Conflicting roles of mother and academic? Exploring the use of arts-based self-care activities to encourage wellbeing

  • Anna CohenMiller Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education
  • Denise Demers University of Central Arkansas, Health Sciences
Keywords: arts-based research, self-care, motherscholar, wellbeing, role conflict, online research


Mothers in academia (“motherscholars”), whether faculty or doctoral students, are confronted by structures and policies often impeding promotion and movement through the academic pipeline. While research has examined these struggles, such as our own research over the last few years, this study addresses these issues from a new perspective — wellbeing. Using an arts-based participatory study, this article discusses how six motherscholars (including the authors) living in the US, Kazakhstan, and New Zealand sought to alleviate their conflicting roles of mother and academic through sharing online practices and struggles through self-care activities. Findings demonstrated how collaborative encouragement, and even pressure, to focus on self-care appeared to support participants’ daily lives in and out of academia as participants became aware of themselves as individuals, beyond being a mother or an academic. Implications suggest the importance of informal support networks (especially when formal structures do not exist) for motherscholars to reduce role conflict by encouraging wellbeing through self-care.

Author Biographies

Anna CohenMiller, Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education

Dr. Anna CohenMiller is an arts-based qualitative methodologist who integrates research and teaching to create community initiatives addressing issues of equity and access in higher education. She is an Assistant Professor at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education, Co-Founding Director of The Consortium of Gender Scholars (Kazakhstan), and Founder of The Motherscholar Project. Dr. CohenMiller’s forthcoming book highlights critical self-reflection for qualitative research in multicultural contexts (Routledge, 2020). 

Denise Demers, University of Central Arkansas, Health Sciences

Dr. Denise Demers is an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Arkansas where she teaches in the Health Sciences Department. She has devoted the last 10 years to studying mother-students and motherscholars, focusing on personal mental health aspects such as self-care and role conflict. She also does research about institutional infrastructures that will most benefit this population.


Author 1, 2014

Author 2, forthcoming

Author 1, 2016

Authors 1 and 2, 2017

Author 2, 2014

Anheyer, D., Haller, H., Barth, J., Lauche, R., Dobos, G., & Cramer, H. (2017).

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Treating Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals Of Internal Medicine, 166(11), 799-807. doi:10.7326/M16-1997

Bianchi, S. M. (2011). Changing families, changing workplaces. The Future of Children, 21(2), 15-36.

Blackburn, H., & Chamley, C. (2016). Color Me Calm: Adult Coloring and the University Library. Kansas Library Association College & University Libraries Section Proceedings, 6(1), 1-11.

Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005) The Sage handbook of qualitative research(3rded.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Evans, E. & Grant, C. (2008). Mama PhD: Women write about motherhood and academic life. Piscataway: Rutgers University Press.

Felleman, B. I., Stewart, D. G., Simpson, T. L., Heppner, P. S., & Kearney, D. J. (2016). Predictors of depression and PTSD treatment response among veterans participating in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Mindfulness,7(4), 886-895. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0527-7

Goode, W. (1960). A theory of role strain. American Sociological Review, 25(4), 483-496.

Haywood Rolling Jr, J. (2013). Arts-based research primer. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Hertz, R. M., Laurent, H. K., & Laurent, S. M. (2015). Attachment mediates effects of trait mindfulness on stress responses to conflict. Mindfulness, 6(3), 483-489. Doi: 10.1007/s1267-014-0281-7

Hochschild, Arlie. (1989). The second shift. London: Pearson.

Iida, M., & Shapiro, A. F. (2017). The role of mindfulness in daily relationship process: Examining daily conflicts and relationship mood. Mindfulness, doi: 10.1007/s1267-017-0727-9

Knowles, J. H., Manusov, V., & Crowley, J. (2015). Minding your matters: Predicting satisfaction, commitment, and conflict strategies from trait mindfulness. Interpersona, 9(1), 44-58.

Lapayese, Y. V. (2012). Mother-Scholar: (Re)imagining K-12 education. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Lave, J., & Wenger, Etienne C. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Leavy, P. (2017). Research design: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods, arts-based, and community-based participatory research approaches. New York: Gilford Press.

Leavy, P.. (2015). Method meets art: Arts-based research practice(2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Loewenstein, G., Price, J., & Volpp, K. (2016). Habit formation in children: Evidence from incentives for healthy eating. Journal of Health Economics, 45, 47-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2015.11.004

Mason, M. A., Wolfinger, N. H., & Goulden, M. (2013). Do babies matter?: Gender and family in the Ivory Tower. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Matias, C. E. (2011). Paying It Forward: Mother Scholars Navigating the Academic Terrain.Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA), New Orleans, LA. AERA Division G Highlighted Panel.

Pain, R. & Francis, P. (2003). Reflections on Participatory Research. Area 35(1), pp 46-54. doi: 10.1111/1475-4762.00109

Pell, A. N. (1996, November). Fixing the leaky pipeline: Women scientists in academia. Trails to Success for Women in Animal and Dairy Sciences: Mentoring as a Stimulus for Success. Symposium conducted at the Joint ADSA-ASAS Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Rich, A. (1995, 1976). Of woman born: Motherhood as experience and institution. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Rosser, S. V. (2004). The science glass ceiling: Academic women scientists and the struggle to succeed. Routledge: New York.

Sallee, M., Ward, K., & Wolf-Wendel, L. (2015). Can anyone have it all? Gendered views on parenting and academic careers. Innovative Higher Education, 1-16. doi: 10.1007/s10755-015-9345-4

Strickland, O. (2000, January). Helping women take charge of their health: What we have learned from research.Paper presented at the Congress of the International Council on Women’s Health Issues, San Francisco, CA.

Vaccaro, A., & Lovell, C. D. (2010). Inspiration from home: Understanding family as a key to adult women’s self-investment. Adult Education Quarterly, 60(2), 161-176. doi:10.1177/0741713609336111

Vinothkumar, M., Arathi, A., Joseph, M., Nayana, P., Jishma, E. J. & Sahana, U. (2016). Coping, perceived stress, and job satisfaction among medical interns: The mediating effect of mindfulness. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 25(2), 195-201. doi:10.4103/ipj.ipj_98_14

Ward, K. & Wolf-Wendel, L. E. (2017). Mothering and Professing: Critical Choices and the Academic Career. NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 10(3), 1-16. doi: 10.1080/19407882.2017.1351995

Ward, K. & Wolf-Wendel, L. E. (2012). Academic motherhood: How faculty manage work and family. Chapel Hill, NC: Rutgers University Press.

Wenger, E. C., & Wenger-Traynor, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice. Retrieved, October 12, 2017, from

How to Cite
CohenMillerA., & DemersD. (2019). Conflicting roles of mother and academic? Exploring the use of arts-based self-care activities to encourage wellbeing. Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal, 4(2), 611-645.