Mothers with Intellectual disability from Ethnocultural Communities in Canada: A Narrative Study

  • Author / Creator
    Pacheco, Laura
  • The scientific study of parents and parenting with intellectual disability dates back almost one hundred years. Yet very little is known about the experiences of mothers with intellectual disability from ethnocultural communities, or the way in which culture shapes and constrains these women’s lives (International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disability Special Interest Research Group on Parents and Parenting with intellectual disability, 2008). To shed some light on the experiences of mothers with intellectual disabilities from ethnocultural communities in Canada I undertook a narrative study underpinned by Collins’ (1990, 2000) intersectionality theory. My study involved eight mothers with intellectual disability from different ethnocultural communities in Quebec and Alberta, Canada. I conducted between three and seven in-depth interviews with each mother over a period of two years, and spent time with these mothers as they went about their everyday lives. The eight mothers that participated in this study came from different ethnocultural communities and identified as Aboriginal, Portuguese, Indian, Chinese, ‘Trini-Indian’ and Polish. The mothers had children ranging from five to twenty-one years old and five of the mothers cared for their children on a daily basis. The other mothers had regular visits with their children. At the time of the study, three of the mothers were married to the father of their children, one mother was living with her partner and the other mothers were divorced and single. The life histories of the women who took part in this study were ‘pot-marked’ by experiences of loss and oppression. They experienced the loss of important people in their lives including family members and their children, experienced abuse as children and as adults and were isolated from their family and cultural community when they did not ‘measure up’. Yet, woven into the narratives of these eight women are threads of love and resilience. The love they had for their children and their tireless quest to have them with them gave these women a purpose and instilled greater hope in their lives. The women’s narratives reveal that oppression they experienced and the resilience they displayed are rooted in ‘culture’: For these women, culture was ‘a two-edged sword’. On the one hand, the lives of the eight women (including the choices that were available to them) were constrained by cultural expectations, for example, of the role of women. Moreover, when these women failed to perform their roles—as women, wives and mothers—according ‘to script’ (i.e., cultural expectation), they were punished: socially, psychologically, and in some cases, physically. On the other hand, the women acquired a more positive social identity, when they first became wives and mothers, as they were doing what was expected of them as women in their cultural community. Each of the women who took part in this study were committed, above all, to being ‘good mothers’. And for these women, being a good mother sometimes meant having to flout other cultural expectations: It was not always possible to be all things to all people simultaneously (e.g., a good women, wife and mother). For example, to protect their children from abuse, some of the women openly contemplated divorce, even though this was frowned upon. Others came to accept that their children may be better off in the care of a foster family in order to give them a better life. These women often did what they thought was right for their children even at great personal cost, in terms of their own personal safety and exclusion from family and community relationships. By sharing their life stories, these women contributed to a collective narrative that is based on experiences and reflective self-understanding; how they want to be seen and treated within their social world. The study findings have implications for policies, professional practice and research. Recommendations for future research studies include exploring the impact of culture on the interpretation of disability, the support provided and received by mothers with intellectual disabilities from ethnocultural communities and their families, exploring social class and strategies of resistance in face of poverty and investigating the experience of abuse in the lives of mothers with intellectual disability from ethnocultural communities.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine
  • Specialization
    • Rehabilitation Science
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • McConnell, David (Rehabilitation Medicine)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Breitkreuz, Rhonda (Human Ecology)
    • Nicholas, David (Social Work)
    • Taylor, Elizabeth (Rehabilitation Medicine)
    • Aunos, Marjorie (Psychology)