Master Mari Dalen Herland

Title of dissertation:

Experiences with and negotiations about parenthood: A qualitative study among fathers and mothers with experiences of child care and of severe adjustment problems during adolescence.


This project examines how men and women who experienced severe adjustment problems during adolescence, and who had troubled childhoods in families with high levels of conflict, experience parenthood in their forties. Applying data from a 30-year-long follow-up study, this project explores how participants with troubled upbringings experience social norms of parenthood. The study is based on qualitative, semi-structured interviews with 30 informants at 40-45 years of age, 15 men and 15 women.

The results are presented in three different articles, one concerning fathering experiences, another illuminating mothering experiences and the third exploring methodological issues related to the research process.

The study provides important knowledge that contributes to the understanding of how adolescents with behavioural problems and child welfare experience perceive their position as parents later in life. The findings present how experiences with neglect, violence, abuse and unpredictability during their upbringing have affected the informants’ stories about parenthood. The analyses of the interviews illustrate the variations related to the informants’ different stories about their experiences of fatherhood and motherhood. A difficult background did not necessarily have consequences for their experiences of parenthood in the present.

All of the informants are concerned about their children’s well-being. They want their children’s upbringing to be different from their own. The participants express pain related to the problems they had in their own childhood. Some say, however, that their painful childhood experiences have actually become valuable resources that they use in relation to parenting. Others have learned that it is possible to seek help and support in relation to parenthood, such as through the child welfare system or from friends and family. On the other hand, some show a tendency to withdraw from their children, maintaining a distant relationship with them, similar to the relationship they had with their parents during their own childhood. The study shows that being married or having a cohabiting partner offers strength and support in the practice of parenthood.

.The women appear to be more dedicated in their role as mothers than the men in their role as fathers. This can be interpreted in line with society’s expectations and social norms of motherhood. The findings show that fathers sometimes act more distantly towards their children than the mothers. The study finds overall that the participants’ childhood experiences are reflected in their stories about parenting in their forties.





Published Jan. 15, 2016 10:53 AM