Ways of Understanding Parental Chronic Pain: A Typology

Publication Title

Pain Management Nursing

Publication Date


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parental chronic pain




Chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP) is a prevalent occurrence and is experienced by adults in their child-rearing years. Communication within the family about parental illness can be formidable, and family members are often uninformed about illness details. To date, there is no research exploring how children and adolescents understand parental chronic pain, a very complex phenomenon, and its related disability. The aim of this study was to develop a substantive theory that describes how adolescents manage the experience of living with a parent suffering with CNCP and environmental factors that help or hinder this process. Grounded theory was used, the focus of which was adolescents' processes of dealing with parental illness in the interpersonal and environmental contexts of their daily lives. A sample of 30 young adults was recruited in northeastern Ohio using theoretical sampling. During open-ended interviews, participants were asked to look back on their adolescence and talk about how they managed living with parental chronic pain. Interview transcripts and field notes were analyzed using constant comparative methods. Six ways of understanding parental chronic pain emerged from the data: noticing something is different, wrestling with not knowing, searching for answers, questioning the validity of pain, developing insight into the complexity of pain, and learning important life lessons. Findings shed light on how adolescents understand and attach meaning and significance to parental chronic pain and disability and serve as the basis for the development of personalized family interventions.