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It's almost easier to be here than to actually go back to New Orleans. My heart goes out to those who can't go back. My heart goes out to me because I can go back. But I'm almost afraid. It's not the same. Nothin' is the same any more ... So with the youngest girl, I think she's like, "I want to go home." It's gonna be hard to impress on her that home is not home no more.
--Christie, African American mother of two young children, former resident of New Orleans
The immediate tragedy of Hurricane Katrina played out on rooftops, on highway overpasses, and in mass shelters as families called for help and searched for food, water, and medical care. For weeks after the storm, the media televised unforgettable images of mothers handing babies to helicopter pilots and of fathers carrying their crying children through the murky floodwaters. What would become of Katrina's kids? Who would care for them, protect them, and ensure their recovery?
As the images of the disaster have faded from the evening news and disappeared from the front pages of our national papers, so too have many of the questions about the health and well-being of children and their families after the storm. Yet many pressing challenges remain. Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. More than a million Gulf Coast residents, and as many as 125,000 children from Louisiana alone, were scattered across the United States (Freeman 2007). Unmet physical and mental health care needs among still-displaced families--a disproportionate share of whom are African American, poor, and from New Orleans--have reached epidemic proportions (Abramson and Garfield 2006). Evacuee children in new schools have too often encountered overcrowded classrooms, hostile environments, and overworked teachers (Picou and Marshall 2007). Families that have returned to New Orleans have been hard-pressed to find acceptable educational alternatives in a district that was collapsing before the storm, and is now attempting to rebuild after dozens of schools were destroyed and over 7,500 of the most experienced teachers were fired (Casserly 2006). Weary parents have worked hard to find employment, affordable housing, and reliable childcare, while also trying to explain to their children what happened to the home and life they knew (Fothergill and Peek 2006).
Parenting is incredibly challenging work, even in nondisaster times. In the aftermath of a catastrophe the magnitude of Katrina, parents have faced enormous obstacles in keeping their children safe and ensuring that their emotional, educational, and physical needs are met. Despite the central role that parents play in their children's lives and in their postdisaster recovery, very little has been written about mothers and fathers--either as individuals or partners--following the storm.
With the understanding that parenting is a gendered endeavor that takes place in a society stratified by race and class, this article focuses on the responses of mothers and fathers to Hurricane Katrina. We begin by reviewing the literature on parenting in nondisaster and disaster contexts. Then we discuss the approach and methods that were used for this research. Next, we explore the various parenting strategies that mothers and fathers assumed, the challenges they faced, the role of supportive advocates who assisted parents, the importance of kin networks, and the ways that the displacement from New Orleans has affected the experiences of families. The article concludes with a discussion of the theoretical implications of this research.
Parental Responsibilities in Non-Disaster and Disaster Contexts: Past Research
Parents provide daily care, emotional nurturance, guidance, discipline, economic support, health promotion, and protection for children. New parents often report that they feel unprepared for the transition to parenthood and overwhelmed by the amount of work that parenting takes (Cowan and Cowan 2000). A number of studies have demonstrated that caring and providing for children is difficult and time-consuming (see Galinsky 1999), and parenting may lead to a loss of identity and independence (Cowan and Cowan 2000) and diminished leisure time (Jacobs and Gerson 2004; Schor 1991). Parenting also has been found to have negative effects on marital satisfaction as parents have little time or energy left for their spouses or partners (Belsky and Rovine 1990), and parenting in blended families is difficult as the stepparent must negotiate and establish a new role with new children (Mason 2003). Gay and lesbian parents face the same parenting challenges, yet with the additional burdens of fewer legal protections and possible discrimination and stigmatization in the larger culture (Chauncey 2004; Stacey 2007). An increasing number of parents face the problem of a lack of affordable, high quality childcare (Clawson and Gerstel 2007; Helburn and Bergmann 2002), and poor parents have additional concerns regarding safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, and good public schools (Edin and Kefalas 2007; Kozol 1991; Newman 1999; Rubin 1994).
Despite some normative shifts, parenting in the United States is still predominantly viewed as the work of women. For married or partnered women, research has found that they do the majority of parenting work, such as feeding, dressing, and bathing infants and young children and doing homework with older children (Hansen 2005; Hochschild 2003; Jacobs and Gerson 2004). For the increasing number of women who head single-parent families, the responsibilities of parenting are often not shared at all. Historically, fathers have had a less active role in the everyday functions of parenting and have had their role defined more by providing economically for their children. Research has found that for various economic and historical reasons, African American children are more likely than other children to be raised by a single mother and see less of their fathers (Collins 2000; Dickerson 1995). Today, research indicates that even though many fathers want to be more involved and emotionally closer to their children than their own fathers, men still define being the financial provider as the most important part of their parental responsibilities (Townsend 2002). These gendered ideologies are reinforced by cultural representations that continue to portray mothers as the primary parents and fathers as part-time, secondary parents (Wall and Arnold 2007). Women also face a culture that subscribes to an "ideology of intensive mothering," setting high expectations for the perfect mother that go far beyond feeding and sheltering and that calls for mothering that is emotionally absorbing and time and labor-intensive (Hays 1996, 9). Overall, in the United States and in most other societies around the world, the expectations--and reality--of everyday and immediate responsibilities of parenting and caring for dependents fall on women.
Likewise, in disasters, research has consistently shown that much of the household responsibility for preparedness actions, evacuation decisions, and sheltering is assumed by mothers (Enarson, Fothergill, and Peek 2006; Enarson and Scanlon 1999; Fothergill 2004). These private sphere responsibilities include taking care of the children during all stages of a disaster (Fothergill 2004; Halvorson 2004). The division of labor at home, particularly regarding caregiving roles and responsibilities, may increase women's predisaster vulnerability and place additional burdens on women during recovery (Ikeda 1995; Rivers 1982).
Indeed, the gendered division of labor may be even more pronounced in disasters, with women cast as nurturers and men as protectors. Alway, Belgrave, and Smith (1998) found that in Hurricane Andrew, gender roles were often suspended during the most acute phases of the crisis and were necessarily adapted to and renegotiated under adverse conditions, yet they proved to be quite resilient, guiding behavior both before and after the storm. The dominant role for women was that of nurturer or comforter--soothing children, taking care of parents, cooking, and playing "hostess" during and after the hurricane were all responsibilities assumed by women. Men, on the other hand, took on the role of protector, as they attempted to get their wives and children out harm's way, shield family members from the storm, guard their homes from suspected looters, and clean up the debris outside the home. Although their focus was not exclusively on parents, the analysis conducted by Alway and colleagues (1998) sheds light on the essential, but different, roles that both mothers and fathers played in Hurricane Andrew. Moreover, their research shows that gendered roles and identities that women and men asserted before and after the disaster were not only shaped by personal interactions but also by institutional arrangements. Specifically, the pressures and expectations of paid employment often pushed fathers in the direction of the provider role (which subsequently meant that, generally speaking, men were not involved in hurricane preparations because they were required to work), while mothers were often pulled into the homemaker role because of the lack of reliable childcare and the fact that their schedules were typically more flexible or their incomes more expendable.
In his work on the Buffalo Creek disaster, Erikson (1976) offers accounts of various things that parents did for their children in the aftermath of the devastating flood. For example, one father had to repeatedly reassure his young son that the family was not going to drown. A mother talked of how she would hold her son and daughter in the middle of the night because they would wake up screaming and crying in fear of another storm. Parents commonly expressed significant concerns about their children's well-being, and they did their best to comfort them.
Psychologists and mental health experts have written guidelines for helping parents and children cope with their reactions to disasters and other traumas (for example, see Figley 1989; Heft 1993; Pynoos and Nader 1988). Familial support is vital in ensuring that children cope effectively with loss and begin the process of postdisaster recovery (Prinstein, et al. 1996). However, in families that have been through a disaster, parents may: (1) be emotionally distraught themselves, and thus find it difficult to fulfill all of their children's needs (Erikson 1976); (2) feel guilty because they are annoyed by their children's postdisaster behavior (Heft 1993); (3) become irritable with their children (McFarlane 1987); or (4) become overprotective, especially when children display excessive fears of separation or sleeping alone (Garmezy and Rutter 1985).
The research evidence is limited regarding how mothers and fathers actually parent during times of disaster, and we know even less about the lived experiences of those heading up single-parent families and how they cope during times of acute crisis. This represents a major gap in our sociological and applied knowledge, given that single-parent families, which are typically headed by women and are usually poorer than other families, are among those most affected by disaster and may be left out of the recovery and relief process altogether (Morrow 1997; Morrow and Enarson 1996). Moreover, while women are more likely to head up single-parent families and are more likely to be poor, women of color are especially vulnerable to poverty and the deleterious impacts of disaster (Enarson and Fordham 2004; Jones-DeWeever and Hartmann 2006).
The field of gender and disaster research has grown considerably over the last two decades (for an overview, see Enarson, et al. 2006). Scholars in developed and developing nations around the world have documented gender differences and inequalities across the disaster cycle. But there is still much to be learned about those who care for children during times of disaster, women and men as parents, and the ways in which being mothers and fathers are central to their disaster experience. This study aims to fill this knowledge gap.
Setting and Methods
Soon after Katrina's landfall on August 29, 2005, we applied for and received funding to study children's experiences in the immediate aftermath of the storm. This initial "quick response" (see Michaels 2003; Stallings 2002) research, which was conducted in Louisiana in October 2005, was exploratory and descriptive in nature. The intent of our early work was to obtain a deeper understanding of children's vulnerability, to gain new insights into the things that parents and other adults did to help reduce children's vulnerability, and to understand things children did for themselves to reduce the disaster impacts (see Fothergill and Peek 2006; Peek and Fothergill 2006). We used the findings from this research to lay the groundwork for a larger and longer-term project on children's postdisaster experiences, family recovery, and the roles of mothers and fathers after the disaster. In addition to the first research trip in October 2005, we traveled to Louisiana in May 2007, February 2008, and April 2008 to conduct follow-up research and to explore additional questions. We relied on three primary fieldwork methods throughout the project: individual in-depth interviews, focus groups, and participant observation.
Over the two-and-a-half year period of this research, we conducted formal and informal interviews with a total of 96 individuals. Most of these individuals have been interviewed multiple times. The sample includes 32 children and 64 adults. The children in our sample range in age from 3 to 18 years and include 22 African American youth (11 boys, 11 girls), 8 white youth (4 boys, 4 girls), and 2 second-generation South Asian American youth (1 boy, 1 girl). The adult sample is composed of 18 mothers (10 African American, 7 white, 1 South Asian American), 8 fathers (4 African American, 3 white, 1 South Asian American), 4 extended family members (2 African American women, 1 white woman, 1 African American man), 19 teachers and school administrators (1) (11 white women, 6 African American women, 2 white men), and 15 professionals--including mental health experts, religious leaders, and shelter coordinators--who worked closely with families and children after the storm (8 white women, 3 African American women, 2 Lebanese American women, 2 white men). In this article, we draw on data gathered from the adults who participated in the study. Through interviewing mothers, fathers, extended family members, and others who worked closely with families after the hurricane, we attempted to learn as much as possible about the implications of gender and parenting practices in the disaster.
We identified and accessed the sample population through a variety of means. Fothergill had family members who used to live in New Orleans, so we drew on these personal contacts for interviews and assistance with navigating the disaster affected region. These contacts and the subsequent snowball sample led us to six schools (including a temporary school established for Katrina evacuees in New Iberia, a public elementary school in Baton Rouge, a private Catholic school in Metairie, a charter school in New Orleans, and two public schools that reopened in 2005 and 2006 in New Orleans). We also relied on professional colleagues in Louisiana who helped us to gain access to a small Baptist church shelter in Baton Rouge, a large mass shelter in Lafayette, the FEMA Welcome Home Center in New Orleans, and a daycare center in Lafayette. In addition, we identified and contacted several schools, individuals, and agencies without the benefit of a personal or professional referral. In these cases, we were often following up on information we had gleaned from interviews or local newspapers. Once in these various settings, we relied on purposive sampling techniques to ensure that we included African American and white …