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Madness and motherhood - mothering alone

Astrid Halsa, Høgskolen i Lillehammer, Norway


Background: To develop preventive interventions for children of mental ill parents, contextulized knowledge of the close contexts of the families' lives, as well as knowledge of the institutional and discursive context of policymaking and implementation is needed.

Aim: This study sought to understand the perspectives of mothers with mental health problems. How is everyday life handled in families were mothers have mental health problems? What kind of public support and help do they receive and appreciate?

Method: 14 mothers with mental health problems, 8 relatives and 23 professionals from a psychiatric hospital were interviewed.

Results: Mothers with mental health illness are just like other mothers. Cultural and moral norms of what is "the proper thing to do (Finch 1989) informed their motherhood practices and they were striving to fulfil their duties as mothers. They mobilised all their force in functioning as well as possible and in this way contributed in making their illness and pain invisible for others. Because many felt ineffective as mothers or was anxious about other judging them as incapable, fighting for normality and conformity in childcare was an important aim in their projects as mothers. This concern in fulfilling multiple obligations, lead to a feeling of self-blame, insufficiency and a guilty conscience. The meaning of disability, dysfunction and impairment became obvious in their self-judgement. Maintaining privacy about mental distress become part of the creditable self.

Conclusion: Their subjective perceptions of the stigma attached to motherhood and mental illness pointed to the existence of societal representation which concepetualize motherhood and mental disorders as mutually exclusive. The accounts given by the mothers clearly show that many mothers are aware that their mental illness periodically undermine their parenting skill and might put their children at risk and. These mother self-identities and aspiration were firmly tied in with being a successful mother and running a home. At the same time they are reluctant to express their need for help with parenting issues. They bring to the situation a particular identity as welfare users, and the identity influence the way they act. This insight might explain why marginalized, caring mothers, preoccupied of the well being for their children, do not demand for public help and support when child rearing become difficult and further why parents with different kind of social problems not are constituted as collective pressure group demanding better services for families and children. Besides, the bureaucratic and legislative division between services for adult- and child welfare, and the sharp agency boundaries this division of services encourage, is just another factor that represent an obstacle to give public support and services to these families.

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