Domestic Violence and Motherhood: A Shelter Study

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Much is known about intimate partner violence causes and consequences for both men and women involved; however, a less developed yet clearly relevant area is how motherhood is shaped by domestic violence. This study was crafted in response to a request from the director of a local domestic violence shelter seeking greater insights on how their clients perceive of and experience motherhood. In-depth interviews with twenty women with children were conducted at the shelter. Our findings indicate that mothering motivates these women to escape domestic violence, to keep living, and is the sole positive aspect of their current lives. Children are a source of pride and an opportunity to experience mutual, unconditional love—something most respondents have never otherwise experienced. This mother-child relationship seems to function as a surrogate for intimate partnership. Many respondents reported intentions to stay single, as all the men in their lives—fathers, relatives, and partners—eventually became abusive. On the other hand, a significant portion of the women also expressed a desire to have more children. These women, who lack control in their intimate relationships (as evidenced by reports of experiencing force in many ways, including having sex, not using protection, getting pregnant, and not considering abortion), report their primary weakness as mothers as lacking the ability to discipline their children. The findings of this study reveal important insights regarding the effects of domestic abuse on women’s orientation toward mothering, including self-reflections on the positives and negatives associated with the mothering experience.


Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, NV, Aug 20, 2011.