Conditional Love: Parents' Attitudes toward Handicapped Children

Conditional Love: Parents' Attitudes toward Handicapped Children

Conditional Love: Parents' Attitudes toward Handicapped Children

Conditional Love: Parents' Attitudes toward Handicapped Children

Synopsis

Loving your child is not necessarily part of human nature and should not be taken for granted. Parental feelings are dependent upon our preconceptions of a child's appearance. Nevertheless, this cultural notion has been powerfully constituted as a "natural" part of the social myth of bonding. It is this myth that the author sets to expose by presenting data on parents' behavior toward 1,450 children in 3 major hospitals in Israel over a period of six years. Meira Weiss shows that 68.4% of the appearance-impaired newborns were abandoned by their parents, whereas 93% of the newborns suffering from internal defects--even severe ones--were "adopted." She also describes patterns of seclusion, neglect, and abuse such appearance-impaired children were subjected to at home. Both the rich ethnography and the lucid analysis contained in this book offer unique theoretical insights and social implications that should not be missed by anyone interested in the pragmatics of parenthood and the social and psychological aspects of the body.

Excerpt

This is an account of how a child's appearance determines his or her parents' terms of affection. It explores practices of abandonment, dehumanization, territorial seclusion and abuse to which Israeli parents subject their appearance-impaired children. The harsh descriptions contained in the following pages perhaps demand some form of preparatory frame-of-reference, a set of epistemological propositions to prepare the ground for ethnography that touches upon some of our cultural premises which we take most for granted. My point of departure is that parenthood is anything other than "natural"; rather, it is constructed through a matrix of images, meanings, sentiments and practices that are everywhere socially and culturally produced. My search after this "cultural pragmatics" of parenthood will entail the deconstruction of its "poetics"--namely, the myth of bonding and so- called "motherly love." Alongside this deconstruction, it will offer an analysis of what seems to me a universal aspect of behavior--the significance given to "body image" and how it determines the acceptance/abandonment of the child. This book, then, can also be read as an analysis of the biopolitics of falling in love with your child.

Conventional ethical concerns demand that the anthroplogist constantly be neutral and uncommited (cf. Hastrup and Elsass, 1990). The unconventional nature of this ethnography, however, has put me in a double bind, demanding that I be both neutral and committed at the same time. Thus, while I continued to observe and document the harsh sights of child abuse with professional neutrality, my growing commitment toward these children motivated continuation of the fieldwork. Whenever I encountered parental behavior that could be termed abusive in the eyes of the law, I immediately informed the proper authorities. However, this "abusive behavior" raises further questions, on a deeper anthropological and philosophical level, and . . .

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