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Adult offspring of seriously mentally ill mothers: A description of mother-child attachment, parenting style, family environment, and adult well-being outcomes.


The family environment and mother-child relationships during the childhood of offspring are proposed to be associated with adult well-being outcomes in offspring of seriously mentally ill mothers. It was the purpose of this study to explore relationships of mother-child attachment, parenting style, family mastery, and family stressors during childhood with current well-being and demographic and illness variables. Participants were 40 adults (5 males and 35 females) with a mean age of 40 years. Data were collected using mailed self-report questionnaires. An open-ended question about their experience was also included. A new scale developed to measure mother-child attachment was found to have adequate reliability. Data were analyzed using t-tests, Chi square, and Pearson correlations. Content analysis was conducted on responses to the open-ended question. Of the participants' mothers, 52.5% had a diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and 47.5% had a diagnosis of major depression or bipolar disorder. Offspring whose mothers had a diagnosis of depression reported significantly more family environment mastery than those whose mothers had a diagnosis of schizophrenia ( p = <.05). Family mastery was significantly correlated with offspring quality of life (r = .31, p = .05). Of the offspring, 45% reported that they had a personal history of depression. Compared to those participants with some college education, those with college education were more likely to have a personal history of depression, but better current well-being, including less depression, more sense of coherence, self- esteem, and quality of life. Participants whose mothers had been hospitalized had lower self-esteem than those whose mothers had not been hospitalized. Firstborn participants were less likely to be depressed and less likely to be married than those who were not firstborn. Content analysis revealed themes related to difficulty forming friendships in childhood, difficulty establishing trust in adulthood, being forced to mother their mother, unavailability of mother, and needing to heal the wounds of childhood. Item analysis revealed a pattern of dysfunction in the family environment beyond what was identified by statistical analysis. Results may be useful in strengthening resilience in young children of seriously mentally ill mothers.