Through a partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), two Butler University professors are helping mothers stay informed.
Eileen Taylor, an Instructor in Communication and Media Studies, first started working with Associate Professor of Sociology Krista Cline about five years ago. After meeting at a Brown Bag Series event where Cline presented her research on the unattainable expectations mothers often face, the two women—one from the College of Communication and the other from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences—saw a chance to combine their expertise on a shared project.
Their initial research included a survey of the moms of high school student athletes within the state of Indiana, with the goal of understanding moms’ perspectives of their children’s participation in extracurricular activities. Now, a $361,007, ten-year longitudinal grant from Indianapolis-based membership organization NFHS will allow them to expand that research nationwide.
Cline, who has studied various kinds of role strain, says even mothers with full-time jobs usually cover most responsibilities at home. When a child is involved in activities outside the classroom, that can add even more strain.
“As I became a parent myself,” Cline says, “I started to recognize that the literature out there that says, ‘We put all these expectations onto moms, especially working moms,’ is true. We expect them to give 100 percent at home, and we expect them to give 100 percent at work, and those two worlds can’t merge.”
The original research, which Cline and Taylor plan to publish soon, focused on the roles mothers usually serve in high school athletics and how mothers felt about themselves as a result of that involvement. Also, did moms believe participation in athletics benefited their children?
Yes, according to responses from nearly 450 mothers across the state. And beyond just the competencies and education these activities create for students (such as team-building or problem-solving), most mothers loved the chance to get involved and watch their children grow. That’s called role enhancement: when mom’s felt like they were doing something good for their kids by getting them involved in sports.
Other moms, however, felt a sense of role strain. These parents felt like their kids’ extracurricular participation created too much to balance, especially when it came to time and finances. They often felt unsupported and uninformed. That’s where Taylor and Cline’s new research is expected to come in.
By learning more about the experience of mothers, this study will provide insight on how to better communicate with and support them. Why do some moms of high school athletes feel role strain? What information do they need? How can NFHS, which works to develop and standardize high school sports and performing arts organizations across the country, collaborate with mothers to provide more support for whole families?
On July 23, leaders and students from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) gathered on Butler University’s campus to celebrate the organization’s partnership with professors Eileen Taylor and Krista Cline. They signed a $361,007-grant, which will fund a national study of mothers’ experiences regarding their high school students’ participation in extracurricular activities.
Throughout the study, the researchers will follow the perspectives of mothers from the start of their student-athletes’ freshman year though the end of their first 90 days in the workforce following high school or college.
Drawing on Taylor and Cline’s research over the next 10 years, NFHS members plan to develop a better system for communicating with mothers, who they hope will become a point of messaging for the NFHS within every household. The organization will also use the research as evidence of the benefits of participation in high school extracurricular activities, and they hope to go through mothers to educate student athletes about the reasoning behind rules and academic requirements. This should help improve relationships between parents and athletic officials, as well as make sure families have all the necessary information to make informed decisions about their students’ futures.
For example, when Taylor’s first child played football in high school, she didn’t find out until the end of his last season that athletic scholarships for college have academic eligibility requirements. While most mothers in the initial research did know about these requirements, Taylor says many didn’t understand quite how competitive those athletic scholarships are. She hopes the system this research helps create will help mothers make more informed decisions when encouraging their kids to play sports, spreading the understanding that while athletic scholarships might be tough to get, sports teach valuable skills that students will take into college and beyond.
Taylor explained that the focus on mothers came from the idea that, when it comes to high school athletics, fathers are often involved in more obvious ways. Moms, on the other hand, tend to be part of a “silent organization” that’s involved in more nuanced ways: transportation, food preparation, laundry, and so on.
“Mothers are kind of the biggest pieces of their children’s extracurricular athletic lives in high school,” Cline says. “Oftentimes, they’re the ones getting their kids to practices and games. They’re the ones putting the money in for their kids to participate. But they are often overlooked.”
Based on the idea that moms tend to be the closest and most consistent messengers to students, Taylor and Cline want to help make sure athletic officials include moms in more intentional, valuable ways.
“It’s research of moms, by moms, with diversity of perspective,” Taylor says.
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