Analysing American Advice Books for Single Mothers Raising Sons

Analysing American Advice Books for Single Mothers Raising Sons

Essentialism, Culture and Guilt

By Berit Åström

This intersectional study analyses the normative pressures placed on single mothers raising sons in contemporary parenting literature and how traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity are used to undermine the mothers. The study further connects the advice books to a cultural backlash against ideas of ‘involved fatherhood’ and ‘caring masculinity’.

PDF, 250 Pages


February 2023

£25.00, $40.00

EPUB, 250 Pages


February 2023


  • About This Book
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  • Table of Contents
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About This Book

Although single fathers as primary carers are on the rise, most single-parent households in the United States are headed by women. These women are a lucrative market for parenting books and most of such books are aimed at single mothers raising sons. This intersectional study analyses a broad range of material: books written by female and male authors, African-American and white, health professionals as well as lay people, outspokenly feminist or traditionally conservative, addressing a middle-class or a working-class readership. This allows for a comprehensive analysis of normative attitudes towards parenting, showing how class and ethnicity interact with traditional assumptions of gender and biology to produce a genre of literature that is quite restrictive, perpetuating ideas of ‘intensive mothering’.

Situating these advice books within the context of parenting experts, the US fatherhood movement, the so-called ‘boy crisis’, cultural prejudice towards single mothers and what has been termed ‘neurosexism’ and ‘neuroparenting’, this study analyses the way in which the books draw on mother-blame language, misconceptions of neuropsychological research and traditional conceptualisations of masculinity and femininity to convince the mother readers that they are unable to raise a son to be a man. Using prescriptive and often alarmist language, the authors privilege traditional assumptions of gender, hegemonic masculinity and heteronormative family structures over single parent families, same-sex parenting and single mothers by choice (via adoption or ART). In doing so, the books afford very narrow parenting roles, for fathers as well as mothers, as well as a very limited range of masculine identities for young boys. Presented as common sense advice, these books are widely read by women seeking support and it is thus vital that they be interrogated for the way they continue to construct, shape and influence expectations on parenting, as well as the identities of young boys.


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Author Information

Dr Berit Åström is an associate professor at the Department of Language Studies, Umeå University, Sweden. Her main research field is motherhood studies.


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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction – childcare and advice in times of change; Chapter 2: Gender – borderwork, science and the dangerous mother; Chapter 3: Class and race – what is expected of mothers and sons; Chapter 4: Reinstating the father – fathers in advice books for mothers; Chapter 5: Conclusion; Appendix; Bibliography; Notes.


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