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Mothering Alone: A Plea for Opportunity
Mary Kay O'Neil | Foreword by Rosemary Balsam
Karnac Books (London: Phoenix Publishing House) / Softcover / Jul 2022
9781912691319 (ISBN-10: 1912691310)
Psychoanalysis / Women's Issues
reg price: $49.95 our price: $ 47.45
192 pages
In Stock (Ships within one business day)

This excellent new book from Mary Kay O’Neil emanates from her study of impoverished mothers. The book includes the women’s recorded and transcribed stories alongside novels, memoirs, and clinical examples to provide a thought-provoking and insightful investigation of how best to support mothers and children. Mothering Alone provides a fascinating and underexplored window on the position and needs of women alone with children in contemporary society.

With a Foreword from Rosemary H. Balsam, this book is a must-read for psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, social scientists, policy makers, and those with a passion for ways to improve society.


‘The lives of women are inextricably linked to the well-being of children. If they are not educated, if they are not healthy, if they are not empowered, the children are the ones who suffer.’ (UNICEF report, 2006)

The study this book is based upon was of a pioneering facilitating programme enabling low-income mothers with little to no outside support to attend college or university. The women’s stories are told in their own words and are used to explore the importance of education as a way to improve their and their children’s lives. The book begins with an engaging Foreword from Rosemary H. Balsam, FRCPsych (London), MRCP (Edinburgh), Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Yale Medical School. Followed by the author’s introduction, the book is then split into three parts. Part I sets the background of the study itself and of Western societal attitudes towards single mothers over the centuries. Mary Kay O’Neil also investigates common maternal tasks, the effect of parental and relational experiences, the life impact of becoming a mother, and the various influences on the decision mother alone. Part II considers the characteristics basic to effective mothering: resilience, autonomy, and caring. In the light of the author’s interest in women’s development, Part III explores the psychodynamic understanding of mothers alone without resources, and outlines society’s role in providing the opportunity for them to become successful mothers. The parts are followed by an Afterword to summarise what was learned through the women’s generous openness and to suggest societal improvements for increased opportunity. The book closes with two Appendices. The first tells the story of O’Neil’s mother, who also mothered alone. The second delivers the research findings of the study for those interested in learning more. This clearly written book underlines the UNICEF statement above and does much to engage with the debate on support for those most vulnerable members of society.

Table of Contents:

About the author
Foreword by Rosemary H. Balsam

Part I: Attitudes, research, and motherhood
1. Attitudinal change
2. The research project
3. Maternal tasks
4. Becoming a mother
5. Parental and partner relationships
6. Life development stories

Part II: Maternal growth
7. Resilience
8. Autonomy
9. Caring

Part III: Development of mothers alone
10. Psychodynamic understanding
11. Society’s role

Appendix I
Appendix II

About the Author:

Mary Kay O’Neil, PhD, is a supervising and training psychoanalyst and registered psychologist in private practice in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Trained at the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, she received her PhD from the University of Toronto and was an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry. Currently, she is president of the North American Psychoanalytic Confederation (NAPsaC), a member of the board of the Toronto Psychoanalytic Society, and on the faculty of the Toronto Institute. Formerly, she served as director of the Canadian Institute of Psychoanalysis (Quebec English), Montreal, and was a North American representative on the board of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA). In addition, she was a member of a number of IPA committees, including ethics and publications and also on the editorial board of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. Author of The Unsung Psychoanalyst: The Quiet Influence of Ruth Easser, she co-edited seven other books and has contributed numerous journal articles as well as chapters and book reviews. Her research includes studies of depression, young adult development, sole-support mothers, the analyst as art collector, post-termination contact, and psychoanalytic ethics. Toronto and Montreal Foundations have funded her research activities.

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