'It is that bad but it isn't that bad': Exploring children's experiences of their mother's non-terminal cancer with a focus on attachment, resilience and trauma

Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2019 Jan;24(1):53-68. doi: 10.1177/1359104518781922. Epub 2018 Jul 30.


Recent years have shown a welcome trend in the number of people surviving cancer. The impact of cancer survival has focused primarily on the patient perspective, and limited research has explored the effect of parental cancer on children. No research to date can be found which explores children's experiences of parental cancer from a narrative perspective yet the way in which people tell their story is associated with emotional wellbeing. Measures of attachment, resilience and trauma were completed by 10 children (six girls, four boys aged 10-18 years) all of whom have a mother with non-terminal cancer. Each child also completed a narrative interview where they spontaneously described their experiences. Interviews were analysed drawing on narrative and thematic approaches to ensure the structural and performative as well as content of the stories could be understood. Experiences were interpreted within the context of attachment, resilience and trauma. Clinically high levels of trauma were found within this group even for securely attached and resilient children. The narrative analysis corroborated this finding. Implications for services supporting families are discussed.

Keywords: Parental cancer; attachment; children’s experiences; narratives; resilience; trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Object Attachment*
  • Psychological Trauma / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Resilience, Psychological*