Mothering beyond motherhood
: A narrative study on how childfree women construe mothering and their role in the lives of children

  • Talitha Koopmans

Student thesis: Master's Thesis: Care Ethics


Throughout the past few decades, there has been a noticeable increase in people who choose to remain without children. One area of childfree studies is the stigma that comes with this choice. Society tends to perceive childfree people as broken, selfish and uncaring. Especially childfree women are judged because they defy the idea that all women should be(come) mothers. One public opinion that triggered this study is that the childfree must dislike children. This ignores the fact that childfree women can play an important part in the care of children and even could be mothering. Specifically early care ethicists have thought a lot about mothering, but up till now, there has been no research on childfree women and the possibility that they mother. The purpose of this thesis is to challenge the stigma of childfree women as cold, selfish and uncaring towards children, and to reconsider the practice of mothering within care ethics by applying the insight of childfree women and queer theory.
This study uses narrative inquiry to look at the way childfree women construe mothering in their own life. This consists of both a theoretical and empirical component. The theoretical component uses insights from care ethics and queer theory that reveal mothering to be a collective, public and relational practice. The empirical component consists of semi-structured interviews with six childfree women from Europe or North America. Six narratives emerge from the empirical data that lead to several insights. One conclusion is that while participants perceive themselves to meet certain demands that make up the practice of mothering, they do this in unique ways and do not always call this mothering. Another insight is that mothering happens within nested dependencies, where parents rely on the support of others to be able to care for their children or even have their children be cared for by others. This mothering with multiple mothering figures in a complex web of relations creates a unique demand: attunement. Mothering figures will have to attune to each other’s values in raising a child, while simultaneously they have to do justice to their own specific values.
Three recommendations for future research arise from this. One recommendation is to study the way mothering figures maintain relationships with other mothering figures. Another recommendation is to look at what childrearing tasks mothers want to delegate to other mothering figures and which ones they want to solely do themselves. The last recommendation is to study what terms childfree people would use to describe the way they care for their children, whether that is mothering, care or something else.
Date of Award3 Jul 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorA. A. M. (Inge) van Nistelrooij (Supervisor) & Rodante A. B. van der Waal (Supervisor)

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