Date of Award

1-1-2008

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology

School

School of Psychology and Social Science

Faculty

Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Moira O'Connor

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Margaret Sims

Abstract

Using a qualitative approach, utilising a semi-structured narrative interviewing technique, I interviewed 21 participants through one-on-one interviews and focus groups to examine how participants experience parenting and playgroup. The good mother syndrome refers to the social, historical and cultural determination of how mothers are supposed to act. It defines what a good mother is supposed to be, subject to political, cultural and economic influences. Further, the good mother syndrome is inextricably linked to challenges to identity, support in the mothering role, and expectations of motherhood. Playgroups are communities of women bounded by internal and external demands, where they support each other via a vehicle that encompasses their children. Playgroups, as part of holistic family services, are important in building social capital. This study asked several questions. Firstly, it investigated the mothering experience in Western Australia in the 21st century. Secondly, this study asked whether the challenge to identity is more salient to first time mothers, and how this is affected by the good mother syndrome. Next, it asked why families attend playgroup, from a mother's perspective. Further, it asked whether mothers are faced with the good mother syndrome at playgroup, and investigated the role that playgroup plays in strengthening or challenging the good mother syndrome. I conducted 11 one-on-one interviews with mothers that attended playgroup in the Perth metropolitan area, and two focus groups, each with five participants, at two different Perth playgroups. This study found that women find the role as mothers a challenging, yet positive experience. Further, it found that challenges to identity were salient with the birth of he first child, and that these challenges were consolidated with the birth of subsequent children, only easing as the youngest child got older. The women in this study reported that they attend playgroup to develop a sense of belonging, to seek validation in the mothering experience and to claim and exercise expertise. Further, whether the good mother syndrome was challenged or strengthened by playgroup amongst these women depended on group dynamics within the playgroup session, the stage of parenting, and socioeconomic factors. Generally speaking, women can identify what is a 'good' mother and what is a 'bad' mother, but they do not understand the 'good mother syndrome' as an abstract concept. Playgroup, as a community-based Australia-wide program, needs to be recognised as an important contributor to the well-being of families with young children, and, as such, requires ongoing government support.

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