Not the Woman I Once Was: How Turning Points Shape the Trajectories of Military Mothers Parenting Young Children with Disabilities




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The United States Department of Defense (DoD) is comprised of over 1.2 million Active Duty Service Members. Approximately one in six military family households include a child with a disability, or 100,000 children (Lester & Flake, 2013), with a large proportion of these children being age eight and younger. The military family’s quality of life is directly linked to service member readiness and the retention of high-quality service members (DoD, 2004). Therefore, ensuring that military families with young children with disabilities have the social supports needed to establish and maintain a high-quality of life is significant to maintaining our national security and the caliber of the U.S. Armed Forces. Given the high population of children with disabilities and the abundance of military families parenting young children, grounded in family life course theory (Elder, 1998), this study investigated the lived experiences military mothers who parented young children with disabilities as these mothers adjusted to being parent a child with disabilities with the military community. In particular, this study explored how the mothers navigated transitions and turning points that shaped their life course trajectories, while giving attention to the micro and macro level ecological factors t that influenced the mothers’ parenting experiences and decision making. A qualitative approach informed by narrative inquiry was utilized to explore the experience of 25 female, civilian military spouses of U.S. Active Duty Service Members, who gave birth to and parented a child with disabilities. Collectively the mothers in this study represented four branches of Service: Army (n=8), Air Force (n=9), Navy (n=5), and Marine Corps (n=3) and lived in six countries, 27 states, and the District of Colombia, during their time of parenting a young child with disabilities. Data were analyzed through three waves of coding: open coding, axial coding, and selective coding. The findings from this study indicate that the mother’s trajectories were largely shaped by: (a) various ecological factors that influenced military mothers’ parenting experience; (b) decisions made during the major turning points in the mothers’ life course; and, (c) impacts of these turning point experiences yielded. The findings from this study will provide practitioners, policy makers, and researchers with a greater understanding of how military mothers adjust to life as a parent of young children with disabilities, while they navigate the unique requirements of military life. This knowledge will contribute to creating the most effective programs, policies, and studies to support military families of young children with disabilities.