Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Mother and Soldier: Raising a Child with a Disability in a Low-Income Military Family

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Mother and Soldier: Raising a Child with a Disability in a Low-Income Military Family

Article excerpt

Although many American families struggle to manage both parenting and employment, the additional time and attention required to parent a child with disabilities complicates the task considerably (Booth & Kelly, 2004; Dodson, Manuel, & Bravo, 2002; Fallon & Russo, 2003; Innocenti, Huh, & Boyce, 1992; Lee, Sills, & Oh, 2002). This article analyzes the efforts of six low-income mothers to balance their responsibilities for children with disabilities or developmental delays with the extraordinary requirements of military life.

Parents of children with special needs can face uncommon emotional stress, and as a result, frequently experience fear, confusion, stigma, and isolation (Peterson & Mathieson, 2000; Russo & Fallon, 2001; Scorgie, Wilgosh, & McDonald, 1998; Seligman & Darling, 1997; Smith, Oliver & Innocenti, 2001). A parent's ability to cope with these stresses depends upon personal characteristics such as hardiness, self-image, and problem-solving skills, as well as upon external factors such as the availability of support within and outside the family (Fallon & Russo; Fujiura & Yamaki, 2000; Hornby, 1994; Scorgie et al.). Given time and adequate support, most families can and do adjust to the increased demands posed by a child's special needs (Fallon & Russo; Innocenti et al., 1992; Scorgie et al.). Those most at risk for failure to manage are families with ongoing unmet needs, including needs for social support, child care, and community services (Booth & Kelly, 2004; Bowen, Orthner, & Zimmerman, 1993; Fallon & Russo; Russo & Fallon; Watanabe et al., 1995).

Although financial pressures often demand that low-income parents of children with special needs remain in the labor force (Booth & Kelly, 2004; Lee et al., 2002), the demands at home often make it difficult to maintain employment continuity (Dodson et al., 2002). Low-income mothers parenting children with disabilities are more likely to work part-time and to change jobs often (Dodson et al.). Families raising children with special needs most often rely on informal care provided by relatives (Booth & Kelly; Cuskelly, Pullman, & Hayes, 1998). Single parenthood further complicates the ability to maintain steady employment (Dodson et al.; Fujiura & Yamaki, 2000; Lee et al.).

An increasing number of low-income women have found service in the armed forces to be an attractive alternative to the uncertainties of civilian employment, as well as an opportunity for training and movement on a career ladder. Thus, women now compose approximately 15% of active military personnel (Department of Defense, 2001). However, the military also places extraordinary demands on service members and their families: Few civilian occupations expect employees to be "mission ready" at all times (Knox & Price, 1999; Segal, 1989; Wahl & Randall, 1996). The full-time demands of soldiering are especially significant today because enlisted personnel often have more family responsibilities than did the young, unattached males around whom the expectations of military life originally developed. Service members are marrying and having families earlier than civilians (Military Family Resource Center, 1998). Currently, more than 80% of those serving in the American military are married and have children (Fallon & Russo, 2003; Segal & Harris, 1993). The military is now the nation's largest employer of single parents (Knox & Price). When mission requirements (long hours, temporary assignments away from home, and the threat of rapid deployment) impinge on the soldier's increased responsibilities at home, it can create extraordinary stress on family life (Fallon & Russo; Russo & Fallon, 2001).

This article turns a qualitative lens on the efforts of six enlisted female soldiers to balance the demands of military service with the challenge of raising a child with special needs. …

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