Maternal Holding and the Storying of the Mother/Child ‘Us’: A Collaborative Multimodal Inquiry

Ariel Moy
Doctoral Dissertation,

Maternal holding is an everyday experience shared within the mother/child relationship. Most research on this relationship has been undertaken with the child as its focus. I wanted to explore with other mothers what holding was like for us. I was personally invested in this inquiry topic and so elected to use an axiology to guide the research. This involved selecting three core values: I privileged an intersubjective ontology, exploring multimodal knowing with a focus on the present moment. These values were employed within a collaborative arts-based inquiry.  

Ranging between 4 – 8 sessions each, three participants and I co-explored maternal holding experiences. We utilised MIECAT procedures to re-engage experiences from memories. Data generated was multimodal. Procedures employed were responsive to what was happening between us in the moment. We worked together in cycles of amplification and reduction of data to develop our understanding about qualities of maternal holding that were meaningful to us. I explored this data to create thematic patterns of being for individual participants and then generated findings across participants that spoke to overlaps and commonalities. I re-engaged with participants at various points and dialogued with other voices from literature and the arts to develop the findings within a broader context. 

Maternal holding emerged as purposeful. Needs and purpose alive in the mother/child relationship were co-created and co-navigated by and for the relationship, including opportunities for relational satisfaction and meaning. 

During optimal maternal holding, participants multimodally described precious and hard to articulate experiences of an expansion into self-in-relationship or what I term the mother/child ‘us’.

All participants primarily communicated and made sense of maternal holding via narratives (both visual and verbal) reflecting an ongoing co-construction of meaningful mother/child ‘stories of us’. 

This inquiry contributes to our understanding of mother/child relational needs and purpose from a maternal and relational perspective. It highlights the unusual but deeply felt experience of the mother/child ‘us’ and encourages insight into, and a willingness to work with, adaptive co-created stories of relationship. Both during and after our work together, the re-working of relational patterns through collaborative and multimodal inquiry into memories appears to benefit the mother/child relationship ongoingly. 

In the significant, evolving, and challenging bond of mother and child, attending to relationship or the ‘us’ as the primary source of knowing and action can support them in the long-term. 

Having finished the doctoral research journey Ariel was aware that her curiosity around maternal holding felt as alive, if different, than it was at the beginning. She began exploring ways of continuing the research and of sharing this in different forms. Ariel contacted Routledge and went through their pitch process. This was a fabulous experience and resulted in a published book An Arts Therapeutic Approach to Maternal Holding. This can be purchased at as well as


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