Dilemmas, decision-making, and disasters: Emotions of parenting, safety, and rebuilding in bushfire recovery

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Increasing numbers of households are impacted by disasters due to population growth, increasing development in higher risk areas, and climate change. While emergency management in Australia aims to reduce quantifiable losses, lived disaster and recovery experiences are relatively mute, with implications for mitigation and post-disaster support. This paper draws on findings from a research project that set out to examine the role of insurance in household recovery after the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires in New South Wales. Among the 19 interview participants, prioritisation of the needs of children was found to hinder personal recovery. Drawing on this key finding, this paper focuses on parents' emotion work and emotions surrounding home. Innate desires to provide good care monopolised parents' emotions and emotional outlets, as they worked to conceal threats and (re)establish a sense of normalcy. Emotion work drained parents, as did threats to, and the loss of, “home” created through “dwelling.” When homes burnt, so too did memories of children embodied in that home – memories that had permeated the material space. This sense of loss intensified when informing children about losses – an act that breached parents' protective instincts and necessitated additional emotional care. Emotions escalated as capacities for care were challenged or eroded in the absence of home contents that normally would have anchored daily routines and provided stability. Replacing such items dominated parents' recovery efforts – efforts encumbered by competing recovery demands, yet facilitated to some degree by insurance safety-nets. These emotions impacted parents' mental and physical wellbeing in the four years that separated the bushfires and the interviews. While there is considerable literature outlining parents' role in lessening disaster impacts on children, few studies examine parents' capacity to do so. In addressing this gap, this paper highlights avenues to improve psychosocial aspects of disaster recovery.

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Australian Research Council



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