Making sense of sustained part-time working through stories of mothering and paid work

  • Fiona Macgill

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The overall aim of the research was to understand the potential impact of sustained part-time working on women’s identities with regards to motherhood and work. Despite an implicit assumption in public discourse, policy and research that mothers will resume full-time careers once their children are ‘older’, half of working mothers with their youngest child at secondary school are working part-time (ONS, Q3, 2011). Often in the literature ‘good’ part-time working has been framed as short-term (see for example Tilly, 1996). The part-time ‘hidden brain drain’ (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2005) has been described as a waste of education and skills (Connolly and Gregory, 2010) and contributing to gender inequality (Walby, 2007). This PhD explored the life stories of twenty university educated, partnered mothers of older children (youngest at secondary school), who had mostly worked part-time since becoming mothers. Dialogic narrative analysis (Frank, 2010) was used to explore how these women made sense of where they had ended up through their story telling. A key finding is that for these women ‘becoming’ a part-time working mother was neither an informed ‘choice’, nor a fixed orientation, but was an ongoing process of negotiation, within a matrix of inter-related, constantly shifting and interacting tensions. Compromises to their jobs often became more extensive than expected and a continuing need to ‘be there’ for teenagers was unanticipated. Damage to ‘career’ is conceptualised as a ‘creeping trauma’. This is considered in light of the mothering stories indicating this was a price worth paying. The majority of women were engaging in a narrative of reorientation, using various strategies to reframe standards of ‘good’ working and the meaning of work within life. Success in reorientation differed according to individual experiences of constraints and opportunities.
Date of Award22 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTina Skinner (Supervisor)


  • part-time working
  • motherhood
  • mothering older children
  • stories
  • dialogical perspective
  • narrative inquiry
  • dialectics

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