When I began to make comparisons across the young women’s stories, from observations and other sources, a particular similarity that seemed to emerge was the concept expressed by all participants that they took on the role of a ‘good’ mum. Co-construction of meaning about what it means to be a good mum permeate my thesis. Together through interaction and dialogue with the participants, we were developing shared understandings of becoming a ‘good mum’. I wondered if they had discussed such matters before or if through my presence it was one of the only times they had a chance to have such a conversation. Through our interactions, the young mothers were making sense of their experience as they verbalised it at the same time as I, the researcher was making meaning as I listened to their views of what it meant to be a young mother. Together, we were co-constructing and making sense of what the participants’ lived reality was.
When my thematic analysis was quite advanced, I wondered if my data were indicating the development of a theoretical construct of a ‘good’ mother. Using the guidance of Charmaz (2006) who suggests that grounded theories are (socially) constructed through interaction of the data with the researcher, I decided to return and recode the data set. I subsequently reworked the data breaking the transcripts into chunks that I analysed, recoded, and
reorganized under particular themes to create new understanding of the topic. Through this process, I had reviewed the findings “disassembling and reassembling” them (Ezzy, 2002, p. 94), both methodically and meticulously. Charmaz (2006) regards this part of the process as “seeing possibilities, establishing connections, and asking questions” (p. 135) and describes this as being “theoretical playful” (p. 71), allowing researchers to try out ideas and see where
they may lead. For example, the theme ‘resilience’ was re-examined and I recoded some data as a critical incident. I then looked at the overarching theme of becoming a ‘good’ mum through a transformative lens. This enabled me to identify the critical factors that had led to this transformation. I challenged myself to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, or “the novel in the mundane” (Charmaz, 2006, p. 136). This was evident when the young women were asked “What has motherhood given to you?” Responses to this were varied such as some young mothers’ references to feeling complete. Their sense of completeness suggested to me a conceptual model that was bounded by a circle -because circles have no beginnings and no end. In a sense, they were complete, but they are also always becoming (see p. 233).
Once this was done, my analysis was completed. I developed a final chart to list evidence for each category among the young women’s stories. The chart was used to organise evidence and quotes for the presentation of my findings. Through this interchange of inductive and deductive thinking, the data verified the findings. That is, a category/theme (i.e., beyond self) was identified and a ‘theory’ or conceptual model was constructed, the data were reviewed for evidence.
Ethical considerations: Aroha – acting with honourable
Any research involving human participants must conform to a number of ethical principles, such as informed consent, confidentiality, anonymity, and the minimization of risk (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007). I now show how I addressed each one as well as taking into account of cultural safety and responsibility to the Treaty of Waitangi in the design of this study.
Informed consent involves informing the participants involved in the research project as honestly and clearly as possible about the purpose of the project (Creswell, 2007; Lichtman, 2013; Mutch, 2013; Smith et al., 2009). I met this requirement by verbally explaining the study to a group of potential participants as outlined earlier. Participants were also required to read an information letter and sign a consent form.
Confidentiality and Anonymity
As the research took place in one region of New Zealand, I needed to ensure the rights to privacy and anonymity to these participants who had shared intimate, poignant details of their lives. Originally, I invited the young mothers to select a pseudonym of their choice to provide anonymity. I later decided against individual reporting (for a fuller explanation see pp. 114- 5).
Another way I ensured that the data the participants provided remained confidential was to store all interviews, transcripts, research journal, photos, and notes in a locked cabinet in my office, with the key kept in a separate location. I am the only person who has access to the contents. All transcripts will be shredded three years after the thesis has been submitted.
Limitation of risk
Another ethical consideration included a concern about the possibility of causing harm to participants from recounting their experiences. Researchers conducting qualitative studies must be mindful of the sensitive nature of qualitative research, and that ethical dilemmas can arise when collecting and/or disseminating the results (Andrews et al., 2008; Creswell, 2013;
Lichtman, 2013; Smith et al., 2009. Lichtman (2013) reminds researchers that participants should be treated with respect, and as researchers, we are bound by a code of conduct.
For this reason, I was very conscious that some of the questions I asked might encourage disclosure of sensitive content by the young mothers themselves, i.e., the experience of losing a parent, incidences of child abuse, rejection, and mental health issues. I decided that I did not want to push the participants. I had to use my best judgement and intuition to keep them emotionally safe and I needed to make sure there was a support system in place for them. I was cautious to tread carefully throughout the interview process. If, for any reason, the content of the interview became too uncomfortable for the participant, I would offer to end the interview and reschedule it. I also spoke to the head teacher of the Teen Parent Unit to arrange for support services to be available to the young mothers if required.
Another aspect as a Pākehā researcher (a non-Māori person of European descent) I needed to consider was how to ensure the cultural safety of the young mothers who identified as Māori and wished to be part of the study. The fact that I was a Pākehā researcher from a foreign country - an ‘outsider’ undertaking research in Aotearoa New Zealand, meant that I needed to give this careful consideration. In Aotearoa New Zealand, there has been a history of some Māori researchers contesting Pākehā involvement in research with Māori participants. This discontent was partly due to both the processes and outcomes of research conducted by non- Māori (Barns, 2013; Cram 1997, 2001). Cram (1997) discusses that this challenge may stem from some Māori researchers who assert, “Pākehā researchers do not merely hold up a mirror to reflect the reality of Māori, [but instead] their point of view of Māori is filtered through their own values, circumstances, research training, privilege, etc.” (p. 7).
I sought advice on this matter from Māori staff at the university who offered their views of the issues of including Māori participants in research conducted by Pākehā academics. To address the issue, I engaged in the cultural competencies that I was acquiring as a
provisionally registered teacher in Aotearoa New Zealand to manage the cultural safety of the Māori participants. These cultural competencies are ako, wānanga, tangata whenauatanga, manaakitanga, and whanaungatanga (MoE, 2011, p. 5). The sociocultural context of
education within Aotearoa New Zealand highlights the importance of building relationships. In te ao Māori this “process is referred to as whakawhanaungatanga” (Ritchie & Rau, 2006, p. 5), and is an important culturally responsive approach for effective teaching and learning (MoE, 2011). I had been in the setting for over a year and, for many of the young mothers, I was there during their pregnancies, the birth of their child, and during the first year of their child’s life. I was a part of their experience. They shared their joys, disappointments,
heartaches and successes with me. Throughout the year, I was able to develop the sensitivity and responsiveness towards the cultural backgrounds and experiences of not only the Māori young mothers, but also all the young mothers. Because of these whanaungatanga
(relationships), I felt that it was in the best interest of all the young mothers that anyone who wanted to share their story was included in the research, and for no one to be excluded or ‘silenced’.
I was acting in the spirit of kotahitanga, one of the values underpinning the philosophy of the Teen Parent Unit, a bicultural concept advocating, “becoming one of many, where a sense of unity and inclusiveness is created within the classroom and school by recognising everyone’s mana” (MacFarlane, et al., 2007, p. 67). Moreover, I was treating each participant with manaakitanga, a concept described by MacFarlane et al. that “embodies a type of caring that is reciprocal and unqualified, based on respect and kindness, and a ‘duty of care’” (p. 67).
Responsibility to the Treaty of Waitangi
In addition, I had the responsibility to uphold the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi during the time I was conducting my research. As a Pākehā woman living in Aotearoa New Zealand, I needed to be aware of my obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. That is to recognise Māori as tangata whenua (people of the land), the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, and as a researcher, acknowledge the growing multicultural population of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the significance of living in a bicultural country. Mutch (2013) asks researchers to acknowledge our own “personal biographies, as we conduct research with, on, and for people whose theoretical perspectives and frames of reference are different from our own” (p. 66). I believed that through the actions highlighted above I was able to include the three principles, which form The Treaty - partnership, active protection and participation (Consedine & Consedine, 2001) in all aspects of the research process. Another aspect of the research process that I had to consider was conducting research in bicultural country.
Conducting research in Aotearoa New Zealand
Conducting research in a bicultural country presents challenges for a researcher who is from a different country and is considered an ‘other’. I worked conscientiously and diligently to not only learn about the sociocultural context of ECE in Aotearoa New Zealand, but also on how the bicultural context influenced both the Teen Parent Unit and the ECE settings. Although all of the participants in the study spoke English, te reo Māori is an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand. Not only did the participants use words and phrases in English that held a different meaning than what I expected, there were many Māori words and phrases that were incorporated in both settings that I did not understand. I looked to participants, staff in both settings, and university colleagues to support me with learning the language and
appropriate tikanga (customs) so that I did not do, or say, unintentionally something that might threaten the relationships and rapport I was building with the participants in my study.
As a researcher conducting a study within the bicultural context of Aotearoa New Zealand, I offered to share my mihimihi [mihi] with the students, and the staff of the research settings. A mihi is a speech that serves as an introduction for others to get to know you. For tangata whenua (Māori people), a mihi is a greeting and tells people who you are and where you come from. In a mihi you make links to whakapapa (genealogy), your ancestors, the land, river, and marae (ceremonial place). As a Pākehā (non-Māori), I chose to include places that were important to me as an American – the state I was born in, where my grandparents originated from and parts of the New England landscape that held meaning for me. I also included in my mihi the names of my husband and children (Moorfield, 2011; Mead, 2003). The significance of this in the te ao Māori (Māori world) is to form a relationship. This Māori custom served as a statement to position myself, and a way to locate myself in the research process. It allowed me to make visible my own history, and the journey that led me to conduct this study at this specific time and place.
I was aware of my own personal and professional values, beliefs and biases that I brought to the research process. A qualitative researcher must attempt to assume a neutral role, yet always be conscious of the way they view and gather the data. I shared with the participants my own story of my third child, who was adopted by my husband and me when she was eight years old. Rosa was the four and a half-year-old daughter of a young mother, who had her parental rights terminated. From my experiences as a university student in the 1980s, I shared with the participants my internship experience at a residential emergency shelter care facility for infants and toddlers. This experience had a profound effect on my life’s path. Lichtman
(2013) offers her ideas on the concept of self-disclosure explaining that when it is done carefully and appropriately, it can initiate authentic dialogue.
In te ao Māori this sharing of my whakapapa (genealogy), who I was and my intentions of being there (in that place) with the participants, is an important way to show respect and give credence to the individual. This also provided a way to be open and explicit about the
purpose of my research. I explained that my purpose was to explore the needs and strengths of young mothers, not to look for, or confirm, a problem or concern. It was this opportunity to provide information about the objectives of the research that was clear and the fact that, from the beginning, it offered the participants aroha atu – respect. It was this aroha atu for the voices of the young women that I hope strengthened the relationship and offered credence to the integrity of the study and my genuineness as a researcher. This belief allows a natural segue to my next discussion – the role of a researcher in qualitative research.
Role of the researcher: Locating self
The sensitive nature of conducting qualitative research raises ethical considerations
throughout the research process. Adhering to ethical principles ensures that the participants’ rights are protected, and the roles and responsibilities of the researcher are clear. Creswell (2013) stresses the importance for a researcher working within a social justice framework to recognise their “powerful position [and] … to admit that the participants are the true owners of the information collected” (p. 35). In qualitative research, the collection of data is
dependent on the relationship between the researcher and the participants. Therefore, disclosure of the role and status of the researcher in the research setting must be made explicit. This ensures that there is no deceit, an ethical principle foremost in my mind that ensured that I would be honest about my intent and positionality.
Authors who write about positionality (Bourke, 2014; England, 1994; Herod, 1999; Williams & Morrow, 2009) argue that researchers may emphasise certain identities and positionalities and not others. According to Herod (1999) researchers can “self-consciously shift their positionality by either playing up or playing down such social distances between researcher and participant” (p. 321). As I reflected on my own position in terms of how I represent myself, I know that I am recognised and regarded by others in multiple ways and locations. I am a mother, a wife, a lecturer, a doctoral student, a provider, a woman from a middle class background, and an Irish-American. Drawing on Fonseca’s (2007) argument of positionality, I was also aware of the potential influence on my participants, and the research of my middle class and Catholic values, which are part of my identity. Being a former teacher of the blind and visually impaired and having worked with students with special rights, I found that I had developed specialised knowledge and a sensitivity that were useful in understanding how marginalized groups of students experience education.
In endeavouring to connect with the young mothers, I focused on my identity as a mother as I believed that this was my main point of affiliation with this group. I recollected on my own experiences of being a new mother, although I was very aware that my experiences were very different, I was married, 31 years old, and employed as an early childhood teacher when I had my first child. I could not know how the young women would perceive me, and I was
nervous of not knowing what to do and fearful of making mistakes. Fonseca (2007) addresses the idea of being able to identify with the pressures and challenges that the young mothers faced while trying to manage various roles and responsibilities of mothering. I, too, was “wary of assuming that I could ever completely understand the infinite complexities of their lives as young mothers, living in a society that often casts judgement upon such a status” (p. 49).
Author sources (Bourke, 2014; Fonseca, 2007; Merriam et al., 2001) recommend finding ways to minimise the distance between the participant and researcher. In order to find a connection with the young mothers, I paid careful attention to the way I dressed, dressing casually by wearing leggings or jeans. Although the young mothers were initially cautious of my motives, they soon began to relax through the dialogue group meetings and their
interviews, yet at times they appeared somewhat apprehensive with their responses. During the time I spent in the field, the young mothers were welcoming and sometimes related to me as another staff member. In hindsight, I believe that the young mothers may have thought of me as a social worker, a teacher or even a foreigner. I do not know for certain how these young women experienced me, but regardless, they appeared to trust me with intimate details of their lives. I acknowledge that I changed roles during this research project. I had a different role when I first entered the research field, one as an expert (ECE educator) when I facilitated a group discussions about the RIE approach and the dialogue groups. I then changed to the role of a researcher when conducting the individual interviews. This change may have influenced (biased) the answers that the young mothers provided. Therefore, I can never know how they selected to answer to the questions that I posed or guarantee that the young mothers’ answers are actual accounts. However, I believe they spoke their truth.
Bourke (2014) suggests that positionality represents a space in which objectivism and subjectivism meet and notes that during the research process this space changes “as we