Responsibility for aging parents: independence and obligation within filial relationships




Funk, Laura Megan

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Thoughts and feelings around commitments and responsibilities to ensure the well-being of others are an important aspect of the everyday experience of relationships, particularly family relationships, and are especially salient in caregiving situations. In this dissertation I focus on the interpretation of the meaning of filial responsibility, from a sociological perspective: that is, how discourses are enacted within adult children's descriptions and assessments of what they do and feel towards aging parents. Between 2005 and 2006, I interviewed a non-random sample of 28 men and women with one or both elderly parents living in or near Victoria. British Columbia. Interviews were loosely structured explorations of participants' feelings and thoughts about their personal sense of responsibility for their parent(s). I viewed the data not only as windows into individual experiences. but as interpretive accounts mediated by dominant socio-cultural discourses. Participants responded to the construct of responsibility for parents by contradicting themselves, repeatedly qualifying their responses, or rejecting or revising the concept. There was particular difficulty in talk about "feeling responsible." Participants" accounts are explained with reference to the interpretive construction of personal meaning, and to the broader symbolic meanings of responsibility: as externally imposed obligation, as involving control over others, and as burdensome and unwanted. In their own accounts, participants reacted to this meaning by redefining or rejecting the concept at the level of their personal experiences. In doing so, they often prioritized individualistic ideals of personal choice and parental autonomy. Many also emphasized the role of love and affection in their relationships, although the extent to which this represents the manifestation of individualistic or familialistic discourses varies between individuals. Lastly, despite privileging individualism in their accounts of personal responsibility for parents, when asked to comment about "Canadian society," a cultural emphasis on individualism tended to be characterized negatively by participants and blamed for a decline in filial responsibility more broadly. Participants- accounts are explored for what they reflect about the symbolic meaning of filial responsibility in contemporary Canadian society, as well as for what they suggest about the process of its interpretation at the individual level.



older people, family, caregivers, responsibility