Parental and Other Caretaker Roles

Four main family structures are found among Puerto Ricans. One is the extended family system, where there are strong bonds and frequent interactions among a wide range of natural or ritual kin. Another family structure associated with Puerto Ricans is the nuclear family, which is composed of the father, the mother, and children. A third family structure, female-headed households, involves the mother as the only parent in the household with children. Finally, there are individuals who live in the same residence in various arrangements. In rural and urban lower socioeconomic class families, it is more common to see an extended family system. In upper- and middle-class families, nuclear family arrangements are more common. A significant percentage of Puerto Rican families are headed by females. These arrangements, among other variables, influence issues related to parental roles and caretaking.

Puerto Rican women still continue to be the center of the home and family. Within this sphere, they have the responsibility of caring for the children, the aged, and the ill. While women's and men's roles within the family and as caretakers vary, scholars tend to describe parental and caretaking roles with more gender-role rigidity than may actually be the case. Women's roles as mothers are highlighted, calling for self-sacrifice in favor of their children. Males are responsible for providing for and protecting the family. Males are portrayed as making the major decisions regarding family economics, behavior, and education of the children, and the duties of each family member. Men's responsibilities include chores such as house and car repairs, but they are not expected to do any housework (Confresí, 1999).

The father is characterized as having authority in all family matters, including the discipline of children (Vázquez-Nuttall & Romero García, 1989). The mother may also establish rules for the day-to-day regulation of child behavior, but these rules do not go against the father's wishes. The mother's role as the provider of love and affection in the family is seen as more significant than her role as a disciplinarian. The mother is portrayed as responsible for the raising of the children and management of the home. She is also responsible for the religious education of the children and for their attendance at religious services. The parents provide economic support for their children as long as they live in the home. If the father dies or is away from home, the oldest son is expected to assume his responsibilities and duties. The oldest daughter is expected to do the same for the mother. It is not uncommon for children to leave school to assist the family in these moments of crisis. While these are common descriptions, some scholars question the uniformity of this model, noting economic and other influences on patterns observed. A single mother has to take on dual roles assigned for the mother and the father. The availability of providing care in the family is also constrained by women's changing roles in social life.

Research has shown that it is primarily women who are the caretakers for the elderly. It is only when an elderly couple become unable to take care of themselves or when one of the partners dies, that children become involved in daily caregiving (Sánchez-Ayéndez, 1998). The daughter is usually the one to take responsibility for primary care-taking of the parents. In a study of older Puerto Ricans (Zsembik & Bonilla, 2000) there was no consensus on who is the ideal caregiver for older adults. The common attitude that daughters are more natural caregivers than sons is supported by the gender construction in Puerto Rican society. Men thought of daughters as more emotionally attached to parents. However, older women saw both daughters and sons as needing to provide care.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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