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The ‘good mother’ struggles: Obstacles to the attainment of motherhood ideals among adult women formerly placed in residential care

Child & Family Social Work

Published online on


We analysed narratives of motherhood produced by 13 women who were involved with the welfare system or the justice system during adolescence. The original contribution of our study was its focus on mothers who were turning age 30, so they were not in that period of generalized instability that characterizes the transition from care and into adulthood. This qualitative study was part of a larger study on French‐Canadian adolescents with a history of residential care. Semi‐directed interviews were conducted with 13 women, more than 15 years after their admission to residential care. Our data highlights that motherhood can contribute to the vulnerability of women who were involved with the welfare or the justice system as adolescents. Our results suggest that in order to shed a perceived deviant label and to compensate for the adverse events they experienced, they pursue internalized ideals of “good motherhood” that translate into restrictions and strain. Furthermore, they tend to refrain from allowing people into their lives and asking for help for fear of being judged. Yet, as their children are getting older and exhibiting problem behaviors of their own, the questioning of their parental practices and skills only becomes more intense.