Academic journal article Family Relations

Maternal and Paternal Caregiving of Persons with Mental Retardation across the Lifespan

Academic journal article Family Relations

Maternal and Paternal Caregiving of Persons with Mental Retardation across the Lifespan

Article excerpt

Maternal and Paternal Caregiving of Persons With Mental Retardation Across the Lifespan*

Tamar Heller**, Kelly Hsieh, and Louis Rowitz

The study compared the objective (time demands and support provided) and subjective dimensions (caregiving burden) of caregiving for fathers and mothers of children and adults with mental retardation living in the family home and in other settings. Also, it examined the extent that characteristics of the child and family and time commitments of both parents affected these outcomes. In comparison with fathers, mothers spent more time providing care, offered more types of support, and perceived more caregiving burden. For both parents out-of-home placement of adults, but not children, was associated with less caregiving burden. The behaviors and health of the offspring had a greater impact on mothers than on fathers. The effects of their own time commitments and their spouse's time commitments on their caregiving experience differed for mothers and fathers.

Key Words: burden, caregiving, disability, fathers, lifespan, mental retardation.

One of the most consistent findings in family research is that caregiving for relatives with a disability is primarily a woman's role across the life cycle (Hooyman & Gonyea, 1995). However, in the field of mental retardation, few studies have compared the caregiving roles of mothers and fathers across the lifespan. Most of the research addressing this issue has focused on families of young children. This paper will examine maternal and paternal caregiving at different phases of the lifespan. Also, it will examine the impact of characteristics of the child and family and time commitments of both parents on the objective and subjective caregiving burden experienced by the parents.

Gender Differences in Caregiving

In addition to the explanation that women have been socialized to play nurturant roles, several other explanations have been offered for the greater caregiving usually done by women. The time availability hypothesis explains that women have fewer competing roles and time demands, and hence have more time to provide care. Another explanation, the task specialization hypothesis, is that men and women play different but complementary tasks in the family. Studies of caregiving for elderly relatives have found that employed caregivers provide as many hours of care as those not employed (Cantor, 1983; Soldo & Myllyluoma, 1983), while others have found that employed caregivers provide less assistance (Matthews, Wekner, & Delaney, 1989). In a study that also included male caregivers, Stoller (1983) found that employment affected men's assistance to aging parents, but not women's care to parents. In examining these models among men and women caregivers of older parents, Finley (1989) found that neither the time available nor task specialization explained gender differences in caregiving. In every task category examined, males were less likely than females to provide help, with two areas being statistically significant, help with activities of daily living and cognitive assistance (Finley, 1989).

Studies examining caregiving among mothers and fathers of children with disabilities have generally found that parental roles tend to be even more traditional than in families of children without a disability (Cook, 1988). In a study of two-parent families, in which all the women had been employed prior to the birth of their child, Mardiros (1985) found that only 8% of women returned to work after having a child with a disability. Also, when women are employed, they do not receive greater help with household tasks than mothers who are not employed (Marcenko & Meyers, 1991; Willoughby & Glidden, 1995).

Fathers of young children with a disability have not been found to provide more instrumental care to their child with a disability than fathers of young children without a disability (Bristol, Gallagher, & Schopler, 1988; Erickson & Upshur, 1989). …

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