Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt

Panel: “Social Consequences of Women’s Work Migrations”

October 3


From Euro-Migrants to Euro-Orphans: Migrant Women and the denial of Good Motherhood

My lecture is concerned with the public debates in many Eastern European sending countries entailing moral outrage about migrant parents who leave their children behind. These children are referred to in a variety of ways depending on the country of origin, such as ‘children left behind’, ‘home alone children’, ‘abandoned children’ (Romania), ‘social orphans’ (Ukraine) or ‘Euro-orphans’ (Poland), and ‘white orphans’ (Moldavia). The topic is hotly debated in most of the sending countries, but can also be found in international newspapers.

I first present a comprehensive media analysis of 875 Polish and Ukrainian newspaper articles published between 1997 and 2008, in order to show radical changes in the selective perception of Polish and Ukrainian citizens’ migration to the West and South of Europe. This content analysis includes the timespan from the initial period just after the system transition took place when migrants were praised as modernizers and investors in the national economies (Euro-migrants), to ten years after, when the focus changed radically to a presentation of migration as a process that generates disturbing effects for the sending countries. Mothers were especially blamed for their ‘irresponsibility’, and were eventually accused of bad motherhood performance.  

I conclude the analysis by arguing that these discourses mark decisive shifts which have pushed and served to articulate for an international standardization of good mothering in the global debate about motherhood/parenthood which is not only about emphasizing a nuclear family model, but more specifically about the need for physical closeness between mother and child as a psychological and social necessity for children’s wellbeing.

I consider the analysis of the orphan debate a litmus test for care migration in Europe. I show that next to gender, class, and nationality a universalized form of ‘good motherhood behavior’ or likewise the deviance of it becomes an important component of the ‘othering’ of migrant mothers.