Exposing the tensions of maternalism in relationships with young children

Rachael Summerscales, York St John University, United Kingdom (

Background: Researchers recognise the growing disparity between care and learning in their attempts to identify why policy undervalues maternalism in early years following revisions of political discourse that focuses on children to be school ready. Asking how maternal values are transferred into professional relationships exposes tensions that illustrate children’s emotional well-being is being overshadowed by learning and progress.

Aim: To explore how maternal values feature in professional relationships with young children.

Method: Six mothers who worked in early years settings in the UK completed open-ended questionnaires. Questions sought to identify maternal values and determine what impact these have upon relationships with children. The phenomenological study adopted the hermeneutic circle of interpretation to analyse the data.

Results: Maternal values inform professional relationships: time, communication, and emotional connection. Conflicts emerge when settings contend to accommodate maternal values because of political expectations.

Conclusions: Mothers ground their professional identities on their instinct to support children’s emotional well-being. Efforts to better support professionals to educate more from the care perspective need political discourse to acknowledge the importance of caring ‘about’ children.

Implications for children: Educators want to help you feel safe, loved, and cared about. They try their best to build close relationships with you, so remember if you need comfort or someone to talk to, they are there for you.

Implications for families: Educators realise how much trust you put in them to care for your children when you are not there. Therefore, they treat your child as if they were their own. Sometimes, tasks stop them from being available. Remember, these tasks are often outside of their control.

Implications for practitioners: Children need you to help them to feel emotionally secure so that they learn. Your maternal values should not be questioned in favour of academic attainment.

Key words: Professionals’ voices, wellbeing, policy, government, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: