Mothers as Hypervigilants and Fathers as Nurturers: The Maintenance of Gendered Care Within Memoirs by Parents of Children with Cognitive Disabilities




Burke, Fiona

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Sociologists have demonstrated that familial caregiving is gendered, particularly in the context of heterosexual parenting. When parenting children with cognitive disabilities, research shows that parents typically perpetuate gendered divides of caregiving, with mothers often contending with unique societal policing. Due to cultural sanctions of intensive motherhood, mothers are often deemed individually responsible for the outcome of their child, an expectation which becomes further enforced when their children have disabilities. Alternatively, fathers of children with disabilities present characteristics encompassing both nurturing caregiving and traditional fatherhood. To further the understanding of gendered dynamics of caregiving for children with disabilities, I analyzed narratives of family caregiving within autobiographies written by parents of children with cognitive disabilities. Findings indicate that 1) mothers prioritize their identities as parents according to standards of intensive motherhood and fathers embrace identities as nurturers, 2) parents convey their relationships with their children through gendered lenses, and 3) relationships with their spouses illustrate that traditional divisions of familial care are maintained. I assert that these findings demonstrate that parents reproduce gender inequalities when caring for children with disabilities, despite parent narratives which may insist on maintaining an equitable division care. I conclude with implications and suggestions for future research.



Family studies, Gender, Care work, Disability studies, Parenting


Burke, F. (2021). <i>Mothers as hypervigilants and fathers as nurturers: The maintenance of gendered care within memoirs by parents of children with cognitive disabilities</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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