1. Beal, Judy A. DNSc, PNP, RN
  2. Freda, Margaret Comerford EdD, RN, CHES, FAAN

Article Content

Mercer, R. T. (2004). Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 36(3), 226-232.

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Any nurse who has studied the specialty of maternal-child nursing knows the name of Ramona Mercer. Her seminal research on maternal role attainment is well-known to all of us, and a great deal of our practice today is based on what she found in the 1970s and 1980s. In this article, Dr. Mercer describes why the term "maternal role attainment" should now be replaced with a new terminology: "becoming a mother." In coming to this conclusion, Dr. Mercer shows us that the term "maternal role attainment" encompassed multiple processes, including how the new mother replicates her own mother's style of mothering, how she role plays to become comfortable with the new role, how she fantasizes about mothering, how she gathers information and seeks new expert models, and how she must grieve for the parts of her life she will have to give up to become a mother. We use all of these ideas when we help mothers-to-be and new mothers learn to cope with motherhood. As the decades have passed and more nurse scientists have studied this theory, questions have arisen, according to Dr. Mercer, about some of the constructs involved in maternal role attainment as originally conceptualized. A large number of studies are reviewed in this article that lend credence to Dr. Mercer's argument. Many of these studies have shown that there are additional processes not originally considered in the development of the term "maternal role attainment" that should now be a part of the role. In addition, renaming the process would recognize that women continue to grow as mothers throughout their children's lives; "attaining" the role is not "becoming" the role. Therefore, Dr. Mercer says, the former term "maternal role attainment" is no longer sufficient to describe the larger "life-transforming experience" women go through when they "become a mother."


This article is important for anyone who is interested in the theory underlying our practice with mothers and children. Nursing is fortunate to have great thinkers like Dr. Mercer in its midst; the fact that she continues to write and contribute to our knowledge is a true treasure.


Comment by Margaret Comerford Freda