Learning How to Navigate U.S. Society with Young Children: Experiences of Immigrant Mothers Utilizing Early Childhood Care and Education

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Nearly one in four children in the United States are children of immigrants (Fortuny, Hernandez, & Chaudry, 2010), and these children are the fastest growing segment of children in the country (U.S. Census, 2000 as cited in Matthews & Ewen, 2006b). Given this growth, grounded in Berry's (1997) acculturation framework and ecocultural theory (Weisner, 1997) , this study investigated the lived experiences of immigrant mothers with young children as these mothers adjusted to being parents in the U.S.

An ethnographic approach was utilized to explore the experiences of 41 immigrant mothers living in Washington, DC and Virginia who were engaged with the ECCE system. Consequently, in-depth interviews as well as observations were conducted with immigrant mothers living in northern Virginia and Washington, DC, hailing from both Latin America (n= 22) and Africa (n=19). Data were analyzed using a modified grounded theory approach in which three waves of coding were conducted: open coding, axial coding, and selective coding.

The findings from this study indicate that mothers' immigration stories, including, their reasons for coming to a new host society, their journey and finally, adjustment to life in the new country, shaped their expectations of parenting in the U.S. Mothers' in this study negotiated parenting ideas and practices from the U.S. and their home countries to create a new social framework for parenting in the U.S. that was distinct from parenting in their COOs and the U.S. Finally, a process model emerged from the data reflecting these immigrant mothers' navigation of the ECCE system. It illustrated that mothers drew upon a variety of social, organizational, and geographic connections to find ECCE, sometimes faced obstacles to securing ECCE, and ultimately were able to develop important social capital as a result of utilizing ECCE.

The findings from this study will provide practitioners, policy makers, and researchers with a greater understanding of how immigrant families with young children adjust to life in the U.S., experience parenting, and how they navigate the U.S. ECCE system. This knowledge will contribute to creating the most effective programs, policies, and studies to support immigrant families.