Updated: Jun 11, 2018
Platitudes and proverbs about ‘the family’ are strewn along literary pathways across the
world. Mostly they are warm and uncritical. It’s easy to see the family as a haven shielding us from the harsh world that lurks outside the door. It underwrites much of our social policy; it is the basis of many religions; and the notion of ‘family,’ with its attendant ascriptions of warmth and mutual support, runs through much of our civil law.
But the family is often found wanting. The women’s movement in the 60s and 70s spotted some of its flaws – identifying the patriarchal family, the nuclear family, with associations of male dominance and women’s confinement to the domestic domain, as deeply threatening to women. Child psychologists have long been suspicious of the effects of family life on the growing child. Revelations of child abuse within families in the last thirty or forty years have made their suspicions all the more well-founded.
And yet, the family is called upon to care, to provide support for its members as they age. Indeed it is seen as a moral virtue, to be prized beyond measure. But in reality this doesn’t always happen. We find that families may be reluctant – or, often, that individuals don’t want to rely on their adult children, not wanting to be a burden. Sometimes, we find that families exploit and take advantage of their dependent relatives. This comes as a shock to those who have bought into the ‘blood thicker than water’ proposition.
I’ve been interested in this conundrum ever since my formative years in the women’s
movement. And recently I’ve become more directly aware of it through research I’ve
conducted into financial abuse occurring within the family – particular relating to family
members who lack mental capacity. Part of this research involved analysing a number of
cases of financial misbehaviour that came to the Court of Protection, involving people who held Lasting Powers of Attorney for their (usually) older relatives. It revealed vividly the sort of bad feelings that can be harboured deep within the bosom of the family and showed just how far such antipathy can sometimes extend: thousands of pounds taken from bank accounts, houses sold, businesses established on the proceeds of such wrongdoing; and failure to care – sometimes to the point of neglect.
- Gillian Dalley, Spring 2018