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Conditional love: parents' attitudes toward handicapped children

Опубликовано на портале: 28-11-2006
Westport, Conn.: Bergin & Garvey, 1994

Questioning the myth of unconditional love between parents and children, this study examines the strength of the parental bond when children are born with physical defects. The author studied parents' behavior toward 1,450 children born with defects in three hospitals in Israel, and then conducted follow-up studies over a period of six years with 200 families in their homes. One of the major recurring patterns of parental behavior was a massive tendency toward rejection of deformed children. Rejection was manifested by parents' wishes for drastic separation from their children through abandonment, institutionalization, or giving up for adoption. If brought home, the children were isolated and hidden from view. Weiss found that half of the newborns with physically observable defects were abandoned by their parents in the hospital. Even when the parents were assured by doctors that their children would develop intellectually or would not require special care, the tendency to abandon remained strong. Normal children who suffered physical deformity due to burns or other accidents were similarly rejected by their parents. This study will take a major place in the literature on human behavior because through exhaustive and long-term observation of actual behavior in thousands of individual situations, it exposes the extreme importance of physical appearance in interpersonal relations. The author describes how the deformity causes confusion in the parents' cognitive system, labelling the child with a name such as monster or devil or creature, or another non-human category. Parents' reactions to their children's body image are discussed and the concept of body boundaries is analyzed. Children connected to medical apparatus or sickly children are the cause of much parental rejection. Also, territorial restrictions are placed on the deformed child in the home. These range from closeting or imprisoning in unfurnished surroundings separate from the family to demotion to servant status within the family. This study refutes most assumptions in the literature and shows that forming bonds with one's biological child is not necessarily spontaneous, automatic, or natural, and that every child undergoes a process of adoption or rejection based on external appearance and whether or not that appearance matches the parents' image of a "person." Hospital personnel, social workers, sociologists and anthropologists will be profoundly influenced by this work, as will be all others who read it.



  • Parenting: Challenging a Myth
  • Parenting and Body Image
  • Attitudes towards Handicapped Children
  • Research Method 
  • The Structure of This Book


  • Body and Parenting
  • How Are These Questions Treated in the Literature?
  • Importance of the Child's External Appearance
  • From Normal to Abnormal
  • Case 1 "The black and broken heart"  
  • Case 2 "The child with the tail"
  • Case 3 "The monster with the cosmetic repair"
  • From Newborn to Child
  • Case 4 "The bald-headed monster with scars"
  • Case 5 "Yigal, the scoured boy"
  • Case 6 "The Mongoloid"
  • Case 7 "A hole in the stomach"


  • Labeling and Stigmatization
  • Dehumanization, Violence, and Becoming a "Person"
  • Case 8 "The unicorn"
  • Case 9 "The monster" 
  • Case 10 "A bit retarded"
  • Case 11 "The two-headed child"
  • Case 12 "A boy and girl in one"
  • Case 13 "The little Japanese"  
  • Chaos, Abnormality, and "Non-person"
  • "Non-person" and Stigma
  • "Non-person," Ugliness, and Violence
  • "Non-persons" as Social Pollutions


  • The Literature on Body Image
  • Case 14 "Once a Mongoloid, always a Mongoloid"    
  • Case 15 "Your diagnosis keeps you from seeing the real child"
  • Case 16 "Looking at her, you can't tell that she's sick"
  • Case 17 "Hannah, the confusing girl"
  • Case 18 "Now the cancer is spreading like a weed"
  • Case 19 "Those who look healthiest are actually sickest"
  • Conclusion


  • Case 20 "Her juice will come pouring out"
  • Case 20 "Her juice will come pouring out"
  • Case 22 "I know my child without his faces"
  • Case 23 A "head "like a balloon about to burst"
  • Case 24 "He didn't have a face; he was just a blob"
  • Case 25 "Her head can come out"
  • Basic Assumptions on the Essence of Woman, Man and the Human Body      
  • Who Is a "Person"?
  • The Importance of the Senses


  • Social Construction of Disability
  • Territorial Behavior and Social Construction of the Physical Environment
  • Factors Affecting Social Construction of the Home     
  • Territorial Behavior towards the Abnormal Child
  • Territorial Isolation of the Abnormal Child
  • Case 26 "The servant's quarter"
  • Case 27 "A prison at home"
  • Case 28 "The monster's ghetto"
  • Case 29 "A prison with a color T.V."
  • Case 30 "The ravaged territory: 'Either the boy, or me'"


  • Case 31 "Give her a drug to end her life"
  • Case 32 "Cancel the operation; life and death are in God's hands"
  • Case 33 "Do not do the operation. Everything is in Allah's hands"
  • Case 34 "After all, she's our daughter"
  • Case 35 "Home is for the healthy"
  • Case 36 "We want to check what they're doing to our girl"
  • Case 37 "The expert"
  • Case 38 "The Rabbi said not to do the transplant"
  • Case 39 "The vegetable"
  • Case 40 "Don't throw away the fetus; I want to take it for burial in my village"
  • Case 41 "Beethoven"
  • Case 42 "Number one and number two"
  • Case 43 "Don't tell my family I gave birth"


  • Conclusions
  • Theoretical Reflections
  • Personal Reflections







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