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Mothers’ decision-making during times of stress as a lone parent: a qualitative study
  1. Elizabeth MM Bernthal1,
  2. J Lathlean2,
  3. M Gobbi2 and
  4. RG Simpson3
  1. 1Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (Research and Academic), Birmingham, W Midlands, UK
  2. 2Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, Hampshire, UK
  3. 3Dean, Defence Medical Services, Defence Healthcare Education and Training, Lichfield, UK
  1. Correspondence to Lt Col Elizabeth MM (Lizzy) Bernthal, Academic Department of Military Nursing, Medical Directorate, Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (Research and Academic), ICT Centre, Birmingham Research Park, Vincent Drive, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2SQ, UK; SenResFellow.ADMN{at}


Introduction Little empirical evidence exists to identify the impact that a partner's absence or presence has on the mother's decision-making and her consequential help-seeking behaviour when her child is unwell.

Methods This study used a qualitative design in three phases using focus groups and interviews to explore Army mothers’ help-seeking behaviour as a lone parent when their child was unwell during the out-of-hours period. Thirty-one parents from a British Army garrison were interviewed.

Results The findings demonstrated that Army life created a combination of stressors for Army mothers, which altered their help-seeking behaviour when their child was unwell. When their partner was available, mothers contacted health services as a last resort, once all other avenues had been exhausted. However, in contrast, in their partners’ absence, they were contacted as a first resort.

Conclusion An algorithm was generated from the findings, which illustrates the importance of ascertaining whether the mother is alone at the time of the consultation. Increased emotional vulnerability intensified the need for reassurance and affected a mother's decision-making ability. Primary healthcare staff should ascertain whether mothers are currently lone parents at an early stage of their assessment, as this may influence the entire consultation.


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