Single mothers living in high-risk communities afflicted by poverty and crime can benefit from parenting programmes that focus on their personal wellness. This is one of the findings of a recent doctoral study at Stellenbosch University (SU).
“Tailor-made parenting programmes could help promote the personal well-being and parental strengths of struggling single mothers by making them feel that they matter and that their wellness and personal dignity are a priority," says Dr Izanette van Schalkwyk, who recently obtained her doctorate in Psychology at SU.
As part of her study, Van Schalkwyk designed and implemented the Power Moms wellness programme for predominantly single mothers living in Delft on the Cape Flats. She has been involved as a volunteer in Delft since 2010, facilitating various community programmes to improve the well-being and coping mechanisms of learners and families in the area.
“An intervention like the 'Power Moms is crucial for these mothers, who come from broken and dysfunctional families, and can't afford to pay for professional services to help them deal with the trauma of growing up and living in a high-risk environment plagued by violence, murder, rape, gangsterism and substance abuse," says Van Schalkwyk.
Consisting of 20 sessions with different modules, the programme aimed to increase participating mothers' sense of feeling valued and worthy, improve the way they interact with and relate to their children, and help them purposely manage the risks they face every day.
The mothers were asked to take cellphone pictures to document and communicate information about the resources of the community and their daily needs. They also went on a wilderness excursion, completed home exercises with their children, took part in recreational activities such as needlework under the guidance of research assistants, and participated in focus group discussions.
According to Van Schalkwyk, the strength of the Power Moms programme lies in the fact that it enhances these women's personal as well as parenting competencies.
“The mothers mentioned how the programme had empowered them to improve their personal well-being. They shared their positive experiences of belonging to Power Moms, and of becoming like a family, even though they hadn't known each other at the beginning of the programme. This not only encouraged them to connect with each other and share their fun and frustrations, but also invigorated them to learn.
“The mothers also spoke with appreciation about the practical guidelines that helped to strengthen their interaction with their children ̶ sometimes through specific assignments such as helping the children with their reading, listening attentively to their questions, and playing with them. Evidently, the mothers were able to successfully apply the information of the Power Moms programme in their homes."
Van Schalkwyk says the study shows that improved mothering in this context is premised on the intentional nurturing of mothers' psychological and relational health.
“This means that better parenting in this context requires more than parenting skills, but also involves dealing with mothers' 'old pain' of being victims of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, building their 'mattering' and personal dignity, and offering spaces where they can talk about their emotional experiences."
She adds that the findings of this study could be used as a starting point to develop similar programmes in other South African communities.
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Dr Izanette van Schalkwyk
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