Parent-Child Relations throughout Life

Parent-Child Relations throughout Life

Parent-Child Relations throughout Life

Parent-Child Relations throughout Life


The study of parent-child relationships has long been of interest to behavioral scientists, both for its theoretical importance and for its practice and policy implications. There are, however, certain limitations to the knowledge in this area. First, research on parents and children is spread throughout a number of disciplines and as a consequence is not well integrated. Further, there has been little dialogue among researchers concerned with parents of young children and those interested in middle-aged and elderly parents and their offspring. The present volume predicates the notion that there is considerable similarity in the issues explored by researchers on different points of the life course.

Contributions by leading scholars in psychology, sociology, and anthropology are organized into four sections, each of which contains a treatment of at least two stages in the life course. The sections cover attachment in early childhood and in later life, life course transitions, relationships within families, and the influence of social structural factors on parent-child relations. Although the chapters make important contributions to basic research and theory, many also deal with issues of public concern, such as day care, maternal employment, gay and lesbian relationships, and care of the elderly.


Sandra Scarr

Chicken Littles have told us repeatedly that the sky is failing on our families. The idealized two-parent family with 2.2 children is a small minority of today's families. Divorced, unmarried, and surrogate mothers seem to have taken a toll on the vitality of the "Traditional American Family." Alternative family forms abound: single parents and children, adolescents rearing children alone, gay couples with children, older adults living together, and so forth.

Born in the idealized 1950s, the imaginary family ideal even today is of two married, heterosexual parents and their young children. However, there are millions of families made up of middle-aged parents with adult children still in the household, of grandparents caring for grandchildren, of middle-aged children caring for their aged parents. In this volume, research is presented on the varied family forms encountered today. The research shows that the contemporary American family has amazing variety and resilience.

Whether families "work" to nurture and protect participants depends on both external and internal systems. External economic conditions, social networks, extended family systems, and other societal supports (or more commonly the lack thereof) all bear on how well family members can function in each others' best interests.

Thus, parents without jobs or adequate income are less able to function as parents and role models for their children than the more fortunately employed. Elderly adults without adequate retirement and medical protection can become abused dependents of resentful adult children. Internal to the family, many personal and relational strains can interfere with the family's functioning. By temperament, some children are easier for parents to like and get along with than others. Children with disabilities place additional strains on parents' rela-

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