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Maternal Role Attainment Theory

The goal of developing a strong maternal identity throughout a woman's lifetime was the basis of Dr. Ramona Mercer's Maternal Role Attainment Theory. She began developing the model in the 1970s while she was a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh and was inspired by her instructor and mentor, Reva Rubin.

Since its inception, Dr. Mercer has revised and expanded her theory and in 2004, renamed it as Maternal Role Attainment: Becoming a Mother. This takes the theory to a final goal of continued growth of mothering throughout a woman's lifetime. The concepts form a framework that centers on developing a bond between the mother and child and enhance the role of motherhood.

The nursing theory was first developed to meet the needs of nontraditional mothers and to provide nursing interventions that would allow them to grow and have strong maternal identities. The primary concept is an interactional process that occurs over a period of time.

A number of psychologists and philosophers including Urie Bronfenbrenner, a Russian American psychologist who developed the Ecological Systems Theory, influenced Mercer's early work. His theory proposed that each person is in an interconnected relationship with other people and environments. He illustrated this theory with the image of nested, Russian dolls in which the smallest system is the individual, but all are connected to the greater whole.

This theory inspired Mercer to develop a graphic of interconnected circles to represent her model of maternal role attainment. Within these circles are various aspects of family relationships that are all interdependent. Included are the mother and father relationship, mother and child characteristics, maternal role identity and child outcome. Other factors in these nested circles incorporate family functioning, stress, social support, cultural consistencies, parents' work settings, day care and school.

Dr. Mercer's theory is a middle range, evidence-based theory that has a specific focus rather than being abstract. It is concerned mainly with maternal and child nursing but can be used with many ages and in many situations and environments. Other disciplines such as psychology, sociology and education have incorporated the philosophy into their maternal and parenting applications.


  • Maternal role attainment is the process by which the mother becomes emotionally involved with her child, becomes a capable caregiver and finds satisfaction in her role.
  • A positive self-concept includes self-esteem and acceptance of self.
  • Attachment is the process of forming emotional commitment and fondness for another individual.

Four Stages of Becoming a Mother

  • The anticipatory stage occurs during pregnancy when the mother makes psychological and committal adjustments and prepares for her new role.
  • The formal stage begins with the birth of the child and the role of motherhood is taken on and learned within the framework of her social system.
  • The informal stage is when the mother integrates motherhood with her own lifestyle rather than fitting social norms.
  • The personal stage occurs when the mother internalizes her mothering role and reaches a state of confidence and harmony.
These stages can overlap but usually progress in a predictable, orderly manner. They are usually completed about four months after the birth of the baby.

Global Nursing Concepts

  • Human beings see themselves as individuals and separate from other people. Values, morals, self-esteem and self-confidence play a part in maternal self-concept.
  • The environment plays a role in the maternal concept. Mothers need to balance outside influences with the needs of the family.
  • Health is a vital factor in motherhood. The health history of both mother and father needs to be addressed as well as lifestyle factors.
  • Nursing and nurses play a very important role in the maternal cycle. Nurses have the responsibility to promote growth and educate mothers and families before, during and after pregnancy. They make a huge impact on the outcome of childbirth.
These concepts build on each other and illustrate the fact that maternal health is influenced by many factors. The nature of the newborn affects the identity of motherhood. The psychosocial and emotional needs of newborn cannot be overlooked. The nurse is the primary caregiver and is in the position to provide integrated care and education, especially in the first 12 months of motherhood. The maternal role attainment in the first year of motherhood will have an impact on the entire life of the family.

Publications related to Maternal Role Attainment Theory

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