Motherhood and Associative Moral Stigma: The Moral Double Bind

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Past research shows that mothers of children with disabilities are a highly stigmatized group. In particular, they experience blame and shame through their connection to a stigmatized child. Mothers’ associative stigma is therefore distinctly moral in nature. Through in-depth interviews with parents of children with physical and cognitive disabilities (N = 36) we identify 2 realms of maternal moral vulnerability: child rearing and gestation. The former represents parenting practices of value transmission, social development, discipline, and behavioral control. The latter represents a physiological connection between mother and child. The distinction between rearing and gestation, and the ways that they intersect, provide conceptual clarity for the multiple and complex ways that stigma manifests for mothers of children with disabilities, and the strategies available to manage this stigma. We conclude that associative stigma is morally fraught for mothers of children with disabilities, creating a moral double bind in which mothers are culturally culpable in both behavior and body.

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