Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Rachel M. McLaren


This dissertation sought to answer four research questions in relation to the master narrative of modern parenthood, themes of untellable tales of parenthood, how parents make sense of their identity in light of possessing untellable tales, and mechanisms parents utilize to cope with and make sense of their untellable tales. What emerges from this dissertation is a much needed, in-depth illustration of the multi-faceted, myriad pressures modern parents face. Furthermore, the results of the data analysis show the lengths parents will go to, to try and live up to the expectations placed upon them in modern society. Finally, this dissertation illuminates the (often) creative ways parents embark upon sense-making and coping strategies to continue to work each day to raise the next generation for future success.

Through inductive, open-coding, qualitative analysis the findings related to each research question illustrate many varied, and rich themes. The master narrative of modern parenthood was discovered to contain ten separate narrative threads that weave together to create a rich tapestry of how parents are expected to be responsible for Determining the Future Success of the Child. Five of the narrative threads dictate the roles parents are expected to play within their daily parenting: Provider, Protector, Teacher, Biggest Fan, and Enforcer. Additionally, the master narrative of modern parenthood instructs parents to perform each of the roles in with: Unconditional Love, Selflessness, Attention, Enjoyment, and Perfection.

When analyzing parent untellable narratives for emergent themes, it became clear the master narrative was closely entwined with what makes tales of parenthood untellable. The themes that emerged within untellable tales of parenthood were that of: Inadequate Provider, Inadequate Protector, Inadequate Teacher, Inadequate Biggest Fan, and Inadequate Enforcer. Furthermore, tales of parenthood can be deemed untellable because they illustrate a parent performing the various roles of parenthood with the opposite of the master narrative performative expectations. As a result, performative themes of untellable tales were found to be: Selfishness, Frustration, Inattention, Too Good, and Unconditional Love.

Possessing untellable tales of parenthood did not disable parents from making sense of their parental identity. Instead, untellable tales were utilized by the parent to explore his or her identity and make sense of who he or she was or wished to be as a parent. This identity exploration manifested within four themes of identity sense-making that emerged during data analysis: Identity Under Construction, Identity Unintelligible to Others, Identity Outlier, and Identity Undecided. Within each of these identity sense-making themes, parents worked to accept/reject their untellable tale of parenthood and understand the stability/fluidity of their parental identity.

Finally, when seeking to understand how parents cope with and make sense of their untellable tales of parenthood two large themes emerged: Cognitive Strategies and Communicative Strategies. Within the theme of Cognitive Strategies, parents embarked upon Internal Narrative Reflection and Internal Narrative Reframing to internally work through, assess, and understand their untellable tale of parenthood while not risking outsider judgement, or identity defamation. Communicative Strategies parents utilized for coping and sense-making purposes were found to be: Tell the Untellable, Tell a Therapist, Write the Untellable, and Tell and Alternative Tale. Through these Communicative Strategies parents could reap the benefits of sharing their untellable tale (sometimes creatively) to get listener feedback, emotional validation, and support that then helped the parent cope with and make sense of the challenge presented within the untellable tale and/or the challenges of parenting more generally.


Family Communication, Master Narrative, Narrative, Parenthood, Sense-Making, Tellability


xiv, 196 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 186-196).


Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Anne Jackl

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Communication Commons