Mothers who live with mental illness face diverse challenges. Research suggests that partner support or otherwise is likely to have a crucial influence on mothers’ abilities to manage these challenges, yet little is known about how this plays out. In this study, we aimed to explore the roles played by male partners in the mothering experiences of women living with mental illness.
We conducted a qualitative secondary analysis using interview data collected from 18 participants in two previous qualitative studies. Both studies focused on the mothering experiences of women who lived with mental illness. In both studies, the importance of male partners was striking. The data were analyzed using constant comparative analysis.
The roles of partners in women’s experiences of mothering were multiple and dynamic, with each male partner playing a unique combination of roles. These included: facilitator; teammate; unfulfilled potential; distraction; dismantler, and threat to child. Roles were influenced by: mothers’ interpretations; partners' behaviors, characteristics and circumstances; the family’s living and custody arrangements; mothers’ active management strategies; and a range of external controls and supports.
Health professionals need to consider the complex roles partners play. This crucial aspect of mothers’ social environments can be optimized by directly supporting and enabling partners themselves, and by supporting mothers to actively shape their partners’ roles.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.