Dark side of the mothering role: Abuse of mothers by adolescent and adult children

Michel Stewart, Ailsa Burns*, Rosemary Leonard

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    42 Citations (Scopus)


    Mothering is generally considered women's major source of identity and satisfaction. But mothering can also bring misery when children develop anti-social behaviors. The rather limited literature on this topic refers to by the term "parent abuse," with mothers reportedly the usual victims. The present study analyzed the types of abuse by adolescent and adult children reported by women in a community sample. The data come from in-depth life review interviews with 60 women aged between 40 and 65 when initially interviewed, and re-interviewed 5 years later. All women lived in the lower-income western suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Two major categories of abuse were identified: acting-out (including physical attacks and threats) and psychological. Seventy percent of perpetrators were male. Mothers' explanations for the behavior included family dysfunction, child's personality, child's mental illness, social and cultural influences, and gender power imbalance. Strategies used to handle the behaviors were related to these explanations. Compared to older mothers, those aged in their 40s were likely to see the problem as belonging to the child rather than themselves, and were more proficient in accessing community services.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)183-191
    Number of pages9
    JournalSex Roles
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007


    • Abuse
    • Children
    • Families
    • Mothering
    • Parents


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