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“She Watches Over Her Household”: Wellbeing of mothers and children in motherled households

Wellbeing is a term used in everyday conversation, and by health professionals, policy writers and analysts, economists and others, to sum up one’s ability to flourish and live a rewarding, fruitful life. Family is deemed a significant source and determinant of wellbeing. Here, people may expect to receive the love, nurturance, and belonging all humans need to thrive, as well as the most basic needs for food, shelter and warmth. The many forms of family in societies such asNew Zealand are of interest to those who posit that the conduct and wellbeing of mothers in families, is central to the flourishing of all within. Some families are believed to hold better promise of wellbeing than others. Families with mothers at the helm, motherled households, are constructed in research and public discourse, and enacted in policy, as sites of social and economic peril. Studies abound in which women and children in motherled households are depicted as suffering social isolation, lacking moral support, and experiencing material poverty. In this study I explore wellbeing in motherled households. My lived experience as nurse specialising in maternal, child and family health, and as a single mother for some time, is pertinent. Using Judi Marshall’s (1999) notion of life lived as the basis for inquiry, I grounded my study in a subjective, storied frame in which I troubled notions of wellbeing in families – notions which I had read in research, enacted in policy and practice, and questioned. Berger and Luckmann (1966) theorised that what is understood as true or real, is a result of socially-fabricated claims to truth; that is, they posit the social construction of reality. I explore the conditions under which truths about families and motherhood are constructed, bolstered by research, enacted in and enacting institutionalised policy. Institutionalised constructions of wellbeing and families constitute narratives writ large in research, policy and everyday conversation. I posit these as an example of the petrified grand narratives brought to my attention in the work of Boje (2008a). I read them now as monolithic, simplified and ultimately limited (and limiting) accounts of our humanity. The generation of living stories and their attendant many-voiced ante-narratives are seen as “bets on the future” (Boje, 2001), stories along the way to narrative. Antenarratives may interrupt or endorse a grand narrative. My thesis is a quest to story a version of those in motherled households which is rich and hopeful. My noticing of contradictions in these grand narratives led me to seek conversations with mothers, and to share their stories in a reconstructed conversation. These mothers understood wellbeing in their motherled household as a deeply entwined and connected process. Women storied wellbeing in unique, individual, and evolving ways. These women valued their families as sites of purpose, wellbeing and intentionality, a version of family and wellbeing not told elsewhere. Storytelling contributes to versions of mothering in which women and children flourish, foregrounding activist hopes for research about families. Reflexive storytelling approaches challenge those concerned with making a difference through research and policy formation, through individual practices and everyday conversation.
Type of thesis
Hunter, R. L. (2017). ‘She Watches Over Her Household’: Wellbeing of mothers and children in motherled households (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11264
University of Waikato
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