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Single Afro-American Mothers and Their Teenage Sons

Topic Endorsement

Research Topic

The topic to be researched in the proposed study is the relationships between single African American mothers and their adolescent sons. More specifically, the manner in which single African American mothers perceive their adolescent sons, interact with them, or feel the responsibility for raising them and looking after them (Elliott, Powell, & Brenton, 2015), as well as the way in which these mothers believe how these relationships have been developing over time, will be investigated in the proposed study.

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It should be noted that African American mothers may parent their children differently depending on the children’s gender (Mandara, Murray, Telesford, Varner, & Richman, 2012), so it is justified to study the parenting of sons separately from the parenting of daughters. Also, maternal attitudes might affect the mother-child relationships, which, in turn, may have a major impact on the child’s development (Bernal & Keane, 2011; Robinson & Werblow, 2013). Therefore, the study will primarily be concerned with the emotional aspects of the mother-son relationship as perceived by the single African American mothers.

The topic is significant to the field of Psychology due to the fact that it addresses the relationships between a mother and her son, investigating such aspects as their perceptions of each other and emotions towards one another. This topic is also significant to the specialization of General Psychology because it is related to a number of issues such as relationships within the family, parent-child relationships, the mothers’ perception of these relationships, and the related emotional aspects.

According to the Programs Research document provided by Capella University (n.d.), Family Psychology is an acceptable subfield of General Psychology. The proposed study would fall into division 43 of the American Psychological Association, Society for Couple and Family Psychology (American Psychological Association, 2017).

Research Problem

The research literature on the topic of single African American mothers indicates that we know that nearly a half of African American children live only with one parent, and in the majority of cases, that parent is the mother (Barajas, 2011). According to a different study, in 2006, nearly 70% of African American children were delivered by single mothers (Choi & Jackson, 2011). Yet another research indicated that in 2002, 25% of African American females aged 22-44 were single mothers; for comparison, only 9% of White females were single mothers (Elliott et al., 2015, p.353).

In single-parent homes led by mothers, the mother-child relationship plays a pivotal role in the offspring’s development (Cartwright & Henriksen, 2012; Cooper & McLoyd, 2011; Robinson & Werblow, 2013; Williams & Bryan, 2013; Wilson, Henriksen, Bustamante, & Irby, 2016).

We know that mothers behave differently towards their sons and towards their daughters; with sons, they may be more negative (Barnett & Scaramella, 2013), and less encouraging, warm, sympathetic, and accepting (Mandara et al., 2012); this might allow for assuming that sons could be in a slightly disadvantaged position with respect to maternal emotional support when compared to daughters (Emmen et al., 2013; Mesman, van Ijzendoorn, & Bakermans‐Kranenburg, 2012; van der Voort, Juffer, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2014; Yagmur, Mesman, Malda, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & Ekmekci, 2014), and justify the need to study the relationships between mothers and their children of different genders separately.

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Also, single African American mothers often feel a great responsibility about parenting their child, and the need to do so intensively (Elliott et al., 2015). But we do not know much about African American mothers’ perceptions of relationships with their sons and the manner in which they developed. This constitutes a research problem for the proposed study.

Research Overview

Research Problem Background

The existing studies on the topic examined some issues faced by single African American mothers raising their children, such as an increased amount of responsibility such mothers have for their children due to the lack of the father (Cabrera, Fagan, Wight, & Schadler, 2011; Elliott et al., 2015; Jeynes, 2015; Landers‐Potts et al., 2015; Wilson et al., 2016), or racial and gender discrimination (Barajas, 2011; Roberts, 2011); and considered the adverse outcomes of the father’s absence in such families (Barajas, 2011; Choi & Jackson, 2011; Cooper, Osborne, Beck, & McLanahan, 2011; Dunbar, Perry, Cavanaugh, & Leerkes, 2015; Elliott et al., 2015; Farley & Kim-Spoon, 2014; Gonzalez, Jones, & Parent, 2014; Harris, Sutherland, & Hutchinson, 2013; Hines & Holcomb‐McCoy, 2013; Wang & Kenny, 2014; Wilson et al., 2016). However, personal relationships between single African American mothers and their sons were not investigated in these studies.

The research literature explored some aspects pertaining to parent-child relationships in general, as well as to some of the difficulties faced by single African American mothers raising their children (Roberts, 2011; Sneed, Somoza, Jones, & Alfaro, 2013; Williams & Bryan, 2013).

For instance, studies indicated that fathers play a significant role in raising children in two-parent homes (Barajas, 2011; Choi & Jackson, 2011; Dunbar et al., 2015; Farley & Kim-Spoon, 2014; Gonzalez et al., 2014; Harris et al., 2013; Hines & Holcomb‐McCoy, 2013; Wang & Kenny, 2014); therefore, in fatherless families, mothers have an increased responsibility for their children as they may have to compensate for the absence of the father (Cooper et al., 2011; Elliott et al., 2015; Wilson et al., 2016).

In addition, single African American mothers face much adversity in the society due to racial and gender discrimination, which further complicates the matter of raising their children (Barajas, 2011; Roberts, 2011). Additionally, mothers tend to be more negative, and less warm, accepting or supportive towards their sons than towards their daughters (Barnett & Scaramella, 2013; Mandara et al., 2012).

This may be due to the findings that children of single African American mothers, and boys in particular, have worse life outcomes when compared to other children. For instance, African American boys raised by single mothers often drop out of school, engage in delinquent behaviors, and have lower academic success rates than their peers even when the former have a high potential (Barajas, 2011; Bernal & Keane, 2011; Ford & Moore, 2013; Milkie, Nomaguchi, & Denny, 2015; Pearl, French, Dumas, Moreland, & Prinz, 2012; Robinson & Werblow, 2013).

Given the importance of mothers for boys in mother-only African American families, the mother-son relationships in these families is paramount for the development of these sons (Cartwright & Henriksen, 2012; Robinson & Werblow, 2013; Wilson et al., 2016). Simultaneously, the literature investigating such relationships in detail is scarce. Therefore, scrutinizing the mother-son relationships as they are perceived by mothers might provide information to fill in the gaps in the literature and to inform the thinking for those who might provide interventions to improve those relationships, and, hopefully, the life outcomes of these children.

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Research Question

How do single African American mothers perceive their relationships with their adolescent sons?

Definitions of key terms

  1. The term “adolescence” can be understood as the period of life when an individual is 11 to 16-year-old (Parent, Jones, Forehand, Cuellar, & Shoulberg, 2013). However, the current study will focus on early adolescence (the age of approximately 11-14) because there might be major differences between younger and older adolescents (Varner & Mandara, 2013).
  2. The term “relationships” will be used mainly to denote the emotional bond, the feeling of duty, and the obligations that mothers and sons experience towards each other (Elliott et al., 2015; Wilson et al., 2016).
  3. The term “single African American mothers” will be utilized in order to refer to women who are Americans, but have ancestors of African origins; have a son; and raise that son without the assistance of a partner such as the son’s father (Barajas, 2011; Choi & Jackson, 2011).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the proposed study is to investigate the perceptions of single African American mothers in their relationships with their young adolescent sons (i.e. sons aged 11-14; Varner & Mandara, 2013), and the manner in which these relationships develop over time.

It is hoped that this study will contribute to gaining insights into improving life outcomes of such sons (e.g., preventing juvenile delinquency or increasing their academic success; Barajas, 2011; Roberts, 2011; Robinson & Werblow, 2013) by providing information that might help design interventions for these families to improve mother-son relationships in the future.

Methodology and Basic Design Overview

When it comes to the research design of the proposed study, it should be noted that it will be a generic qualitative study (Bell, 2014; Bernauer, Lichtman, Jacobs, & Robinson, 2013; Chenail, 2011; Percy, Kostere, & Kostere, 2015). This is justified because the study will investigate the personal opinions and feelings of single African American mothers about a particular issue (that is, about their relationships with their sons), which means that a generic qualitative method should be used (Percy et al., 2015, p. 76). None of the other major methodologies that are commonly utilized in qualitative research – ethnography, phenomenology, case study, or grounded theory – are appropriate in this case (Kahlke, 2014; Percy et al., 2015; Willgens et al., 2016).

Speaking more generally, the choice of a qualitative design is predicated on the idea that opinions and feelings can hardly be operationalized, meaning put into rigorous defined categories that would allow for quantitatively measuring them (Chenail, 2011; Smith, Bekker, & Cheater, 2011; Tricco et al., 2016). In fact, the nature of the problem (investigating personal opinions, emotions and feelings) is such that it requires qualitative exploration rather than hypothesis testing (Rabionet, 2011; Robinson, 2014).

As for the method for the study, questions will be developed for semi-structured interviews (Dworkin, 2012; Rabionet, 2011). This will give the respondents some freedom to express their feelings, and simultaneously will allow for keeping them focused on the problems relevant for the study (Rabionet, 2011). The participants’ responses will be recorded and analyzed inductively (Percy et al., 2015). It should also be noted that semi-structured interviewing that obtains people’s ideas about certain external phenomena (such as other people, and the relationships with them) is an appropriate method for a generic qualitative study (Percy et al., 2015, p.79).

Dissertation Title

Single African American mother’s perceptions on relationships with sons: A qualitative investigation.

Research Theory

Advancing Scientific Knowledge

Some problems that exist in families comprised of single African American mothers and their sons, as well as certain issues that are related to the problem of relationships between single African American mothers and their sons, have been examined in the literature. Studies indicate that single African American mothers often face much adversity in their lives; for instance, they are often penalized by the criminal justice system, which only exacerbates their problems (Roberts, 2011); they often have to compensate for the absence of the father while raising their sons (Cabrera et al., 2011; Elliott et al., 2015; Jeynes, 2015; Landers‐Potts et al., 2015; Wilson et al., 2016); also, they often tend to be less supportive towards their sons than towards their daughters (Barnett & Scaramella, 2013; Mandara et al., 2012).

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This makes it important to investigate how these mothers perceive their relationships with their sons, because this may help in creating interventions aimed at bettering these relationships, which may improve life outcomes for both single African American mothers and their sons. Therefore, the proposed research question is related to the background of the study because answering it may shed additional light on the relationships between single African American mothers and their sons. It is grounded in the field of Psychology because it is aimed at investigating the mental states that mothers experience in relation to their sons.

Previous studies have discovered that single mothers may have an increased amount of responsibility for their children because they cannot share that responsibility with the father (Cabrera et al., 2011; Elliott et al., 2015; Jeynes, 2015; Landers‐Potts et al., 2015; Wilson et al., 2016). It has also been found that many single African American mothers who have low income believe that they should make sacrifices for their children, be self-reliant, and protect their children; they do so at cost of their physical or emotional well-being (Elliott et al., 2015).

It is also known how successful African American men view their relationships with their single mothers (Wilson et al., 2016), or how single African American mothers may help their sons achieve academic success (Robinson & Weblow, 2012).

However, the literature does not appear to provide a direct answer to the research question for the proposed study, namely, “How do single African American mothers perceive their relationships with their adolescent sons, and the manner in which these relationships developed?” Therefore, the proposed study will advance the scientific knowledge base on the topic by contributing to the scientific understanding of the relationships between single African American mothers and their sons.

Theoretical Implications

The proposed study might have certain theoretical implications for Psychology because it will allow for developing a better understanding of single African American mothers’ perceptions of their relationships with their sons. It should be noted that the study will be based on three theories. The first one is the theory of attachment, according to which individuals can form strong emotional bonds with other people (for instance, such bonds can form between mothers and their children), which permits gaining a feeling of security and stability (Berlin, Shanahan, & Appleyard-Carmody, 2014; Groh, Fearon, van Ijzendoorn, Bakermans‐Kranenburg, & Roisman, 2017).

The second one is the attribution theory, according to which humans tend to explain behaviors of other people by attributing causes to them (Granot & Mayseless, 2011; Markel & Wiener, 2014; Werner, 2012). Finally, the third one is provided by the Black psychology (or African psychology, or African-centered psychology; these terms will be used interchangeably in the current work), which is a psychological theory that considers Black individuals to have psychological characteristics and peculiarities that are different from those of White persons, and is devoted to studying these characteristics and peculiarities of Black people (Cokley, Awosogba, & Taylor, 2014; Nobles, 2013a; Nobles, 2013b; Obasi, Speight, Rowe, Clark, & Turner-Essel, 2012).

Prior to proceeding, it should be useful to elaborate the nature of the Black psychology and its relationship to the proposed study in more detail. African psychology is an area of study that is aimed at explaining the experiences of African individuals (or individuals of African origins) from the African worldview – a perspective that is based on the views, principles and traditions of African peoples (Mosley-Howard & Evans, 2000; Parham, 2002, p. 13).

According to Parham, Ajamu, and White (2016), the African perspective is based on a holistic understanding of the human. From this point of view, there are no dualisms characteristic of the Western tradition (such as cognitive-affective or mind-body dualisms); instead, the human is understood as a whole that is comprised of numerous intertwined systems (e.g., feelings, senses, knowledge, experiences), and that lives in a dynamic world in which all things are mutually tied (Parham et al., 2016).

This perspective differs from the Western one in a variety of ways; to name a few of these ways, emotions are not assessed as “good” or “bad,” so there is no need to, e.g., suppress the feelings of sensuality or joy; tribe (or a collective) serves as the basic human unit, and is geared towards the survival of the collective, so cooperation is much more valuable than competition; time is viewed as repetitive, cyclical, for major events that mark important points in time repeat (Parham et al., 2016).

Therefore, African-centered psychology aims to understand the experiences of persons of African origins from this point of view (Parham et al., 2016; Parham, 2002). This results in a number of essential peculiarities of Black psychology; several notions, such as the self-definition of Black people (as opposed to the dominant Western comprehension of an individual and the society), or the communal centeredness and the understanding of oneself primarily as part of the community (Parham, 2002, p. 14), may serve as the basic framework through which the investigated phenomena are to be viewed.

As has been discussed above, the proposed study is aimed at investigating the perceptions of single African American mothers on their relationships with their adolescent sons. It is possible that these mothers will view these relationships from the African perspective (Parham et al., 2016) Therefore, African-centered psychology can be applied in the proposed study because it is geared specifically towards comprehending the feelings and perceptions of people of African origins from their (traditional) perspective (Mosley-Howard & Evans, 2000; Parham et al., 2016; Parham, 2002), thus providing means for obtaining a more in-depth understanding of the perceptions of the respondents.

Because of the use of the named three theories, the proposed study may add to each of these theories by using them to explore these particular relationships, and, consequently, further refining these theories and adjusting them so as to enable them to be used for similar problems (Barajas, 2011; Berlin et al., 2014; Granot & Mayseless, 2011; Groh et al., 2017; Markel & Wiener, 2014; Robinson & Werblow, 2013; Werner, 2012; Wilson et al., 2016).

Apart from that, when it comes to African psychology, the proposed study may allow for additionally contributing to this theory, which is due to the possibility that the opinions and perceptions of single African American mothers are based on the African worldview only partially, for most, if not all, of these mothers (and their families, including their ancestors) will probably have lived in the U.S. for a while, and will have had an extensive contact with the Western culture (Parham et al., 2016; Parham, 2002).

Therefore, because the perceptions of single African American mothers on the relationships with their sons will be investigated, it will be possible to compare these perspectives with both the Western point of view and the African worldview; the latter comparison may prove helpful in advancing the Black psychology by providing information about the manner in which this African worldview has adapted to the U.S. culture.

In addition, the study may have theoretical implications for General Psychology because it should permit understanding the feelings, emotions, and psychological issues that single African American mothers are faced with in their relationships with their sons.

Practical Implications

The proposed research may have a number of practical implications. For instance, exploring single African American mothers’ perceptions of their relationships with their sons might allow for discovering some important components of such relationships, or understanding how these mothers view these relationships and then comparing these views to some facts. This may allow for designing interventions in the future that would help these females become more effective mothers or make efforts that would be more effectual in helping their children achieve better outcomes, as well as to improve the relationships between these mothers and sons (Elliott et al., 2015; Milkie et al., 2015; Robinson & Werblow, 2013; Wilson et al., 2016).

Such knowledge might also potentially be used by educators of such sons when communicating both with these children and their mothers. The mothers also might benefit from such knowledge, for instance, if they are aware of potential problems that they may encounter, and of the ways to deal with them.

Research Methodology

Research Design

The proposed study will employ a qualitative research design, for it will be aimed at describing the perceptions, opinions, and feelings of single African American mothers pertaining to their relationships with their sons; and when it is needed to gather an in-depth description of personal feelings and perceptions, a qualitative research design is appropriate (Lewis, 2015; Noble & Smith, 2015; Percy et al., 2015; Wahyuni, 2012; Yilmaz, 2013).

The qualitative design for the proposed study will be a generic qualitative study (Kahlke, 2014; Percy et al., 2015). The generic qualitative approach will be selected because the traditional qualitative research methodologies (e.g., phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case study) are all inappropriate for the proposed study, in which case it is advised to use the generic qualitative approach (Percy et al., 2015).

This approach is suitable for the problem to be investigated because it is needed to examine subjective opinions, beliefs, and attitudes of the study participants pertaining to certain external phenomena (such as African American mothers’ opinions on their relationships with their sons; Kahlke, 2014; Percy et al., 2015). As for the research model, the inductive analysis (within the generic qualitative approach) will be employed (Bendassolli, 2013; Percy et al., 2015).

In other words, the data will drive the researcher through the process of analysis, during which the repeating patterns will be found in the participants’ responses (Percy et al., 2015). From these patterns, themes will be created, that will then be synthesized so as to form an answer to the research question of the study (Percy et al., 2015).

The data collection methods will be comprised of semi-structured interviews, which will consist of open-ended questions that will allow for guiding the responses of the participants so as to keep them focused on the issues that are important for the proposed study (Dworkin, 2012; Irvine, Drew, & Sainsbury, 2013; Qu & Dumay, 2011; Rabionet, 2011). It should be noted that semi-structured interviews are an appropriate method for data collection in a generic qualitative study (Percy et al., 2015).

The data collected during the interviews will be recorded and then transcribed. The transcribed data will be analyzed so as to find the common themes and recurring patterns in it (Percy et al., 2015). The themes and patterns will be coded (Pierre & Jackson, 2014; Smith & Firth, 2011) so as to provide insights into the studied problem.

Population and Sample

The population for the current study will be comprised of single African American mothers who are raising at least one adolescent (aged 11-14) son (Fernandez, Butler, & Eyberg, 2011; Varner & Mandara, 2013). The sample will be comprised of individuals aged 22-44 years (Elliott et al., 2015). This is conditioned by the fact that this range best reflects mothers with children who are adolescent or younger (as cited in Elliott et al., 2015), and most participants will be from that age range in any case; therefore, it is reasonable to look for participants of that age because it will allow for gaining opinions that may differ mainly due to the large difference in the age of respondents.

However, it should be noted that there will probably be no participants aged 22 due to the requirement that they should have at least an 11-year-old son; it might be expected that most of the mothers will be at least in their late twenties. However, because some of the mothers might have produced their sons while still being teenagers, it was decided to keep the lower limit of the mothers’ age at 22, which is a number that is utilized in the research literature investigating connected topics (Elliott et al., 2015).

To sum up, the criteria for recruiting respondents for the study from the population of single African American mothers are as follows: 1) aged 22-44; 2) has an adolescent son who is 11-14 years old.

The sample will consist of 8-15 individuals, or from a number of participants which is sufficient for achieving data saturation (Dworkin, 2012; Fusch & Ness, 2015; White, Oelke, & Friesen, 2012). The purposeful sampling method will be employed; that is, the participants will be selected according to the degree to which they possess the characteristics that are of interest for the study (Palinkas et al., 2015; Suri, 2011). It might be possible to recruit the participants for the research by contacting the local schools, the local School District officials, or by cooperating with local not-for-profit organizations (such as churches, YMCA, etc.) so as to attempt to find the single African American mothers of currently adolescent sons, who would be suitable for the proposed study.

Ethical Considerations

The proposed study was designed so as to comply with the ethical standards for a psychological study, in particular, with the Code of Ethics of APA (as cited in Hanson & Kerkhoff, 2011; Wester, 2011). This study is aimed at investigating the topics that do not appear sensitive, and will not scrutinize any vulnerable populations. The respondents will not be subjected to any additional risks; they will simply be interviewed using the semi-structured interview approach (Doody & Noonan, 2013; Rowley, 2012), which will also be designed to avoid any sensitive topics (Hanson & Kerkhoff, 2011; Wester, 2011).

To protect the participants of the study while selecting the sample, the researcher will not reveal any personal information of the respondents to any third parties; after collecting the data, and analyzing it, any contact information will be destroyed (Borgman, 2012). Also, an informed consent will be gained from each of the participants prior to involving them in the research. During the data collection process, the participants will be assigned ID numbers which will allow for distinguishing between them later; after the data is collected and analyzed, the information about the real names of the participants will be destroyed. The data will be stored in a secure location protected by a password, and will be destroyed seven years after the study is completed (Borgman, 2012).


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