Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Education, Counseling

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Susan Kashubeck-West


Emily Brown

Mary Lee Nelson

Shea Kerkhoff


Working mothers have long faced myriad challenges to optimal work-life balance, with evidence of negative consequences to their physical and mental wellbeing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, working mothers reported unprecedented difficulties, though inquiry into breadwinner mothers’ experiences remained lacking. This research focused specifically on the experiences of breadwinner mothers of elementary school-aged children who navigated remote working and remote schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic. A diverse sample of 12 breadwinner mothers across the United States completed semi-structured interviews focusing on the impact of the pandemic on their daily lives, as well as how they understood their experiences in light of dominant cultural norms regarding motherhood, work, breadwinning, and identity areas. Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), intersectionality, and gender theories informed the research design and analysis. Data analyses yielded four overarching themes: (1) Intensification of an Already Non-Stop and Exhausting “Juggling Act” (2), Left to One’s Own Devices, Figuratively and Sometimes Literally (3), Merging of Work and Home Life as a Double-Edged Sword; and (4) Ambivalence about Breadwinner Status. Findings lend support to research indicating breadwinner mothers commonly fulfill a role of outsized responsibility in caretaking and decision-making in ways often invisible, resulting in role strain, cognitive overload, and decreased self-care. Discussion of findings consider limitations, further research, and implications for counseling practice and advocacy to better support breadwinner mothers in the aftermath of the pandemic and beyond.

Included in

Counseling Commons