Since the mid-1990s, welfare states have introduced various ‘activation’ policies designed to promote employment. Most typologies distinguish between a Nordic-style ‘train-first’ approach focused on developing jobseekers’ employability and an Anglo-Saxon ‘work-first’ approach that instead emphasises quick job (re-)entry. These typologies tell us what activation means for the unemployed (male) worker. However, by ignoring the family, they overlook what activation means for the (female) parent-worker with childcare responsibilities. To contribute to filling this gap, this article uses fuzzy-set ideal-type analysis to compare 22 countries representing five ‘worlds’ of welfare by how (de-)activating their labour market policies, parental leave provisions, childcare services and the scheduling of primary education are for lone mothers. It reveals that cross-national variations in support for maternal activation are not well captured by the Nordic-style ‘train-first’/Anglo-Saxon ‘work-first’ dichotomy. Hence, despite the greater attention to gender and ‘new social risks’ within comparative social policy scholarship in recent years, the activation literature remains gender-blind.