Academic journal article Family Relations

Mothers and Fathers of Adults with Mental Retardation: Feelings of Intergenerational Closeness

Academic journal article Family Relations

Mothers and Fathers of Adults with Mental Retardation: Feelings of Intergenerational Closeness

Article excerpt

Mothers and Fathers of Adults With Mental Retardation: Feelings of Intergenerational Closeness*

On the basis of a sample of 96 married mothers and fathers, this study investigated older parents' feelings of closeness with a coresident son or daughter with mental retardation. Mothers felt closer to the adult child than fathers did. For mothers, feelings of closeness to the adult child were related to their level of education and the adult child's functional skills. For fathers, feelings of closeness were associated with their own personality characteristics, marital satisfaction, and the behavior problems and functional skills of the adult child. Implications for practice are discussed in relation to the unique experiences of these older parents.

Key Words: affective solidarity, families, intergenerational relations, mental retardation.

lowness and intimacy with adult children can be a rewarding aspect of parenthood for older mothers and fathers. In several studies of parental expectations of adult children, Blieszner and colleagues found an emphasis on warmth, affection, and emotional support (Blieszner & Mancini, 1987; Hamon & Blieszner, 1990). In addition, affection was identified as an important motivation for intergenerational interaction and aid (Hess & Waring, 1978), and strong affective ties with children can have a positive effect on parental well-being (Lawrence, Bennett, & Markides, 1992; Silverstein & Bengtson, 1991).

This study focused on a unique population-aging mothers and fathers who have coresident adult children with mental retardation. For parents caring for adult children with mental retardation, affective components of the parent-child relationship may be especially important. Unlike most men and women, these aging parents have continued to maintain active parenting, remaining more on the giving than the receiving end in intergenerational exchange. The special needs of a son or daughter with mental retardation place ongoing demands on parents that may become sources of distress (Roberto, 1993). On the other hand, research suggests that older parents also derive considerable satisfaction from their relationship with a coresident son or daughter with mental retardation (Grant, 1986). In fact, because most individuals with mental retardation live with their parents through most of their life (Fujiura & Braddock, 1992), greater understanding of the parent-child affective bond is especially warranted.

The framework for this study was drawn from two bodies of literature. One is literature on affective closeness between parents and adult children in the general population, with particular emphasis on the concept of affective solidarity. The basic purpose was to explore the generalizability of these findings to parents of adults with mental retardation. The second body of literature is research on families of minor or adult children with disabilities, which is important for understanding contextual elements specific to these families. The latter literature, especially on older families, has primarily focused on mothers and their children. However, research on the general population suggests affective relationships between parents and their children differ by parental gender. Including fathers and mothers in the present study provided the opportunity to learn more about gendered processes in family relationships. In building and testing hypotheses about affective closeness between parents and adult children with mental retardation, a comparative approach was used, comparing mothers and fathers on mean differences in their feelings of affective closeness with their adult children and on the factors associated with those feelings.

Intergenerational Research

In intergenerational research, affective ties between parents and children often have been viewed as a component of solidarity (e.g., Hess & Waring, 1978; Rossi & Rossi, 1990)-"the multiple, complex, and sometimes contradictory ways that parents and children are socially connected to each other" (Lawton, Silverstein, & Bengtson, 1994, p. …

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