Parent-Child Relations throughout Life

By Karl Pillemer; Kathleen McCartney | Go to book overview

needs and will take what pride they can from maintaining their independence for as long as possible.

One especially important next step in the study of kin obligations is to vary the crisis situations to a greater extent than we did in our study. We relied upon noncontroversial circumstances: a household fire, surgery, emotional problems, or loss of job. We would like next to include triggering events that tap ethical and legal boundaries, such as a parent or a child or a brother-inlaw who has a gambling debt or was arrested for driving while drunk. We expect to find much greater variance in the strength of obligations even toward primary kin with the inclusion of such ethically borderline situations.

Finally, we need to take our own argument to heart and include spouses in any next step in the study of kinship obligations. We had rejected that possibility out of hand, because we assumed our respondents would find it foolish in the extreme to be asked how obligated they would feel to provide comfort or financial support to a wife or husband who had major surgery. But to exclude a kin type because we anticipate an extraordinarily skewed response distribution is to violate our own position that the study of social norms requires a departure from customary measurement procedures, and to miss the opportunity to compare the level and kind of obligations that inhere in the marital relationship with the obligations we have found in the parent-child relationship. As an example of one highly specific hypothesis in a future study of this kind, we expect higher obligation levels to parents or adult children who engaged in unethical or illegal behavior than to wives and husbands under similar circumstances. We have the option of terminating a marriage and pushing an ex-spouse to the periphery of the obligation wheel. Some of us may sever ties to parents, perhaps especially fathers, but few of us are likely to sever ties to our children, however heartbreaking and unethical we judge their behavior to be.

Our kinship study has provided a rich data-set that has been fascinating to analyze and to report on. Now the future beckons, and we are eager to replicate our study with national data and some revision in the measurement of the major constructs, and thus to deepen our understanding of the relationship between parents and children.


REFERENCES

Bengtson, V. L., & Schrader, S. ( 1982). "Parent-child relations". In D. J. Morgan & W. A. Peterson (Eds.), Research instruments in social gerontology ( Vol. 2, pp. 115-128). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Bernard, J. ( 1972). The future of marriage. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Cherlin, A. J., & Furstenberg, F. ( 1986). The new American grandparent. New York: Basic Books.

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