Who am I? : Mothers’ shifting identities and sensemaking after workplace exit, Human Relations

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We analyse mothers’ retrospective accounts of their transition from professional worker to stay-at-home mother using a framework that integrates sensemaking and border theory. The data come from in-depth interviews with former professional and managerial women in London. Continuing struggles to reconcile professional and maternal identities before and after workplace exit illustrate how identity change is integral to workplace exit. The concept of ‘choice’, which takes place at one point in time, obfuscates this drawn-out process. Mothers pay a high cost in lost professional identities, especially in the initial stages after workplace exit. They cope with this loss and the disjuncture of leaving employment by moving back and forth across the border between home and work – a classic action of sensemaking. Subsequent communal sensemaking and community action bolster mothers’ fragile status at home, eventually leading to reconciliation of their loss and finally enabling them to view their exit ‘choice’ as right.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1415-1436
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number9
Early online date16 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015


  • border theory , opting out , professional women , stay-at-home mothers , work and family , work–life balance