INTRODUCTION: Parents are affected when their offspring engages in non-fatal suicidal behaviour. Although research exists on parents' mental and emotional state when they realise this behaviour, relatively little attention has been devoted to exploring how their parental identity is affected.
PURPOSE: To explore how parents re-constructed and negotiated their parental identity after realising that their offspring was suicidal.
METHOD: A qualitative exploratory design was adopted. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 21 Danish parents who self-identified as having offspring at risk of suicidal death. Interviews were transcribed, analysed thematically and interpreted by drawing on the interactionist concepts of negotiated identity and moral career.
FINDINGS: Parents' perspectives on their parental identity were conceptualised as a moral career encompassing three distinct stages. Each stage was negotiated through social interaction with other people and the wider society. Entry into the first stage, disrupted parental identity, occurred when parents realised that they could lose their offspring to suicide. At this stage, parents trusted their own abilities to resolve the situation and keep their offspring safe and alive. This trust was gradually undermined by social encounters, which caused career movement. In the second stage, impasse, parents lost faith in their ability to help their offspring and to change the situation. Whereas some parents gradually resigned entirely to impasse, others regained their trust in their own abilities through social interaction in the third stage, restored parental agency.
CONCLUSION: Offspring's suicidal behaviour disrupted parents' self-identity. Social interaction was fundamental if parents were to re-construct their disrupted parental identity. This study contributes with knowledge about the stages characterising the reconstructive process of parents' self-identity and sense of agency.