What does it mean to be a non-resident mother? : a psychosocial narrative approach
Over the last few years researchers have paid increasing attention to the experiences of
parents and children of post-divorce family transitions. This body of work has largely
focused on the 'traditional' arrangement of resident mothers and non-resident fathers
and to date there has been little research on non-residential motherhood in the U. K. This
study addresses this gap in the research literature by examining post-divorce parenting
from the perspective of non-resident mothers.
The research design employs a narrative approach to explore the subjective
perspectives and experiences of a sample of twenty non-resident mothers. Data
collection is based on unstructured interviews where each respondent was simply asked
to tell the story of their life as a non resident mother: how they came to be living apart
from their children and what this experience has been like for them.
Analysis considers the characteristics of women's described experiences of non-resident
motherhood and how they explained and evaluated their situations. Findings highlight
the ways in which gendered societal and internalised expectations about mothering
impact upon women's interpretations and understanding. Notably, all respondents
employed child welfare discourse and used their narrative accounts to defend against a
'bad' mother label by providing a legitimising account of how and why their particular
arrangement came into being.
Analysis also reveals significant differences in the narratives delivered by those who
entered non-resident motherhood voluntarily and those who 'lost' residence to fathers
against their will. Distinct patterns emerged regarding women's perspectives on
motherhood, their representations of child welfare needs and evaluations of father
residence according to the degree of choice and control they felt they had over child
residency and contact. Women who elected to be the non-resident parent delivered the
most positive evaluations of their experience whilst those who lost residence to fathers
against their will were consistently negative in the attitudes they expressed. Once set,
these narratives appear 'fixed' and seem act as a supporting framework enabling these
women to maintain a positive maternal identity.
The thesis concludes by discussing the implications of highlighting the gender specifics
of non-residential parenting in family policy and legislation and the ways in which
narrative interventions might be usefully applied in situations of parental conflict and
contact disputes post-divorce