Adjusting and redefining priorities: a grounded theory of everyday parental management in families with young children

Carbines, Maria
Dickinson, Annette
McKenzie-Green, Barbara
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

“The family” is an institution acknowledged around the world as being the setting where children are born and raised. In Western countries the transition to parenthood and the first three years of a child’s life have been identified as critical periods within the lifespan. The contemporary environment in which New Zealand families are raising young children differs from that of past generations. Although much is known about developmental norms and the diagnosis and treatment of physical and emotional problems in families, little is known about how families manage their responsibilities on an everyday basis. This social constructivist grounded theory study (Charmaz, 2006) explored that topic.

Twenty-four parents in Auckland were interviewed about their day-to-day management in families where the eldest child was no more than 3 years old. Constant comparative analysis was used to construct a substantive theory to explain how parents cared for themselves and their young children. A trajectory was conceptualised to demonstrate the moves and shifts participants experienced over time while Adjusting and Redefining Priorities - the core process constructed in this study to encompass the strategies used by parents.

Four parental perspectives were identified which parents moved between as they responded to the conditions arising both daily and intermittently within their families. The personal self, parental self, parental unit self, and family unit self were standpoints from which parents interpreted and interacted with the world. Redefining Self, Doing the Right Thing, Working as a Team and Shaping the Family were identified as dimensions of the core process that encapsulate the strategies parents used as they worked towards their purpose of Building Family.

Over time, the focus of parents’ strategies shifted between a “Preparing” phase, where structures and processes were being set up, and a “Refining” phase, where structures and processes were being fine-tuned to meet the needs of each family’s unique circumstances and priorities. The theory of Adjusting and Redefining Priorities contributes to existing knowledge about families with young children by conceptualising a framework for considering how parents manage their families on a daily basis.

Families , Young children , Priorities , Grounded theory , Dimensional analysis , Trajectory
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