Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Amy C. Wilkins

Second Advisor

Sanyu Mojola

Third Advisor

Stefanie Mollborn

Fourth Advisor

Jane Menken

Fifth Advisor

Sona Dimidjian


This dissertation is a qualitative study of the stories young adult children tell about growing up with a parent with a diagnosed mood disorder. Using 50 in-depth interviews with young adults between the ages of 19 and 34, I explore how children of parents with a mood disorder, who describe feeling invisible and/or misunderstood, rely on a specific set of cultural stories that emphasize white, middle-class ideals to make sense of their childhoods and the consequences of their parents' illness. When they compare their own experiences to these narrow ideals, my respondents describe "lost" childhoods and feelings of "growing up too fast." They use these interpretations of their childhood to explain their choices and behaviors as they transition to adulthood. The stories they tell simultaneously empower and constrain my respondents as they seek to emphasize the maturity and independence that they gain, while also discussing the often-negative impact of their parents' illness on their relationship and childbearing decisions. I include data collected from cross-gender sibling pairs to explore how children who grow up in the same household may not only have different experiences but vastly different ways of interpreting them and the role that gender plays in this process. Finally, I discuss the implications of this study for how we understand children of parents with a mental illness and the importance of examining the role that culture plays in shaping how individuals interpret and talk about their families.

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Sociology Commons