Distance Parenting the focus of PhD research

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Dr Boitumelo Seepamore
Dr Boitumelo Seepamore

‘The separation of children from their parents is widespread in South Africa, more so in Black families where a majority of parents have historically lived far from their children,’ explained Seepamore.

Her study was designed to understand how men and women parented their children whom they did not live with. She was interested in how they negotiated parenting from a distance, and what implications this had for themselves, their children and caregivers. The study also aimed at understanding the meanings attached to parenthood against dominant constructions of motherhood and fatherhood.

Despite distance parenting being widespread and normalised in many rural communities, the findings indicated that parents wanted to live with their children and raise them.

‘The few men who participated supported my initial assumption that men and women parent differently. While women were more nurturing and emotionally close to their children, men tended to construct responsible parenting in monetary terms,’ said Seepamore. ‘Mothers depended on other mothers in the community to care for their children, and despite distance, these mothers reconstructed mothering practices to suit their reality. Distance did not necessarily affect fatherhood which was defined along dominant hegemonic masculinities, but put pressure on men to be providers even when they were employed in the low income sector of domestic work.’

Her study also showed the resourcefulness of domestic workers, and how they developed social protection systems for themselves, and their children and families. Her research also showed the agency of domestic workers, and that power between domestic workers and their employers is not unilateral, nor one directional as is always thought; workers are able to assert themselves, and meet their needs even in this ultra-exploitative and oppressive employment sector.

‘Graduating with a PhD has undoubtedly been my greatest achievement so far, and a dream fulfilled. The PhD has made me realise how privileged I am as I had so much support from the University, my family and other mothers who cared for my children while I was studying. Without my supervisor Profesor Vishanthie Sewpaul, the NIHSS scholarship and the NRF grant this would not have been possible, I am grateful and will not forget your generosity,’ she said.

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