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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Study of Latina Mothers' Coping Processes While Their Young Adult Sons Are Incarcerated

  • Author(s): Hayes-Bautista, Teodocia Maria
  • Advisor(s): Heilemann, MarySue V.
  • et al.

Projected rapid Latino population growth in California from 15 million to 25 million by 2060, and a Latino overrepresentation in the state's criminal justice system will drive a rapid increase of Latinos in the state's prisons. A gap exists in the literature on the coping processes of Latina mothers whose sons have been incarcerated. This qualitative research study of 17 low income, Spanish-language-dominant mothers in Southern California was undertaken to fill that gap and to sensitize future studies to the nuances of coping experienced by Latina mothers whose sons were incarcerated. Data collection and analysis of open-ended interviews were done using a constructivist grounded theory methodology.

Findings revealed that the initial response of the mothers to their son's incarceration resulted in perceptions of devastation, leading to pain, crying, lethargy, loss of sleep, and suicidal thoughts; the combination of which brought the mothers to the point of "dejarse caer," or giving up, falling to pieces or falling down. Three motivators would engage them to move towards "No dejarse caer," or not giving up, not falling to pieces, and not falling down. These motivators included their other children who still needed them, their now incarcerated sons, and their earlier image of themselves as capable mothers. Once they had come to the decision of "no dejarse caer", they would engage two key processes.

The first was "self-care," which described how these mothers, with extremely limited access to mental health care, developed three mechanisms to give care to themselves: working the mind, working with others, and working with God. The second process was mothering which consisted of nurturing, providing and protecting. They continued to mother their non-incarcerated children as before, but had to develop new ways to mother their incarcerated sons. These two core concepts were integrated in a circular fashion. The mothers engaged in self-care in order to engage in mothering and conversely, the mothering behavior kept them engaged in self-care. The implications for nursing practice and future research is touched upon.

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