„It´s a hard job for women. But this is the way it is. We have to work hard to keep our family. Every mother wants the best for her children. This is the way it is and we have to hold out although it´s not easy. This is our destiny.“ (Natalia, 36 years old, 3 children)
Motherhood is a complex phenomenon which is difficult to define. We may be poetical like Ruddick (Ruddick 1989: 4) and claim that maternal practices begin and end with love, which is „more intensive, more confusing, more ambivalent and poisonously sweeter than anything that comes in life later on.“ Or we may be pragmatical as the American feminist anthropologist Nancy Schepher Hughes (1993: 5): „Maternal love is anything but natural love, instead of this it represents a matrix of images, meanings, sentiments and practices which are everywhere socially and culturally produced.“ How can we then define maternal practice and transnational „long-distance“ motherhood? Transnational mothers in foreign countries have to cope with labour migration, time and emotional separation from their own children. At the same time they are responsible for the sustenance of their nuclear and extended families. Sotelo says (Sotelo 2001:16): „Transnational mothers introduce a new quality scale into motherhood, new inequalities and new meanings of the family.“
Research of family structures of immigrants show that about 55% of female immigrants from the Ukraine live in the Czech Republic without their children. They thus form the largest group of transnational parents living and working in the Czech Republic. The reason for such a large number of transnational mothers is not only the geographical distance between the two countries, the presence of social networks of the Ukrainian community, but also the possibility of the so-called circular migration which enables women immigrants a better coordination of their reproductive and productive activities. The majority of these women work in households as cleaners, housekeepers, nannies or provide care services for old people and they take over the responsibility of our women and men who are freed more notably from this type of care and they are not subject to strict social inspection). We may notice in this context that inequalities between Czech women and men are slowly becoming smaller, however, inequalities between Czech women and „Other women“ are growing bigger.
Every society has its gender borders delimited with the help of norms which are monitored and defined by everyday practices, as in the case of motherhood. Transnational mothers cannot accomplish these norms (as set by the majority society) in their everyday lives. (Sotelo 2001). While male labour immigration is considered as „important for the financial maintenance of the family“, women immigrants are usually seen as those who „run away“ from their families (Parreñas 2005). Transnational mothers often identify themselves with the „bad deal of women“ having the duty to provide for their family. This is in line with the way female labour is seen in the countryside, a model which is combined with the socialist type of employment for women in the Ukraine (Tolstokorova 2010). Solaris (Solaris 2010) deduces the large number of Ukrainian women in transnational migration from the transition of the Soviet type of family (extended family with a strong influence of the grandmother who is responsible for the upbringing of children and the running of the household) to the Ukrainian patriarchal type of family. All this in an environment with high unemployment figures and a very poor economic situation in Ukrainian households. On the other hand, public discourse boosted by Ukrainian media create a stereotype picture of bad mothers who abandon their children and turn them into social orphans. The media discourse is then reproduced mainly in state institutions – schools, administration authorities and health facilities.
The decision of Ukrainian women whether to emigrate abroad is governed by one key argument – a better life for their children. During their absence transnational mothers can rely on the help and „substitute“ care of their parents. This seems to be the decisive factor when deciding whether to emigrate. It is mostly the grandmother who takes care of her grandchildren or in some cases two grandmothers take turns. Sometimes old parents have to take care of more children, provided they have for instance two daughters who become transnational mothers. Older women carry on with their role of socialist grandmothers helping to care for the children of transnational mothers, which encourages women to emigrate.
In return for the help of their parents immigrant women are expected to send regularly a part of their earnings not only for the upbringing of their children but also to support their carers (grandmothers and grandfathers). This is an advantageous financial solution for both transnational mothers and their extended families. Ukrainian women send a part of their earnings (remittance) not only to their children but also to those who take care of them. However, this arrangement also creates intergenerational conflicts especially related to the upbringing of children. Modern technologies, mainly the Internet, play an increasing role in the communication between transnational mothers and their children. Thanks to modern technologies they can effectively (or at least partly) revive their motherhood. On the other hand, the virtual depersonalization may deform the interaction between mothers and their children.
The presence of the family is extremely important for women immigrants (Aranda 2003). It has a great influence on women immigrants especially when taking the decision of how long they will stay abroad. The majority of transnational mothers (mainly mothers of underage children) would like their children to follow them as soon as they achieve social and economic stability and as soon as they find their feet in the Czech environment. But the present Czech legislation does not make the process of uniting families easy and sets a lot of limitations. The period during which international mothers live in the Czech Republic without their children ranges between four and twelve years. This is no doubt a really long time, during which the children get used to being brought up by their grandmothers and the process of family uniting may become a really painful and emotionally difficult step for everybody involved.
According to Tolstokorova (2010) it is clear that nowadays, thanks to women immigrants, the Ukraine is witnessing a significant transformation of gender roles which may lead to serious family confrontations and conflicts. Women who were not satisfied with their marriages before they emigrated and who gained experience abroad including making their own money (and being free to decide how to spend it), often decided to radically change their previous way of life. Especially for women who were divorced or were in the process of breaking up with their partner emigration became an opportunity to start a new life (mainly after being reunited with their children in the Czech Republic) and an opportunity to provide decent social conditions for their children. This is why I agree with George (2005) who said that in specific cases and sometimes only temporarily, migration may lead also to gender balance – by casting doubt on the traditional social ideas of the role of a woman, which are losing their validity under the new conditions. However, the question is what price do transnational mothers – not only from the Ukraine – have to pay for this.
Aranda, E. M. 2003. „Care work and gendered constraints: The Case of Puerto Rican Transmigrants.“ Gender and Society, Vol. 17, No. 4: 609-626.
George, S. M. 2005. When Women Come First: Gender and Class in Transnational Migration. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.
Parreñas, R. 2001. Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Schepher, Hughes N. 1993. Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil: University of California Press.
Solari, C. 2010. „Drain vs. Constitutive Circularity: Comparing the Gendered Effects of Post Soviet Migration Patterns in Ukraine.“ Anthropology of East Europe Review, Vol. 28, No. 1:215-238.
Sotelo, P. 2001. Doméstica. Immigrant Woman Cleaning and Caring in the Shadow of Affluence. Berkeley: University California Press.
Ruddick, S. 1989. Maternal Thinking: Towards Politics of Peace, London: Beacon Press.
Tolstokorova, A. 2010. „Where Have All The Mothers Gone? The Gendered Effect of Labour Migration and Transition of the Institution of Parenthood in Ukraine.“ Journal of Eastern Anthropological Review, Vol. 28, No. 1:184-214.