Marginalized Mothers: Parenting Without a Home


  • This research project was supported in part from funds from NIMH given to Harvard University's Murray Center. The Murray Center is a research archive for longitudinal studies related to women's issues across the life span.

  • We offer our heartfelt thanks to the shelter guests and staff who took the time to speak with us. Thanks also to Manisha Vijayaraghavan and Kate Jagodzinski for their superb editorial assistance.

*Corresponding concerning this article should be addressed to Lisa Cosgrove, Graduate School of Education, Department of Counseling and School Psychology, University of Massachusetts, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125 [e-mail:].


The authors of this study used participatory and interpretive methods to capture the lived experience, strengths, and needs of homeless mothers. The interview data obtained challenge unfounded stereotypes and provide information about women's coping behaviors and resilience. The findings were developed in collaboration with shelter guests and staff and have important implications for public and university policy and shelter programs. For example, researchers need to become more aware of the limitations of current psychological theories and assessment tools designed to measure “effective coping” in disenfranchised individuals. To accomplish this goal, increased collaboration among researchers, activists, policy makers, and homeless families is recommended (e.g., by instituting roundtable discussions as a standard part of shelter programs). It is also suggested that professional staff who work with women living in poverty avoid using deficit-oriented, victim-based models of intervention, and that staff provide women with opportunities to participate in the development of the curriculum for parenting classes.