Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Mother - Adolescent Son Relationship

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posted on 2021-11-08, 07:58 authored by Chrisp, Jillian Anne

Adrienne Rich, feminist, writer, researcher and mother once stated, "if could have one wish for my own sons, it is that they should have the courage of women" (1976,p.214). Current statistics demonstrate that adolescent boys are more likely to be unemployed, to die from suicide or bad health, to have term psychological problems, to contribute in disproportionately large numbers to crime statistics. One of the explanations for this situation that is gaining currency in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA, is that the current generation of boys is fatherless. The 1996 census counted 168,255 one-parent families, accounting for 17.7 percent of all family structures. Of these 83.1 percent, or a total of 139,819 one-parent families, were headed by women. Mothers from intact heterosexual relationships report experiences of ostensibly raising their children on their own. And yet there is silence about the mother, her realities and the integral part she has to play in addressing the highlighted concerns. It appears she is encouraged to withdraw any influence she may have on the adolescent son and actively promote involvement by the father. The research project investigates the mother and adolescent son relationship, the interventions to this relationship and the impact of these interventions on the mother and son. Using feminist participatory action research theory, as distinct from action research, its concerned with the following methodological questions; deconstructing the 'participant-empowerment' agenda; examining the insider/outsider relationship, when the subject-object relationship between researcher and researched that occurs in conventional research is converted into a subject-subject relationship; and negotiating a community and social-change based feminist research that is also located within the academy. The research methods used in the project include a longitudinal focus group, focus group sessions and interviews that were audiotaped and transcribed, semi-structured individual one-off interviews that were audiotaped and transcribed, journaling, drawing interpretation and a review of literature. The findings of this study demonstrate that the mother-adolescent son relationship is disrupted by marginalising and disenfranchising and that these interventions disempower the mother. The research has shown that a major agent in the incapacitation of the mother-headed family is the lack of adequate resources available. The insufficiency of State support for the family intensifies these difficulties. The research has shown that the strength, confidence and enhanced self-esteem of the mother contributes positively to her ability to parent her adolescent son. The participants have also been able to demonstrate that the diversity of family and community structures can provide necessary and positive role models for male children. By combining participatory action research with feminist research principles, the project also provides a transferable example of the ability of these two approaches to inform and enrich each other.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Gender and Women's Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education Studies


Clarke, Margaret; Laurie, Alison