Parenting after Black Saturday: lived experiences since the 2009 Victorian bushfires
AuthorKosta, Lauren Giovanna
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2023-05-07. This item is currently available to University of Melbourne staff and students only, login required.
© 2018 Dr. Lauren Giovanna Kosta
In the aftermath of disasters, parenting is often recognised for its influence on children’s wellbeing and recovery. Research has also shown that the parental role has implications for parents’ post-disaster mental health as well. However, little is known about what the experience is like for parents themselves, particularly in Australia. In February 2009, catastrophic bushfires burned across the state of Victoria resulting in tragic loss of life, significant destruction of property and land, and disruption to communities. This study explored what it has been like to be a parent since the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 22 parents (19 mothers, 3 fathers) who, along with their dependent children, survived the Black Saturday bushfires. The interviews were conducted around 6-7 years following the fires, thus offering a longer-term perspective than much of the research in this area to date. An inductive thematic analysis was conducted to explore parental experiences over the years since the disaster. The findings provide insight into parents’ experience of adjusting to life after the fires as that of being forced into a new normal. Parenting after the bushfires stood out for many as being different and difficult. For some, the extent or nature of the changes were spoken about as a loss of a valued part of their identity. Some changes stood out as new situations, ones they had never expected to face as parents. There were also challenges they considered typical of parenting which were amplified after the disaster and now felt beyond parents’ control. This study identified five parenting challenges faced by participants in the aftermath of Black Saturday: (i) parenting flexibly and finding new strategies; (ii) sticking to their values; (iii) being present and available; (iv) being patient and tolerant; and, (v) negotiating differing needs. The challenges showed ways in which the post-disaster environment (e.g., the number of demands, changes within their communities), parental mental health (their own or their partner’s trauma and grief reactions) and their children’s mental health at times undermined their efforts to be the parents that they wanted to be. Parental experiences of supports and services showed the value and nuance of relationships and indicated ways in which formal services can facilitate or strengthen social support. Additionally, the importance of reinforcements with helping children cope as well as services to assist parents’ own coping was highlighted. The findings also speak to the critical significance of childcare (in particular the availability of safe and trusted places for children) and value in facilitating opportunities for time together as a family away from the onslaught of post-disaster demands. This study contributes to understanding the complexities of parenting and unique experiences of parents post-disaster. It has provided detailed insight into parental experiences following the Black Saturday bushfires offering an opportunity to acknowledge, normalize, and validate such challenges.
Keywordsdisaster; parenting; parental experience
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