The 2017 Oscar-nominated documentary Edith+Eddie tells the story of Edith Hill and Eddie Harrison, who marry in their mid-90s and become known online as "America’s oldest interracial couple". More than an inspiring love story, theirs also is a cautionary and heart-breaking tale about the state of elder justice and guardianship in the US as Hill's daughters battle over her care and the wishes of the couple to remain together. More →
Judy Smith, PhD, LCSW is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service in New York City. Dr. Smith has conducted many research studies on parenting and child development with samples of low-income women. In this blog, she describes her recent work focused on the stresses of parenting in later life, which is a topic that has received very little attention in the academic arena and in popular media.
We know that elder abuse victims are often abused by someone close to them, such as a family member (adult child or grandchild) or a close friend, which causes victims tremendous conflict when determining how, or if, to respond to the abuse. My current study attempts to understand the experience of older women who are currently providing significant emotional or financial assistance to their adult children by talking to them about the ups and downs of their life long career as a mother for this particular child. Rather than focusing on elder abuse, per se, the study is framed around the woman’s perception of her life course of being a mother and the challenges she has faced around dealing with a child whose problems in adulthood are currently causing her conflict, pain or fear.
Professionals working with older women who are at risk for abuse by their adult children often face older adults’ hesitation to discuss abuse because of the parents’ fear of jeopardizing their relationship with their adult child and/or causing them harm. By structuring the interview around mothering, the women who have been interviewed to date have felt grateful for being able to tell the story of their many decades of loving and caring for their adult child. The stories they share with me reveal the deep-rooted conflict between protecting one’s child and caring for oneself. As one woman said to me “I never really had anyone ask me ‘how did I feel about being a mother.’”
My work builds on the small body of research that has examined the parent-child relationship in later life. Dr. Karl Pillemer, a sociologist, has been a leading voice in studying family conflict in later life. Dr. Pillemer and his colleagues have adapted the framework of ambivalence to explain the adult parents’ dual feelings, which include torn feelings of loyalty and protectiveness towards their adult children and, simultaneously, feelings of anger and resentment at having to provide non-normative caretaking to their adult children. Most of this work uses closed ended surveys to examine the presence or absence of ambivalence in parents of adult children.
The work I am currently doing uses open-ended questions to discover from women themselves how they make sense of their adult children’s dependence on them, despite their adult status. I am focusing the study on low-income and minority women because this is the least represented group in research and is the population most seen by social service and legal professionals serving victims of elder abuse.
Click here to read more about the project sample and findings.
Your help in recruiting elder abuse victims for this study is needed
If you are a social worker, lawyer, nurse, physician, or home health care worker who has a relationship with an older woman who has experienced abuse or neglect by her adult child, please inform her of the my Institutional Review Board approved study. Older adult women are eligible to participate in the study if they are over 62 years of age, have at least 2 biological children and meet the low income criteria. All information shared will be kept confidential and participants will receive a $25.00 incentive for participating. Each older woman will be interviewed in person 2-3 times (within a one-month period) at a convenient location of their choosing. I am happy to share more specific information about the project via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I can also be reached by phone at (917) 885-9243. Thank you!