Methods: Fifteen in-depth, two-hour interviews were conducted with mothers in early to on-going stages of recovery from a substance use disorder. Time in recovery ranged from 3 months to 15 years in sustained recovery. The study purposively recruited a diverse sample of mothers who had and had not actively engaged treatment services. Interviews elicited parents’ experiences of recovery while parenting children and were transcribed verbatim. This presentation arises from a secondary analysis of these interviews, using thematic analysis of narratives related to mutual aid experiences.
Findings: All mothers mentioned experiences with mutual aid groups; however, there was a high variability in how these spaces facilitated or hindered individuals’ recovery process through meeting their intersecting needs of being a parent in recovery. Spaces facilitated on-going engagement when the group was shaped around multiple shared identities, such as being a mother of young or school-age children and who identified as in recovery from alcohol use disorder. These spaces, when available, created a substitute support network that replaced a “mommy culture” outside of recovery spaces that frequently incorporated alcohol use and did not provide safe spaces to discuss how to navigate stressors of parenting while managing one’s own recovery needs. That being said, the benefits of these spaces were offset for some participants by experiences of guilt or shame from not aligning with groups norms, particularly when framing around recovery as “abstinence only” felt too rigid for some. In addition, many mothers described disengaging from mutual aid spaces due to the inability to find meetings that were accessible—meetings were often scheduled during dinner and bedtime routine hours and/or not allowing children to attend meetings.
Conclusion and Implications: When working with clients to identify mutual aid groups, it is critical to help clients navigate the frustrations of identifying spaces that best align with core identities that they identify as critical for their on-going recovery process or supplemental resources that address unmet needs. In addition, this work speaks to the needs to identify affordable, parent-centric spaces that allow mothers to find accepting and safe spaces to integrate multiple facets of their identity, helping them to address recovery needs while also building a fuller life critical to maintaining on-going recovery.