Surveillance of Modern Motherhood: An exploration of the experiences of mothers that have attended a Universal Parenting Course

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsConference Presentation

Description

This research explores the experiences of mothers of children aged 0-3 years that have attended universal parenting courses. The aim of the research was to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that motivate mothers to attend a universal parenting course and to explore the wider experiences of early modern motherhood in the UK. In order to develop this understanding, the research explored participant perceptions of any benefit or otherwise in attending a parenting course and also considered the different forms of parenting advice accessed by mothers and how this provides an insight into the wider constructs and experiences of modern motherhood. Ultimately, the goal of this research was to consider the social and cultural pressures within modern motherhood in relation to different levels of surveillance (Henderson et al., 2010) and to produce new knowledge for practice within the early years sector and beyond in relation to the support currently offered to new mothers.

A feminist post-structuralist worldview was taken to explore the dominant discourses within modern motherhood. This approach provided a ‘productive contradiction’ (Baxter, 2003, p. 2) whereby multiple experiences could be considered, particularly in relation to feelings of oppression, empowerment and being ‘good enough’ (Winnicott, 1964) within modern motherhood. A qualitative methodology was developed with the first phase being a survey with a range of questions designed to generate insight into the experiences of mothers (30 participants), followed by qualitative interviews with a sample of mothers using semi-structured photo elicitation interviews (7 participants).

Findings revealed that universal parenting courses can provide opportunities for new mothers to build daily structure, social networks and reduce feelings of isolation. Some negative experiences of parenting courses were reported when health professionals and early years practitioners were considered ‘pushy’ or ‘non neutral’ – particularly regarding sensitive areas such as breastfeeding or the reaching of developmental milestones. Participants demonstrated that there is a perceived place in society for parenting courses when they are practical, supportive and neutral rather than formulaic, homogenous or grounded in psychoanalytical or neurodevelopmental underpinnings, which can promote feelings of judgement or added pressure. Findings also link to the wider ‘parenting culture’ (Furedi, 2008; Lee et al., 2014) with societal pressures, motherhood ideologies, comparisons between mothers and other aspects of interpersonal surveillance including social media and celebrity culture all adding to the challenge of retaining an identity and of finding confidence and agency within the role.

Overall, self-surveillance is identified as the most powerful aspect of modern motherhood with challenges relating to a reluctance to discuss ‘taboo’ aspects of motherhood including difficulty with attachment following birth and the internalisation of social and cultural pressures. It was important to note that, although there are clear levels of surveillance that are embedded into society which resulted in evidence of self-doubt and dependency, there was also evidence of agency and autonomy in the responses to these levels which were developed through strong social networks and support systems.

Following on from this research; proactive, empathetic, practical and localised support from health professionals and early years practitioners is needed along with empowering opportunities for new mothers to develop confidence in an informal environment and foster truthful, non-judgmental interpersonal support networks. It is through these support systems that new mothers will continue to be able to resist or reshape the dominant discourses and ultimately, enjoy the experience to its full potential.
Period5 Sep 2019
Event titleBorn Yesterday: cross disciplinary investigations into birth, midwifery and childhood
Event typeConference
LocationNottingham, United KingdomShow on map

Keywords

  • Motherhood
  • Surveillance
  • Parenting courses