Exploring the social psychological processes of lone fatherhood after separation or divorce : a constructive grounded theory approach

Hovris, Anna (2019) Exploring the social psychological processes of lone fatherhood after separation or divorce : a constructive grounded theory approach. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


Background: A significant change in family structure in the United Kingdom (UK) has been the increase in lone parent families. It is strongly predicted that the population of lone fatherheaded families will continue to grow in the UK. Of all dependent children living in lone parent families in Britain, 8% currently live in a lone father household. However, research on lone fathers remains scarce. Indeed, there is limited research that recognises the wide diversity of fatherhood, including the specific needs different fathers might have. Research findings suggest that lone fathers often face difficulties that are linked to structural and personal factors. They also emphasise how gender stereotypes further influence their experiences. Nonetheless, research has shown that lone fathers are able to plan a healthy developmental and functional environment for themselves and their children. This challenges the notion that men are emotionally detached and the exclusive importance of mothers as salient carers for children, a concept that is deeply embedded within psychoanalytic theory.

Rationale and aims: There is very little known about the psychological well-being of lone fathers in the UK. Yet, studies have found higher rates of distress in lone fathers as a result of separation or divorce when compared with married fathers, widowers and the general population. Studies have suggested that lone father families as a result of separation or divorce are not a homogeneous group. For instance, those fathers who insisted on or fought for the custody of their children must be distinguished from those who, differently, had no adjustment period in taking over the care of children. Indeed, it has been argued that a parent’s initial attitude and feelings about his child might be influenced by whether or not he wanted sole responsibility. Earlier research findings have suggested that lone fathers feel unhappy and depressed at the point of separation and are of vulnerable mind and susceptible to forms of depressive mental illnesses, enough to impede their ability to acknowledge that they need help, to know where to ask for it, and then, to ask for help . Although there is a very small body of research exploring lone fatherhood after separation or divorce in the UK, this is not necessarily a disadvantage as it may place the field of counselling psychology in a more qualified and unique position to explore the experiences of lone fathers from a fresh perspective. The current study, therefore, focuses specifically at men raising children alone after divorce or separation in a UK context. The study aims to elicit a better understanding of this specific group of fathers. This study aims to explore how men understand their experience of becoming lone fathers after separation or divorce, the challenges that they might face and how they might work through them. The current study also intends to address how they understand the relationship with their children.

Method: This current enquiry is a qualitative study and uses a constructivist grounded theory method to generate data examining social psychological processes involved.

Results: The results highlight that the transition to lone fatherhood occurs from a variety of positions and in different ways that seem to influence the emotional, practical and social experiences of participants. Nonetheless, the men in this study demonstrate a propensity to self-realise and self- transform.

Discussion: The participants of this study understand their experiences as a lone father in terms of; first, the complexities that they faced; second, how they managed their lone fatherhood experience; and last, through re-inscribing fatherhood, whilst simultaneously reflecting on gender and masculinities, all of which were influenced by the situational context that preceded lone fatherhood, as well as the relationship with their children. Findings are discussed in relation to these influential contexts, with an exploration of what they mean in light of existing theory and research. The men in this study not only appear to be changing traditional social and cultural norms for fathers but, they further challenge the prevalence of the heterosexual matrix that characterises the oedipal triad. The implications for theory and practice are outlined, emphasising how counselling psychologists could make a difference.

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