2013 Summer Scholarship Project

The Non-Voluntary Loss of Post-Separation Maternal Time


Project Supervisor

Vivienne Elizabeth

Project Description

Experiences of post-separation family transitions are becoming increasingly commonplace and, in some instances, are fraught with power-laden tensions and emotions. In the last ten to twenty years, the post World War 2 convention of mother sole custody and care of children has given way to ostensibly gender-neutral notions of joint custody and joint care, as greater emphasis is placed on fathers’ ongoing involvement with children post-separation, and mothers and fathers are increasingly seen as interchangeable parents.
The contemporary socio-legal context thus paves the way for mothers, even full time stay-at-home mothers, to lose significant amounts of care time with their children, and even to find themselves in the role of contact or non-resident parent. The post-separation loss of significant amounts of maternal care time is at odds with a number of dimensions of contemporary family life. First, most intact heterosexual families exhibit a strong gendered division of labour, which sees mothers taking on the primary parenting role while fathers continue to be primarily oriented to paid work and breadwinning. Second, good motherhood is culturally defined in terms of an intimate physical and psychological bond with children, a bond that is heavily reliant on the co-presence of mothers and children for its creation and maintenance. Third, and relatedly, the physical and psychological wellbeing of children, especially young children, is culturally linked to the caring and protective work undertaken by mothers.
However, very little is known about the circumstances and experiences of mothers who lose significant amounts of care time with their children following parental separation. Under what circumstances do mothers lose significant amounts of care-time with their children? What role do fathers play in this process? What effect does this loss of care-time have on mothers’ parenting practices, their relationship to their children, and their self-identities and overall well-being? What strategies do these mothers adopt to withstand the negative repercussions of the loss of care-time for their children, for themselves, and for their wider kin group?
This project will take the form of a preliminary examination of these questions through a small number of semi-structured interviews with mothers who have lost significant amounts of care-time with their children. The study by will be informed by contemporary discussions about the transformation of family life and relationships in late-modernity.

Work Expected of the Scholar

This project builds on previous work undertaken by Vivienne Elizabeth, Julia Tolmie and Nicola Gavey on mothers’ experiences of custody disputes. The summer scholar will be expected to prepare an updated literature review, with a particular focus on mothers who have become contact or non-resident parents. They will also assist with key data-gathering processes: interviewing mothers (either jointly with me or by themselves), transcribing the interviews and undertaking initial thematic analysis of the interviews. During these data-gathering processes, the student will be encouraged to discuss and reflect on their observations and understandings of the field.

Skills Desired

Students who apply for this Summer Scholarship should have taken courses in the social sciences that focus on gender and/or family life. Students should know how to find and locate academic literature through library-based searches. Preferably, students will have had some exposure to qualitative research methods, either through research methods courses or through their own independent research. An interest in research on domestic violence would be an advantage. On a personal level, the ideal student for this project will have good listening skills and be highly empathetic.

Benefits to the Scholar

Because the Summer Scholar will be joining the project during its early phases, they will develop a number of key insights into the research process and gain a number of specific benefits from their participation:
•They will hone their literature searching and analytical skills;
•They will learn how to conduct semi-structured interviews in a thoughtful and empathetic manner;
•They will develop skills in transcribing interviews;
•They will learn how to identify key themes within interviews and to inductively build a coding schema;
•They will also learn how to turn key themes from the interviews into a conference paper or journal article

Applications are currently closed

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