Nga tukitanga mai koka ki tona ira: Maori mothers and child to mother violence.
In common with other indigenous women Maori mothers risk illness,
harm, and possible death when abused and intimidated by their children.
Yet women suffering child to mother violence are silenced by their fear
and shame, and endeavour to minimise the effects of this form of abuse.
A qualitative descriptive research design using kaupapa Maori
methodology was adopted to explore the experiences of Maori mothers who
had been abused by a son or daughter. During semi-structured interviews
with Ave Maori women experiences of abuse by a child, and its impact on
the whanau/ family were recorded. Interview transcripts were analysed
thematically, and three key themes emerged: behind closed doors, my
child and a new journey. These Maori mothers carried the secret of the
violence alone; keeping it behind closed doors while paradoxically
protecting their abusive child. Nonetheless, these mothers reached a
point where they chose to undertake a new journey, one that involved
telling their story, reconnecting with their indigenous roots, and
engaging in healing activities. The mothers' experiences highlight
a lack of support and responsiveness by support and health agencies.
Regardless of these negative experiences with support agencies, we
highlight the important role nurses have in facilitating whanau ora
(family wellbeing) for these women. This research contributes an
indigenous perspective to the growing literature on child to mother
violence, and provides direction for future research.
Key Words: Indigenous women, Maori mothers, child to mother violence, kaupapa Maori, support agencies.
Abused women (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Ryan, Ripekapaia Gloria
|Publication:||Name: Nursing Praxis in New Zealand Publisher: Nursing Praxis in New Zealand Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Nursing Praxis in New Zealand ISSN: 0112-7438|
|Issue:||Date: Nov, 2010 Source Volume: 26 Source Issue: 3|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand|
Child abuse and family violence are topical nationally and
internationally. These behaviours are regularly subjects of media
reports exposing varied forms of abuse and violence within families. As
are other indigenous peoples, Maori are over-represented in the overall
family violence statistics (Dannette, Fergusson, & Boden, 2008;
Fanslow, Robinson, Crengle, & Peresea, 2007; Hook, 2009; Kotch,
1993). It is not uncommon for Maori women and children to feature in
high profile media reports (Hook, 2009). However, less is known about
the suffering of mothers abused by, and subject to violence perpetrated
by their own child or children. In this paper we describe the
experiences of Maori mothers abused by a child of either gender between
the ages of 10 to 18 years, and note the impact of the abuse on these
Whanau (extended families) are the fabric of Maori society. For most, whanau integrity takes precedence and is reflective of a collective orientation by its individual members, a stance differing from groups with an individualistic orientation (McCreanor & Nairn, 2002). However while the collective may take priority, Durie (2001) notes some whanau lack the necessary knowledge and resources to ensure whanau health and wellbeing. Maori women are recognised as kaitiaki (guardians) of their whanau wellbeing, yet this is a difficult role to undertake when abuse and violence occur within a whanau. These actions disrupt the women's functioning and their physical and psychological wellbeing. Undoubtedly, exposure to family violence is a health hazard for those living in its midst, resulting in a trajectory of short- and long-term physical and/or psychological health problems (Anda et al., 2006; Gilbert et al., 2009; Humphreys, Sharps, & Campbell, 2005; Pinheiro, 2006).
The physical, spiritual, and psychological effects of violence are harmful and compromise Maori women's ability to be whanau kaitiaki. The risk of homicide, assault, and hospitalisation is Ave times greater for Maori women than for non-Maori females (Ministry of Health, 2006). Maori women are also more likely to be sole parents than are women of other ethnicities (Ministry of Women's Affairs, 2001). They are also more likely to live in neighbourhoods with high deprivation. The stress caused by socio-economic factors is significant for Maori women. Martin and Kipling (2006) refer to how the concept of intersectionality accentuates the compounding effects of multiple stressors on indigenous women. Intersectionality refers to "... how gender, race, culture, economic status, and geographical distance from social support systems were forms of oppression that magnified one another" (Martin & Kipling, 2006, p. p. 384).
Acknowledging the importance of the cultural values of the Maori women (Wilson, 2004), a qualitative descriptive research design informed by kaupapa Maori methodology enabled a 'by Maori for Maori with Maori' process (Smith, 1999) was adopted. Ongoing kanohi ki te kanohi (face-to-face) consultation for advice and support was undertaken with local iwi cultural advisors, Women's Refuge representatives, and a cultural advisor to ensure tikanga (customs and processes) was appropriate and would maintain the cultural integrity of the participants and researcher. Hence participants were offered support from tangata whenua (local people), kaumatua (respected elder), and kuia (older women) (Jahnke & Taiapa, 1999). Te Whare Tapa Wha (the four walls of the house) symbolizes the strength and equilibrium of a person's holistic wellbeing when all walls are in balance. This approach informed the research process and construction of the interview schedule (Durie, 1998, 2001) (see Table 1).
Ethical approval was granted by the Massey University Human Ethics Committee: Northern. Maori women received an information sheet, and questions about the research, expectations of participation, and their rights were discussed prior to their consenting to participate in the study. Anonymity and confidentiality involved assigning a pseudonym to each woman and removing all identifying features from transcripts. Consent forms were stored securely and separately from the data, and those stored electronically were password protected.
Recruitment of participants used purposeful network sampling, following consultation with Women's Refuge. A participant met the inclusion criteria if she identified as a Maori woman, was mother of a child or children between the ages of 10 to 18 years, and had been abused by one or more of her children. Women's Refuge workers initially approached interested women meeting the inclusion criteria. This approach assisted in recruiting participants likely to provide contextually rich data (Macnee & McCabe, 2008; Oman, Krudman, & Fink, 2003). Three women were recruited by Women's Refuge, and two independently approached the researcher to share their stories. Thus five women in all were recruited.
Individual in-depth semi-structured interviews incoporating Maori values and cultural practices (Durie, 2001) were conducted kanohi ki te kanohi. The process began with karakia (prayer), followed by manaaki (providing a cup of tea and kai (food)) to assist whakawhanaungatanga (sharing whakapapa and establishing connections), aided by katakata (laughter considered rongoa (medicine) enabling peaceful wairua and relaxation) (description derived from personal communication with kaumatua). Koha (a small gift) was given to each participant in recognition of time and travel.
The women chose the interview venue, either at the Women's Refuge or their home. To ensure the safety of both the woman and the researcher, those women choosing their homes agreed the abusive child would not be present at the time of the interview. As previously mentioned, Te Whare Tapa Wha guided the interview schedule (Table 2). Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed by the researcher. Answering all questions was voluntary and participants could request the recorder be turned off. Transcripts were not returned to the participants for review, primarily due to the time constraints for completing this research.
Braun and Clarke's (2006) thematic analysis was used to identify common patterns and themes. First, repeated reading of the transcripts and noting initial ideas facilitated familiarisation with the data. The initial codes were generated, driven by the research question. In the third phase codes were grouped into potential themes and these were then re-evaluated to ensure they reflected data extracts. Themes were refined, and then named and the women's korero (talk) extracts used to support the 'story' portrayed in the themes.
Rigour was established using credibility, auditability, fittingness, and confirmability (Schneider, Elliot, LoBiondo-Wood, & Haber, 2003) to ensure processes for data collection, analysis, and the final outcome were trustworthy and reflected the women's stories in a way they recognised. Credibility involved the themes generated from the data being checked to ensure they accurately portrayed these Maori women's stories. Processes for collection and transcribing the interviews included checking the transcripts against each recorded interview. The use of Braun and Clarke's (2006) process for interpretation of data and generation of themes allowed coding and grouping of themes to be linked to data extracts so enabling the process to be audited. Substantiating the findings with other women experiencing child to mother violence, and situating them within the literature determined their fittingness and confirmability, respectively.
In the course of the interviews further information emerged beyond that required for inclusion criteria. The Ave participants were aged between 30 and 60 years, and all identified as Maori. Two had one non-Maori parent, three women were single parents, one had a partner, and one had an amicable relationship with the father of her children. Four were abused by a son and one by a daughter, 10 and 18 years. For three of the participant the children had Maori fathers, while the fathers of the other two were Zealand European.
Three key themes were identified: behind closed doors, my child and a new journey. Maori mothers felt forced to carry the secret of the violence alone, keeping it behind closed doors. However, paradoxically, they were protective towards the abusive child. Table 3 summarises each of the themes, effects and behaviours arising from the child to mother violence.
Behind Closed Doors.
Mothers kept the abuse by their children behind closed doors. This secretiveness was driven by the women's whakama (shame) and fear of being further attacked physically, emotionally and spiritually by their child. Whanau and friends were unaware of the realities, leaving the mothers to cope alone. Kikorangi highlights that what at times is perceived as whanau support for Maori, may in reality not exist:
Kikorangi goes onto describe maintaining this facade with her whanau, while behind closed doors it was quite different.
Participants felt neither protected nor respected by their child, instead they were physically and spiritually overpowered. This led them to question their mothering skills, and contributed to their sense of powerlessness to manage the situation. As a result their emotional wellbeing and the stability of the family unit and the relationships between its members were affected. Paraone described the types of violence and abuse these mothers were exposed to:
Living with this secret was exhausting, especially the need to cover-up the children's behaviour as the mothers believed they should protect the children, irrespective of their unruly behaviour. As a consequence compulsive lying was needed to maintain their secret and avoid judgment by others. Paraone described:
Maintaining a family unit was difficult. While some mothers had strong whanau connections, others were estranged from their whanau, and felt isolated. Even when whanau was important, they carried their secret alone.
Coping alone meant not asking for help, although some simply gave up. Feeling helpless and isolated with no support, they were unable to undertake simple chores. It also had a profound effect on their physical, emotional, and mental health, exhibited as disrupted sleeping patterns, suicidal ideation, isolation, substance use, and depression. Ironically, love for their child assisted their survival in dark moments. Paraone explains the impact on her:
Despite their experiences these mothers expressed an intense love and protectiveness towards their child. This protectiveness was driven by a fear their child would be lured into joining a gang, or removed by social services. Nevertheless, attempts to access advice and support were thwarted leaving them helpless. Pounamu illustrates this apparent contradiction:
Often these mothers were made to feel unwelcome in their own home, and forced to work to financially provide for their whanau. Whero explained this:
These mothers were unable to access needed support, and unaware of assistance they were entitled to. Attempts to seek professional advice and support instead led to their concerns not being heard, and threats their children would be taken away by Child, Youth and Family services because they were not coping. Generally the outcomes of contact with professionals were unhelpful decisions not in the best interests of the mothers, the child or whanau. They developed the view that agency staff were unqualified, incompetent and not to be trusted. This reinforced the need to maintain secrets to prevent their child from being taken away and never being allowed to return home. Whero's and Pounamu's experiences are examples of accessing 'helping' agencies:
I asked for help with my daughter and they [social services] didn't give me any help whatsoever. In fact they made everything far more stressful, they ... went to the point that it was like I was to blame for my daughter's actions and penalised me for it (Whero).
I took myself to the doctor and I went to the doctor who didn't know me because I didn't want to be known. He was a Pakeha doctor, he treated me like another stupid Maori who just got the bash, and honestly, I've never been treated so badly in my life. He even looked down at me, the way he talked at me there was no empathy, sympathy I knew he judged me straight away but I didn't care I just wanted to see if my jaw was broken (Pounamu).
Soliciting help generally left these women feeling helpless. They juggled multiple commitments in the midst of coping with violence from a child while trying to keep their whanau together. Nevertheless, over time the effects culminated in events further impacting on these mothers' wellbeing, such as being unable to work or having their children removed. Whero shared her experience:
Bugger that, work full-time then I have problems with my girls at home and I've only got so many years left to have them. I couldn't figure where I could get time to do anything. Well I went from a size 10 to a size 8 from stress. Yeah, yeah--because I had a physical job as well. A lot of the ordinary things just slipped, then they decided to take my kids off me in the middle of it all ... I was just an absolute mess for six weeks, could barely do anything (Whero).
A New Journey.
All mothers reached a point where they chose to take a new journey, which involved sharing their stories as a form of healing. This new journey involved them challenging prejudices they may have had about being Maori and reconnecting with their indigenous roots. Just as telling their story was a pathway for healing, so was (re)connecting to their Maori culture as Pounamu tells:
The hopes and dreams these mothers had for their children, their whanau and themselves contributed to their embarking on a new journey. Healing also involved engaging in Maori women's groups, counselling, expressing their experiences through writing or art, homeopathy, and beginning a career. They were determined to reclaim their tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) and self esteem to strengthen their wairua and hope for their children's wellbeing, whanau and themselves. Kikorangi explains her aspirations for the future:
Pounamu shared how her tupuna [ancestor] gave her a sense of peace:
While this study is small, it nevertheless provides insight into the experiences of Maori mothers enduring child to mother violence--a little known area of family violence. The findings are similar to others in the literature (Edenborough, Jackson, Mannix, & Wilkes, 2008; Jackson, 2003; Ulman & Straus, 2003). Child to mother violence is under-researched, and globally not well addressed in the literature. Maori mothers shared stories about their experiences of child to mother violence and its impact on them and their whanau. Stigma and shame deterred them from seeking help. The outcome is coping alone with little or no whanau or professional support.
Like women living with family violence, violence perpetrated by a child has similar effects (Humphreys, et al., 2005; Scaer, 2007). The mothers in this study were affected physically, psychologically and spiritually, so compromising their ability to function. In addition, they became isolated and burdened by the violence imposed by their child, eroding their own health, and their confidence to mother their children and promote their health. The physical and mental health outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, are similar to research on women living with domestic violence (Radford & Hester, 2006; Renner, 2009; Woods, Hall, Campbell, & Angott, 2005; Wuest et al., 2009).
Much has been written about the societal expectations for mothers and the tendency to blame mothers and misconstrue their actions (Radford & Hester, 2006). It is not uncommon for Maori mothers to be publicly castigated in the news and popular print media (references withheld out of respect for these women) and by health and support agencies, with minimal recognition of the help they need to cope with the violent or abusive children. Acting on negative myths about motherhood does little to protect mothers and their children, or to promote whanau ora [family health and wellbeing]. As Weingarten (1998) indicates, "mother blaming is counterproductive" (p. 28), and is another form of abuse.
Child to mother violence, similarly to other forms of family violence, is a health issue. Thus, recognition by nurses and other professionals of the potential for child to mother violence for Maori mothers (and others) is crucial in order to facilitate the women's access to the appropriate support and resources needed to positively address their situation. However, we found when mothers attempted to elicit assistance from support and health agencies they were instead confronted with mother blaming that led to counterproductive and destructive outcomes. Institutional and interpersonal racism in part explains difficulties for Maori accessing services (Jones, 2000; Reid & Robson, 2007), and is something nurses and others need to be mindful of as a barrier for Maori utilisation of health and social services.
In order to achieve more productive outcomes for these mothers and their whanau, whanau ora offers a productive way of viewing and working with them by strengthening whanau integrity (Durie, Cooper, Grennell, Snively, & Tuaine, 2010) so as to reduce the risks of unfavourable outcomes. Denying Maori mothers access to needed support and resources to reduce the violence they experience requires health professionals and other agency staff to work with them in a more positive and proactive manner. Whanau ora, grounded in te ao Maori (a Maori world), and A New Journey both reinforce the importance of Maori mothers connecting with their Maori cultural roots. Cultural identity is important for health and wellbeing : "Culture is at the centre of wellbeing to Maori--it is about caring, sharing and looking after each other" (Durie, et al., 2010, p. 16).
An acknowledged limitation of this study is not having ascertained whether the mothers and their child(ren) had a history of living with intimate partner violence (IPV). Thus we are unable to comment on the intergenerational effects of partner violence on abusive children. Family violence is described by Kruger et al. (2004) as an "impostor tikanga [protocol]", that leads to the normalisation of intergenerational practices of violence against women and children. There is a possibility that Maori children in this study may have been amidst this form of violence (Koziol-McLain et al., 2004; Koziol-McLain, Rameka, Giddings, Fyfe, & Gardiner, 2007; Kruger, et al., 2004; National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges, 2007). Both Hook (2009) and Radford and Hester (2006) indicate that in some instances fathers force children to commit acts of violence against their mothers. Thus intergenerational transmission may be a contributing factor to the violence reported in the present study. This is an area that requires further research.
This study provided Maori women with an opportunity, as part of their healing, to share their stories in a safe, supportive, and culturally appropriate environment. Although considerable research has been devoted to family violence, rather less attention has been paid to child to mother violence for Maori mothers. This small study explores the experiences of five Maori mothers. The evidence is that child to mother violence impacted on the women's physical, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing, with effects compounded by the shame of being abused by their own child. The lack of recognition of their plight, and mother blaming attitudes by those working with health and social services deny these mothers their needed help, so further demeaning and disempowering them. It is important that nurses and other agents give urgent consideration, first to the existence of mother to child violence, and secondly to the importance of providing appropriate and genuine support to aid resolution of their predicament.
We acknowledge and respect the women in this study for their courage in sharing their stories.
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Ripekapaia Gloria Ryan, RN, MN, Ngati Porou, Te Whanau Apanui, Ngati Ireland
Denise Wilson, RN, PhD, FCNA(NZ), Tainui Awhiro, Ngati Tahinga, Associate Professor--Maori Health/ Director of Taupua Waiora Centre for Maori Health Research, AUT University, Auckland
We assume as Maori that we all have this huge awesome whanau connection and [are] ... embraced and loved, and an extended whanau, they all love you and watch out for you and keep in touch with you. Well I don't have that and it doesn't always happen.
We made out we were the best family out--a very model family. We did the kindy [preschool] thing, we did the sports thing, we did the schooling thing, we always had the best of kids, always looked good--they looked good. We drove the nice car, we had the nice house. It was behind our very home--behind those doors it was a different story. You know it was [... silent ...] keeping up the appearance.
He bashed me, punched holes in the doors of my house. He swears, he intimidates me all the time and stands over me. He bullies me and blames me for the position he is in. Hits me, I'm thrown to the ground.
Intense stress and fatigue; can't do half of the things I used to do. Like mowing the lawns and [I] usually whip around and do stuff, and try and keep it together... [I was] extremely stressed and pressured by his behaviour. [It's] very costly and expensive, his friends eating all the 'kai, taking food right out of my mouth.
I prided myself on being a good mother. We did lots of whanau things together and we had traditional values. I was trying very hard to instil those in my tamariki [children], but I was always fighting an uphill battle ... the element of shame was enormous.
Although, I tried to put on a brave face, I did not feel right within myself ... [I had] an overwhelming sensation in my puku [stomach] ... You keep up appearances, everything is fine but deep down it's not. You become depressed, lock yourself away, and don't want to deal with life, and become suicidal. I felt like vomiting, I felt sick, yeah ... literally. I don't know I just wanted to die. I remember being on the floor, I just couldn't get up. I didn't want to get up. I stayed in my room where it was dark. Kept my doors closed, closed the gaps so the world could just go away. And I wished, wished, wished I could just die. I actually started lying in my bed thinking how I could die, the most painless way.
Aged 14 years, and we had struggled a lot with him since the age of 11 years to keep him on track, keep him out of trouble. And we lived in a town that was very much gang-related and it was in schools. It was very hard to keep our children away from those influences when they had it in schools, and you know at the age of 11, he was wearing red scarves. You know it doesn't change anything, he's my baby, he's my son. I don't want to let my son go.
I had food bills that were going in at over three hundred a week and her friends would come home, yeah, eating the 'kai' and on top of it sometimes. One time I came home 'cause I was sick and they were all treating me like I shouldn't be here, like I had no right to be here. I was coming home and trying to do dinner and then was getting up early, early to go to work. At the end of the day it was bad enough I was ready to drop from exhaustion. I went to seek help but got piled up with more stress.
[I] started to embrace my Maoridom ... I'm throwing away the prejudice. I am Maori, I am Maori. I will find my way and I didn't know about mana and wairua, and you know hinengaro. I didn't know about that but I did, I just didn't know what it was called.
Our dreams were all about him, you lose yourself. ... My dreams, my dreams, you know a normal mum would dream about wanting him to be an All Black ... I want him to be an All Black. I want him to go to school and have an education, I want him to go to Uni [university] and learn and have a good time. I'm looking forward to my tamariki growing up and having good stable relationships, to be the best grandmother ever. I can't wait to have grandchildren. I think that's me wanting to nurture, nurture what my children never had.
I met the kuia who's with me today and I can see her face and she has a moko [facial tattoo] and she was on the waka [canoe], which is my waka, which I learnt just recently is the waka that brought over the women and the children and the kai. I saw her, it was an amazing journey. I saw her. She was sitting by the fire and she was the nurturer of children, the protector of children, and I knew right there and then that she's with me and she's with me wherever I go, and she's watching over me and that I'm on a journey for a reason.
Table 1. Te Whare Tapa Wha Whare Walls Focus Essential for: Taha Hinengaro Mental wellbeing * Effective communication and thinking Taha Tinana Physical wellbeing * Normal growth and development Taha Wairua Spiritual wellbeing * Being at peace * Positive relationships with tupuna (ancestors) and whanau Taha Whanau Family wellbeing * Sharing, love and caring between its members Note: Source of information from Durie (1998, 2001) and the Ministry of Health (1995). Table 2. Interview Scedule Using Te Whare Tapa Wha Framework DIMENSION QUESTIONS Introduction 1. Can you tell me about your experience where one of your children has intimidated, abused or been violent to you? 2. How long and how often was this for? 3. Was the tamaiti or rangatahi a son or daughter? How old is he/she? 4. Can you tell me what you think the triggers were for this intimidation, abuse and/or violence? Te Taha Hinengaro 1. How did the intimidation, abuse and/or violence make you feel? 2. What were your thoughts about this? 3. How did you respond to your tamaiti or rangatahi? 4. How did this affect your behaviour towards your tamaiti or rangatahi long term? Te Taha Tinana 1. Can you tell me if the incident(s) left you with any physical injuries, and if so, what these were? 2. Can you tell me if you developed a physical illness that you think was a result of the abuse? 3. Were you able to talk to your tamaiti or rangatahi about the abuse? (Explore how and why in response to the answer) 4. Could you make eye contact with your tamaiti or rangatahi after the incidents? Why was this? 5. Were any other tamaiti or rangatahi present? If they were present, what was their response? Te Taha Wairua 1. How did this experience affect you? 2. Can you describe any funny feelings or sensations in your puku during or after the abuse, if you had these? 3. How did the incident(s) affect your wairua? 4. Can you tell me if karakia or other practices helped your wairua during the experience? Te Taha Whanau 1. Do you and your whanau whakapapa to an iwi? If so, which one(s)? 2. Describe your whanau and what they mean to you? 3. What effects has the intimidation, abuse and/or violence had on you and your whanau? 4. Did you seek help outside the whanau? Why or why not? 5. If you sought outside help, would you do this again? Why? 6. How did the intimidation, abuse and/or violence impact on the dreams you had for you and your tamaiti, rangatahi, and whanau? 7. What are your future dreams for you and your tamaiti, rangatahi and whanau? Table 3. Themes, Effects and Behaviours Evident in Child to Mother Violence Experience by Maori Women THEMES EFFECTS BEHAVIOUR Behind Closed Driven by shame and * Secretive Doors embarrassment to keep their physical and * Compulsive lying to Mothers carried emotional violence a hide violence a secret about secret from others. the violence * Unwell physically, inflicted by Disconnection from emotionally, mentally, their child, whanau. and spiritually and to cope alone. Fear their child will * Depression rule. * Isolation Questioning of their mothering skills. * Self-blame Traumatised and burdened * Feel belittled by their child. * Suicidal ideation * Lack of whanau support My Child Fear gang influences on * Strong love for their their child. children Loving their child drives Fear their child will be * Working hard to support their taken away. Supporting an their child protection of abusive child contributes an abusive to financial commitments * Engaging in protective child, despite and being forced to work. activities perpetuates the lying intimidation, Feeling helpless and abuse and abandoned when * Helplessness violence. professionals do not provide the support * Abandonment expected. * Stress and anxiety * Unsupported A New Journey A new journey which * Driven by hopes and involved healing. dreams Reaching a point where a (Re)connecting with * Telling their stories new journey is indigenous roots. chosen. * Reconnection to their Challenging prejudices indigenous roots held about being Maori. * Healing strategies * Accessing cultural and counselling supports
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