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Mothers' Experiences of Supportive and Critical Comments: An Application of the Self Discrepancy Theory



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Mothers are expected to adhere to cultural standards of a good mother, many of which are unachievable. In Canada, these standards often align with intensive mothering ideology where women are expected to enjoy motherhood, put their child(ren) before themselves, and follow best mothering practices. Women who do not obey the standards of a “good mother” may experience criticism from the self and from others. The current study aimed to explore women’s experiences of supportive and critical comments regarding their maternal actions/decisions. Thirty (N = 30) Saskatchewan mothers were recruited to participate in one-on-one, semi-structured, recorded interviews regarding their experiences of perceived meeting or deviating from what it means to be a good mother. Interviews were analyzed thematically using Braun and Clarke’s 6-step reflexive thematic analysis and affective reactions were explored using Saldaña’s emotion coding technique. Following the analyses, the findings were contrasted to Higgins’ self-discrepancy. The findings suggested that the self-discrepancy theory was an appropriate framework for understanding how women’s self-concept may relate to their experiences of meeting or deviating from what it means to be a good mother. Dejected emotions were reported for discrepancies between the actual/self versus the ideal/own, while dejected and agitated emotions were reported for discrepancies between the actual/self versus the ideal/other, ought-to/self, and ought-to/other. Women reported that meeting other’s expectations of a good mother was important in their establishment of their maternal identity and in building confidence in their role; however, some women found it difficult to recognize their actions as aligning with their own expectations. While every woman reported experiencing critical comments from others, many women also reported that they were their own greatest source of criticism. Women were less inclined to share detailed accounts of supportive comments and even fewer accounts of meeting their own expectations. Lastly, women reported confidence and the decision to change their own expectations were important strategies to overcome criticism from others and the self. The findings have implications for understanding how to improve perceptions of the self for new and experienced mothers and theoretical implications for the self-discrepancy theory.



Mothers, self discrepancy theory, self concept, criticism, shame, guilt, support



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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