Against All Odds: Resilience in Single Mothers of Children with Disabilities


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

There is a substantial body of literature that explores family adaptation within the context of childhood disability. However, closer analysis indicates that the primary focus of this research is concentrated on two-parent family systems. Despite evidence to suggest that single mothers are more likely to be parenting children with disabilities, their experiences have received minimal attention within social science research. Furthermore, when single mothers do become the focus of study, much of the attention is directed toward identifying the deficits within their family systems. Grounded in an integrated family resilience framework, the intent of this study was to explore the family adaptation of single mothers of children with disabilities within a longitudinal framework and to identify the individual, family, social, and environmental factors that contribute toward resilience within this population. Study participants consisted of 15 single mothers who had previously participated in the “Family Strengths and Childhood Disability” research project. Mothers were interviewed with the view toward identifying their perceptions of what constitutes risk and protective factors, and exploring these in the context of family adaptation and resilience. Findings revealed a marked contrast between public discourses about single motherhood and childhood disability and the personal narratives of the mothers in this study. Concepts of family resilience were revealed by mothers who challenged definitions of single mothers as inadequate, who disputed the definition of their children as “disabled,” and who moved from a position of received to authoritative knowledge. The study demonstrates that in contrast to public perceptions, single mothers of children with disabilities view their experiences as personally transformative and as a means of building confidence that empowers them to further disrupt negative expectations of their families.

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