Redefining independence: voices of single mothers on welfare about motherhood, marriage, and welfare policy

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Cheng, Wan-Juo
Major Professor
Megan J. Murphy
Committee Member
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Human Development and Family Studies

The dependency discourse has become a prominent concern in discussions of welfare policies in the United States. To address the cultural fear of dependence on welfare, the 1996 welfare reform greatly emphasized work and marriage promotion. Poor single mothers on welfare were mandated to move into the workforce under a cultural belief held by the Administration that work leads to independence. Feminists suggest that independence upheld by welfare reform is discussed from a middle-class, patriarchal perspective with an emphasis on financial self-sufficiency, which largely overlooks issues of gender and social class intertwined with poverty. Additionally, marriage promotion is deemed by feminists to discourage poor single mothers on welfare from pursuing independence. Moreover, voices of single mothers have been marginalized from discussions of in/dependence in the context of welfare. This qualitative study, informed by feminist standpoint theory, aimed to give voice to single mothers on welfare with a focus on redefining independence generating from their experiences and struggles with motherhood, marriage/relationship, and welfare policy through multiple in-depth interviews. The research participants indicated that commitment to and responsibility for the children's best interests enabled them to stay strong in tough circumstances, and make choices within an environment where resources were limited. Welfare was seen by the participants as one resource to help them on the path toward independence. They articulated two dimensions of independence---financial and psychological---and viewed financial independence as a path to achieve psychological independence. Marriage was not considered by the mothers until they achieved both financial and psychological independence. Marriage promotion was strongly criticized by the participants because it left poor single mothers in a dependency state from welfare to men. Access to education was suggested to taken the place of marriage promotion by the research participants. Findings challenge the dominant discourse of dependency and have implications for professionals who work with mothers who receive welfare.

Mon Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2007