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Strength in adversity : motherhood for women who have been battered Irwin, Lori G.

Abstract

Violence against women in intimate relationships in Canada occurs in astonishing proportions. One in four Canadian women have experienced battering by a partner. This battering coexists with parenting children who witness or experience the abuse. Although researchers have described women's experiences of abuse, factors influencing their decisionmaking, and the experiences of children in abusive contexts, there is a paucity of literature that addresses how women mother and parent their children within this adversity. The purpose of this research study was to explore the experience of motherhood from the perspective of women who have been battered. In this research, the way in which women come to understand their experiences as mothers was of central concern. The method used in this study was interpretive description, a qualitative research approach that allowed women's accounts of their experiences to be conceptualized as constructed narratives that reflect their attempt to make sense of their lives as mothers. Five women who have been battered who are mothers were interview twice for this study. The open-ended interviews were transcribed verbatim and their accounts were analyzed for emerging patterns and themes. The findings of this study showed that the women experienced many complex challenges while mothering in an abusive relationship and that many of these extended beyond the relationship once women left. The way the women fulfilled their roles as mothers was influenced by the abuse in their lives, by their perceived social ideals of motherhood, and by their concerns for both their children1 and themselves. Within the context of an abusive relationship, women used various strategies to care for and protect their children including minimizing the intensity and frequency of abuse. Controlling behaviors of partners influenced parenting options for mothers and altered their ability to parent according to their values. After leaving their abusive relationships, women found a sense of meaning in being a mother that helped them to build self-esteem, support their children, and experience personal growth. The experiences of motherhood revealed in this study extend our understanding of the complexities of being a mother in the context of abuse, point to the need to revise existing theories to reflect broader conceptualizations of motherhood, and provide direction for supporting women and their children in health care encounters.

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