all just stereotypes and stigma and that is hard to rid of. I guess we just have to raise awareness first and educate women on their rights and what to do if they experience this. I am glad we had this module so I, personally, can be more prepared for my future.”

“Overall, the materials from this week really opened my eyes up to some important arguments, and sort of angered me. Why aren’t people talking about this? Why isn’t anything being done about this? How can people just sit back and let this happen? I wish I had answers.”

“Since learning about the pay gap, I have found myself challenging my views on women are treated at work. I want to know barriers they are going through in my job and how I can help stand up for my fellow female coworkers. I truly was sadden to know what a lot of the mothers went through to just except use their rights of having a child. I think more of often than not, most of the mothers go unnoticed and could be helped at anytime. It is time now in America where gender discrimination should not to be tolerated and I hope to be the change by informing my family about it.”

I have a six page document full of comments like this! This activity exceeded my expectations from when I designed it, and I can’t wait to see my students’ memes at the end of the semester to assess how much this stood out to them. Further, I learned in my favorite book on teaching, Small Teaching, that stories are an extremely effective teaching tool. On page 182, James Lang states “As cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham put it, ‘The human mind seems exquisitely tuned to understand and remember stories– so much so that psychologists sometimes refer to stories as ‘psychologically privileged,’ meaning that they are treated differently in memory than other types of material’ (Willingham 2009, pp. 66-67).” I believe that many students will remember this content for the rest of their lives.

Here are the activities and materials (contact me for power point slides if you are interested). If you use them, please let me know how it goes. I loved working on this project, and I want to thank my video subjects who spoke about the motherhood penalty with vulnerability and honesty, and for their willingness to let other teachers use them as well. I cannot thank them enough. I also want to thank Michael who was amazing to work with. I am so impressed with his final product.

Assignment: The Motherhood Penalty

female firefighter

Mindy, mother of threeSource.

This assignment is designed to help you consider how you would handle gender discrimination and the motherhood penalty in the workplace.

First, consider the article you read The Motherhood Penalty vs. The Fatherhood Bonus by Claire Cain Miller and watch this video on the motherhood penalty:

Next, watch each of these four videos.

Scenario 1:

Scenario 2:

Scenario 3:

Scenario 4:

For your assignment:

  1. Write four short paragraphs that describe either 1) how you would handle each scenario if it happened to you, or 2) how you handle each scenario if you witnessed it. You should have one short paragraph per scenario.
  2. Finally, write a paragraph reflecting on how these scenarios are examples of the motherhood penalty. How do they exemplify the motherhood penalty?

Online Version of Activity: The Motherhood Penalty, at Home and Work

Tatooed woman holds her infant while doing laptop work in an office
Source

First, watch each of the resolutions to the four scenarios you were presented with in your assignment.

Scenario 1 Resolution

Scenario 2 Resolution

Scenario 3 Resolution

Scenario 4 Resolution

Next, answer the following question in your post.

  1. Did you handle the scenarios in the same way that these women did in your assignment? Do you agree with how they handled it, or how they would have handled it now?
  2. Consider the article You should’ve asked by Emma and these two articles about some of my research Dads are often having fun while moms work around the house and When the baby comes, working couples no longer share housework equally. Is there a motherhood penalty at home like there is at work?
  3. After considering the motherhood penalty at home and work, and hearing the advice these women would give others, what would be your advice for a female friend who was considering getting pregnant, but wanted to maintain her career?

Next, read your fellow group members’ posts. Do you agree or disagree with their advice/reply? Did they bring up any points you had not thought of? Reply to at least two group members.

In-Person Version of Activity: The Motherhood Penalty, at Home and Work

Part 1: The Motherhood Penalty at Work

Brief lecture on the Motherhood Penalty. I show Table 1 from the paper.

Next, we watched each of the resolutions to the four scenarios they were presented with in their assignment.

Scenario 1 Resolution

Scenario 2 Resolution

Scenario 3 Resolution

Scenario 4 Resolution

Small Group Discussion

  1. Did you handle the scenarios in the same way in your assignment? What were the differences?
  2. Do you agree with how they handled it, or how they would have handled it now?
  3. What could you do to stop the motherhood penalty?

Large Group Discussion (make sure you emphasize that this is a common phenomenon)

Part 2: The Motherhood Penalty at Home

Short lecture about these materials: You should’ve asked by Emma, Dads are often having fun while moms work around the house. and When the baby comes, working couples no longer share housework equally.

Small Group Discussion

  1. What were your thoughts on the motherhood penalty at home? Why is there one?
  2. Did you observe the motherhood penalty at home in your family?
  3. How does the motherhood penalty at home affect the motherhood penalty at work, and vice versa?

Part 3: Advice

Instructions: “In your small group, discuss what advice you would have for a friend who is considering getting pregnant, but wanted to maintain her career. Write your group’s  advice for a friend on your large post-it note.” Students circulate and check out the other groups’ advice, which leads into a large group discussion on the motherhood penalty overall.

One thought on “Active Learning Activity: The Motherhood Penalty, at Work and Home

  1. CLAIRE! This is phenomenal. Thank you so much for sharing this. Look forward to catching up at ASA or elsewhere soon.

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