Posts Tagged 'family'

Siblings with and without disabilities think differently to each other about the comparison of their young adult experiences – and why it matters

This blog piece is based on the following article: Meltzer, A. (2017) Comparative life experiences: Young adult siblings with and without disabilities’ different understandings of their respective life experiences during young adulthood. Families, Relationships and Societies, early view.

Originally published by Sibling Leadership Network on 1st December 2017. 

 

It’s a familiar feeling. You are a sibling of a person with a disability in your late teens or early 20s. You are busy constructing your life around you – doing new things, making new relationships, learning to drive, moving out of home, finishing school, starting work. Your world is expanding. And yet there is something uncomfortable lingering in your mind. Maybe it is a feeling of guilt, maybe it is a feeling of inequity, maybe it is a feeling of being awkwardly advantaged. Whatever it is, it is a feeling that is there when you look over at the experience of your brother or sister with a disability and see that these life changes that you are making come with more hurdles when your brother or sister tries to do the same things – or perhaps they are things that you believe your brother or sister may never do at all. You value your own life and experiences, but that feeling is always there somewhere. It’s hard to think about and even harder to talk about, especially with your brother or sister themselves – because it feels unkind to point out the discrepancy between you to them – so you bury the feeling and forge ahead, valuing your own experiences, but carrying that sense of disquiet always with you too.

… But what if it did not have to be this way?

What if your brother or sister thought about the situation differently to you?

What if, by never asking them about it, you missed your opportunity to discover that perhaps they do not perceive the differences in the same way as you?

How might that new knowledge help you?

 

What does research say about how each sibling thinks about the comparison?

I conducted research about the relationships between young adult siblings with and without disabilities. I spoke to 25 young people with a disability and 21 of their brothers and sisters about what their sibling relationships are like and how they navigate their lives together during young adulthood. As a researcher, I had the opportunity to ask questions that might usually be too hard to ask directly within families… I had the opportunity to ask what each thought about their respective life experiences during young adulthood, especially the comparison between them.

 

What did siblings of people with disabilities say?

The story that siblings of people with disabilities told me was usually consistent with the scenario at the beginning of this post. Most siblings of people with disabilities generally perceived themselves as advantaged during young adulthood compared to their brothers and sisters. They perceived they had easier and more numerous opportunities – and that in the future they would be able to learn, work and live where and with whom they wanted, but they were unsure if their brother or sister would get to experience the same things as them. Often they appeared to feel that this was an awkward and inequitable difference between then. Often they felt bad about it, and sometimes they felt guilty about it.

 

What did young people with disabilities say?

However, when I spoke to young people with disabilities, they told me a different story – or actually, a range of different stories. Young people with disabilities had a variety of different views about the comparison between them and their brothers and sisters, of which feeling disadvantaged was only one possible option. Across my research, young people with disabilities told me other ways they felt:

  • The difference isn’t about disability.

Some young people with disabilities did not view the comparison between themselves and their brothers and sisters as about disability at all. Instead, they explained the differences between them to be because of other factors that affect all siblings – age differences, making different choices, having different preferences or enjoying different personalities. One sister with a disability said, for example, that she did not mind that all her younger sisters were married when she as the older sister was not, because she preferred the control that comes with being single. When the comparison between siblings’ experiences was not seen as about disability, the differences between them felt far less awkward.

  • I want that too, I just don’t focus on feeling bad about it.

Other young people with disabilities did see the differences between themselves and their brothers and sisters as about disability – and they did indeed want to share their siblings’ experiences – but they did not to focus on feeling too negatively about it. One brother, for example, just stated the differences in a matter of fact way and then moved on to talking about other things he cared about more. Another person noted that she did feel jealous and frustrated about her siblings doing things she could not do easily – such as travelling or moving out of home – but said she also felt genuinely happy for her siblings’ experiences and did not resent them taking up those opportunities, in fact, she wanted them to. Others spoke about advocating or fighting for their right to be able to take up those experiences themselves, but did not blame their siblings for gaining the experiences with greater ease.

  • Actually, there are benefits to the differences between us.

Finally, some young people with disabilities noted benefits to themselves of the differences between them and their brothers and sisters. Some felt that their own experience was better, such as two young women who felt that their disability made their academic achievements appear all the better compared to their siblings. Another person felt that her sister’s experiences acted as a reminder to her family of the level of choice and autonomy that she herself should also be recognised as having, and therefore that her sister’s different experiences actually helped to safeguard her own quality of life.

This range of views highlights that young people with disabilities commonly think differently to their brothers and sisters without disabilities about the comparison between their life experiences during young adulthood. It does not discount the possibility that some young people with disabilities may feel disadvantaged and may resent the inequality they experience compared to their siblings – but it highlights that this is one of a range of possible views. The research also does not suggest that young people with disabilities do not want to share their siblings’ experiences or that they are completely satisfied with their opportunities – many would indeed like more opportunities, the research just highlights that often they are able to see this in a broader perspective of the whole of their lives and relationships. Finally, the research does not represent all young people with disabilities – although people with a range of disabilities were included, including intellectual disability, there is still more to find out about what, for example, people with a high level of support and communication needs think. The research does however show a range of possible views.

 

Why does this matter? What can be gained from listening to what young people with disabilities say?

The findings of this research matter because they highlight that young people with disabilities have different views to their brothers and sisters, and that sometimes they may see their own experiences during young adulthood as more normalised, more empowered or in a different perspective than their siblings without disabilities do. Understanding young people with disabilities’ own views about their lives is important, not only for hearing what they have to say, but also because appreciating their perspectives may help sibling relationships.

Understanding young people with disabilities’ broad range of possible views means that the awkward sense of inequity that some young adult siblings of people with disabilities feel may not always reflect what their brother or sister is actually experiencing – it may reflect a more difficult or troubled view of what disability means in their brother or sister’s life than what that brother or sister actually feels themselves. Understanding the broad range of possible views should not stop siblings of people with disabilities acknowledging and challenging the inequities of their comparative opportunities – however, it does suggest that sibling relationships might improve, and feel less awkward, if young adult siblings of people with disabilities knew more about their brother or sister’s perspective. With this knowledge, young adult siblings with and without disabilities can perhaps together have relationships where they see their comparative experiences in a new light, building on each other’s understandings.

 

Ariella Meltzer is an adult sibling and a researcher at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

The full article is available for free in the month of December 2017. You can download it here.

Challenging the politics of early intervention

Nicola Horsley

Ros Edwards

Val Gillies

The past decade has seen a rash of early intervention programmes targeting mothers of young children.

Reports by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, and early years policy and service provision in the UK and internationally, are now characterised by an emphasis on early intervention in the belief that pregnancy and the earliest years of life are most important for development. It has become the orthodoxy in a whole range of professional practice fields.

The idea of being able to intervene in parenting to ensure better life chances for children feels constructive and positive, but there is little evidence to suggest that it works. Moreover, early intervention doctrine ultimately holds mothers accountable for poverty and other social ills.

“…there is little evidence to suggest that it works.”

Pressure on mothers

Early intervention is directed at mothers as the core mediators of their children’s development. The significance of mother-child relationships in the early years often is underlined through reference to the developing brain. For example, the website of the influential Harvard Center on the Developing Child refers to mothers as ‘buffers’ between their children and adversity. As buffers, they are held personally responsible for inculcating what the Harvard Center terms ‘a biological resistance to adversity’ in their children.

The quality of mother-child relationships is posed as a decisive lever in building children’s brains, and is a core principle structuring the everyday work of many early years intervention programmes. In one UK early years intervention initiative that targets young and marginalised first time mothers, the Family Nurse Partnership programme, practitioners provide mothers with a sheet headed ‘How to build your baby’s brain’ featuring a list of activities claimed to enrich neural connectivity, such as reading books, singing rhymes, and playing on the floor.

“The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering.”

The responsibility loaded onto mothers is especially pronounced in relation to low income, working class mothers and Black and minority ethnic mothers, as both cause of and solution to their children’s marginalisation and poverty.

The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering and consequently the stunted brains of their offspring, at the same time as they are positioned as buffers who can mitigate against and overcome the effects of a harsh wider environment for their children. Early intervention programmes such as the UK’s Family Nurse Partnership, the Solihull Approach, and Parent-Infant Partnerships, overwhelmingly are delivered in areas of deprivation to poor mothers.

Ideas about brain science are used to legitimise interventions in the child rearing habits of working class families, protecting children brought up in poverty from any effects of their disadvantage and promote their social mobility. The social and structural causes of hardship and need that are being experienced by these families in the present are effectively masked, placing mothers as hidden buffers against the effects of privation on their children.

The developing world

Globally, UNICEF brings together early years development and parenting to offset children experiencing war and hunger on the basis of the speed of new neural connections formed in the brain in the early years, asserting that good parenting will help children overcome multiple adversities such as violence, disaster, and poverty. Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world, in the belief that improved mothering will surely benefit the state of the nation.

For example, the ‘Fine Brains’ (Family-Inclusive Early Brain Stimulation) programme seeks to promote parental stimulation and interaction to improve children’s brain architecture in sub-Sahara. It asserts that mothers in these countries are ill-equipped to maximise the benefits of interaction, need to be trained, and then to train their husbands to parent properly. The complex and diverse historical, economic, political, social and religious contexts of sub-Saharan Africa are obscured in favour of a focus on individual mothers as able to overcome poverty, conflict and post-conflict, engrained gendered inequalities, and so on, through improving their knowledge of child development and home engagement practices.

“Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world.”

 

A meritocratic construction

The policy and practice preoccupation with how poor mothers and deprived families bring up and nurture their children relies on a meritocratic construction of the wealthy and privileged as having better developed brains. This is a statement that many of us might find offensive. But within the confluence of brain science and early years intervention, success is naturalised and unproblematically correlated with brain structure and intelligence. From this perspective, the solution to poverty is to make people smarter. Working class mothers, black and minority ethnic mothers, and mothers in the global South can enable their children to think their way out of their predicament.

The idea that hardship and discrimination is to do with how much attention of the right sort that mothers give to their children, and the notion of countering global traumas and inequalities through parenting, is jaw-dropping. It demonstrates why early intervention policy and practice deserves more critical scrutiny.

 

Challenging the politics of early intervention by Val Gillies, Rosalind Edwards and Nicola Horsley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £18.39.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Family migration: Re-uniting across international borders

Why have so many Polish families chosen to make the UK their home? In this blog post, Anne White discusses some of the motivations for and complexities of family migration to the UK, as explored in her book, Polish families and migration since EU accession, out today in paperback. 

Anne White

British society has been changed beyond recognition by the recent influx of people from Central and Eastern Europe, and particularly from Poland.

To everyone’s surprise, within a few years Poles have become the largest group of foreign nationals and the largest foreign-born population in the UK. The evidence suggests that many Polish people now consider themselves settled in Britain, at least for the medium term.

The fact that so many Poles are with their families does a great deal to explain why they feel at home in the UK, even if just ten years ago parents shared the general ‘wait and see’, ‘let’s give it a go’ attitude of the tens of thousands of other young Poles who experimented with migration to the West around the time their country joined the EU.

How did it happen?

The Brexit campaign centred on the slogan of ‘taking back control over our borders’, but migration research has demonstrated time and time again that controlling immigration in a democracy is an unrealisable ambition. As Castles and Miller (2009) famously observed, immigration cannot simply be ‘turned on and off like a tap’.

Continue reading ‘Family migration: Re-uniting across international borders’

Globalisation and our views on ageing

The world is now a much smaller place, with more and more people choosing to study or work abroad and, consequently, creating transnational families and connections. In this blog post, Martin Hyde, co-author of Ageing and globalisation, discusses how this increase in globalisation has affected conventional views of ageing.

martin-hyde

Martin Hyde

Sometime last year my parents called me to say that they wouldn’t be able to meet up on the coming weekend as they had to go and look after my brother’s kids.

Nothing unusual about this, as more and more retirees find themselves called upon to perform grandparenting duties in times of need – in this case my brother had to travel for work and my sister-in-law was not feeling well.

What made this somewhat more unusual was that my parents were in France at the time and my brother lives in Australia. So, they duly cut their stay in France short, bought return tickets to Australia, flew back to the UK packed their bags and went out to Australia for 3 weeks (my brother had had to go to China and South Korea).

“Wherever we look…we seem to see evidence of the increasing globalisation.”

Unusual but not unique. As families become increasingly transnational more and more people are drawn into these long-distance family and caring relationships. But this is not limited to family relationships. Wherever we look, from travel and transport to economics and the media, we seem to see evidence of the increasing globalisation. Continue reading ‘Globalisation and our views on ageing’

Food for thought for Father’s Day

Esther McDermott

Esther Dermott

Esther Dermott (University of Bristol) and Tina Miller (Oxford Brookes University) are the guest editors of a forthcoming special issue on contemporary fatherhood for Families, Relationships and Societies. A number of the articles from the issue have been made free in the lead up to Father’s Day in the UK.

From personalised beer to racing driver experiences – a full range of gender stereotypical presents are available branded as perfect for Father’s Day. So, it might be tempting to see the growth of Father’s Day in the UK (June 21st this year) as little more than another marketing opportunity; one that doesn’t say much about everyday fathering and certainly doesn’t give the impression that we have radically changed our ideas about fathers.

“men who are doing things differently have a higher profile”

Looking back over the last 40 years of research on fatherhood, there is evidence that things are different now. We can point out generational shifts in how men ‘do’ fatherhood; dads have substantially increased the amount of time they spend with their children and almost all now attend births and take time off work when a baby is born. It is also the case that men who are doing things differently have a higher profile, witness for example of blogs of stay-at-home dads and single fathers. And these changes are Continue reading ‘Food for thought for Father’s Day’

The problem of adolescent-to-parent abuse

by Amanda Holt, author of Adolescent-to-parent abuse, publishing today

Adolescent-to-parent abuse coverThe ‘problem’ of teenagers is rarely off the news agenda. However, the focus of any problem behaviour is nearly always located outside the family home: on the streets, in the classroom, online. In such discussions, parents are frequently constructed as the root cause of the problem and the family home is rarely considered to be a site where adolescent problem behaviour towards parents is a concern.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear to practitioners who work with children and families that the problem of adolescents’ abusive behaviour towards parents is a very real one. Such abuse takes place mainly inside the family home, and it can take shape through physical, emotional and/or economic forms of abusive behaviour. Examples found in my own research include physical violence (and threats to cause physical harm), intimidation and undermining of the parent, and theft and damage to a parent’s property and possessions. Like other forms of family abuse (e.g. child abuse, interpersonal violence, elder abuse), adolescent-to-parent abuse can emerge very subtly and parents often feel a sense of disbelief, guilt and shame at what is happening. Such feelings may be particularly potent in cases of adolescent-to-parent abuse because many people are unaware that such abuse exists, making it hard for parents to talk about their experiences and for others to hear. Parents may also feel particularly silenced because we live in a culture where parents are routinely blamed for the problem behaviour of their children – often formally and publically through the use of criminal justice measures. And with few support services set up to deal with this form of family abuse, and with public policy failing to acknowledge it, it is unsurprising that this form of family abuse is so hidden.

This matters. As a human rights issue, no-one should be living in fear or, or under threat of, physical or emotional harm. As a health issue, the effects on families can be devastating, with long-lasting physical and emotional symptoms which can affect the life chances for parents and their children. As a criminal justice issue, there is evidence that adolescent-to-parent abuse can be part of a wider cycle of family abuse, and intervention here may stop subsequent abusive behaviours.

Fortunately, more people are now talking about it. Both in the UK and internationally, support agencies are developing intervention programmes to help them respond to the problem, although growth is slow because of limited resources and a failure in public policy to co-ordinate and fund a coherent response at national level. Alongside this has been an increase in research on this issue and we are learning more about which families are particularly at risk, how families respond, and how we might best conceptualise this problem at the psychological, social and cultural levels. Adolescent-to-parent abuse: current understandings in research, policy and practice therefore provides a timely overview of the current state of play in terms of what we know about parent abuse through research findings, how we are responding to it in the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, and what we are doing about it through established support programmes and resources. While this book is grounded in the UK political and cultural landscape, it draws on international research, policy and practices to highlight both similarities and differences, and identifies what we can learn from them and how we can go forward in tackling adolescent-to-parent abuse.

Dr. Amanda Holt is Senior Lecturer in Criminological Psychology at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth. She has published widely in the fields of parenting, youth justice and families and employs a multi-disciplinary approach to her research and analysis.

Adolescent-to-parent abuse is now available to buy from The Policy Press website with 20% discount.


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