Reciprocal Socialization and
the Care of Offspring with
Cancer and with
Judith A. Cook
Bertram J. Cohler
The University of Chicago and Michael Reese Hospital
Socialization within the family involves the induction of members into new roles. Most often, this socialization has been studied in terms of the beliefs and norms taught by parents to offspring, referred to as "forward" socialization. To date, much of the concern with forward socialization has focused on role transitions that are expectable and orderly in terms of the timetable of life ( Neugarten & Hagestad, 1976), such as entry into anticipated, on-time marriage or advent of the parental role. There has been little recognition of the extent to which this forward socialization is important, not just during childhood and early adolescence, but across the adult years as well. With parents living into very old age, it is fairly common for the elderly to teach their middle-aged children about retirement, the physical decline that occurs in the later years, and, ultimately, ways of confronting death itself.
Not only do parents socialize children in a forward manner but, children reciprocally socialize parents in a reverse direction. Over the past decade, as a result of increased interest in the "generation gap" ( Bengtson & Black, 1973; Hagestad, 1981), together with findings from a number of longitudinal studies of family relations ( Klein, 1983), there has been renewed appreciation of the extent to which children influence their parents, including the induction of parents into new conceptions of major adult roles. To date, much of this study of reciprocal socialization has concerned parents and young adult offspring and has focused on orderly (rather than disordered) role transitions, such as efforts by university students to socialize their parents into more flexible definitions of sex roles.
The present chapter focuses on reciprocal socialization in two contexts: children with terminal cancer and young adults with remitting, recurrent