Mothers whose chil­dren suffer from emo­tional and behav­ioral dis­abil­i­ties say they shoulder a tremen­dous social burden of respon­si­bility to remedy their kids’ prob­lems, says Linda Blum, asso­ciate pro­fessor of soci­ology and anthro­pology at North­eastern University.

Over the past few years, Blum, an ethno­g­ra­pher whose schol­ar­ship focuses on gender, family and social inequality, has con­ducted scores of inter­views among New Eng­land mothers raising chil­dren with so-​​called invis­ible dis­abil­i­ties, like attention-​​deficit and attention-​​deficit hyper­ac­tivity dis­order (ADD/​ADHD) and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists believe that phys­i­o­log­ical dif­fer­ences in the brain are the most likely cause of such dis­abil­i­ties, from bipolar dis­order to dyslexia. Nev­er­the­less, Blum found that the mothers report they are fre­quently blamed and stig­ma­tized by family and friends, doc­tors and school offi­cials, as much as their chil­dren are by peers. Her find­ings held true regard­less of race or socioe­co­nomic status.

Parts of Blum’s field study have appeared in the journal Gender & Society, and a book—Blum’s third—is in progress.

Mothers are held respon­sible to do all this work to resolve their child’s issues even if they aren’t seen as the pri­mary cause of the problem,” Blum explains. “While it is accepted that the prob­lems are neu­ro­chem­ical or in brain imbal­ances, they are seen as no less respon­sible in the sense of going through all these efforts to find every pos­sible ser­vice, treat­ment or spe­cialist to resolve the issue.”

Even moms of the highest social standing—those who are col­lege edu­cated, hap­pily mar­ried and living in the most affluent communities—struggle to stand up to unre­lenting crit­i­cism by neigh­bors and family mem­bers who ques­tion their par­enting, Blum notes.

Women who are in many ways so close to the idea of a good mother often tor­ture them­selves with thoughts of ‘What should I have done dif­fer­ently,’ or ‘If I had only done this,’” she says. And since ADHD, for example, or Asperger’s, are not well under­stood, mothers face a bar­rage of con­flicting advice, par­tic­u­larly sur­rounding the bur­geoning use of an array of psy­choac­tive medications.

Mothers are dealing with the scary deci­sion of whether or not to give psy­chophar­ma­ceu­tical med­ica­tions to their chil­dren,” Blum says. “That’s not easy to deal with under any circumstances.”

Moms on the other side of the socioe­co­nomic spec­trum face an addi­tional set of chal­lenges, Blum says. For those living pay­check to pay­check, picking from a myriad of mental health pro­fes­sionals, paying for pri­vate schools or hiring edu­ca­tional con­sul­tants are simply not options.

The nation­wide surge in wealth, edu­ca­tional and occu­pa­tional inequal­i­ties, along with shrinking gov­ern­ment bud­gets for social ser­vices, health care, and edu­ca­tion, are making it more dif­fi­cult for mothers of even mod­erate means to secure help for their chil­dren, she adds.

What’s more, single mothers of chil­dren with these dis­abil­i­ties report strug­gling to earn the respect of health pro­fes­sionals and school offi­cials because of their unmar­ried status. One single mom told Blum that she has had to “advo­cate 5,000 times harder” for her child than if she was married.

Blum hopes her research illu­mi­nates the plight of women and their fam­i­lies and helps frame these issues as social prob­lems rather than those of the indi­vidual. “I want to make vis­ible aspects of women’s lives that are being swept under the rug,” she explains. “Society often blames the indi­vidual and fails to look at the more embedded prob­lems that the indi­vidual should not be held respon­sible for.”