Constructing the 'good' mother: pride and shame in lone mothers' narratives of motherhood

Madeleine Leonard*, Grace Kelly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Purpose: This paper aims to explore how lone mothers define “good” mothering and outlines the extent to which feelings of pride and shame permeate their narratives. 

Design/methodology/approach: The empirical data on which the paper is based is drawn from semi-structured interviews with 32 lone mothers from Northern Ireland. All the lone mothers resided in low-income households. 

Findings: Lone mothers experienced shame on three levels: at the level of the individual whereby they internalised feelings of shame; at the level of the collective whereby they internalised how they perceived being shamed by others in their networks but also engaged in shaming and at the level of wider society whereby they recounted how they felt shamed by government agencies and the media. 

Originality/value: While a number of researchers have explored how shame stems from poverty and from “deviant” identities such as lone motherhood, the focus on pride is less developed. The paper responds to this vacuum by exploring how pride may counterbalance shame's destructive and scarring tendencies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
Early online date31 Aug 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 31 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Lone motherhood
  • Northern Ireland
  • Poverty
  • Pride
  • Shame
  • Welfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


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