Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores the emotional, social and ethnic terrain of (self) care among parents of teenaged and young adult children who live with “borderline personality disorder” (BPD). Through interviews, attendance at a family education class and participation in a peer support group, I learned how parents engage in self care, where the goals are some peace of mind and better kin care. The BPD support group developed “emotion pedagogies” (Wilce and Fenigsen 2016), here, heterogeneous lay adaptations of dialectical behavioral therapy. Group members gave exquisitely detailed attention to and coaching of one another on linguistic and relational questions, notably: how to gently, strategically word what may seem a simple request of their adult child; how to manage while witnessing a child’s floundering (“radical acceptance”); how to be supportive while not inauthentic (“validate”). Parental rehearsing of communication tactics to improve or not further deteriorate family relations illustrates emotion pedagogies of care. Amidst such practical and painstaking efforts, attendees also regularly improvised comedic responses to a parent’s dilemma. I suggest such moments of narrative co-construction (Mattingly 1998) reveal a counterbalancing of kin care with self care; parents experienced a therapeutic community offering respite and some kind of healing. In so doing the support group provided ballast and a space for airing painful ethical dilemmas (Black 2018) of self versus kin care, notably, negotiating what seems culturally non-negotiable: whether to pursue a lifelong commitment to care for an adult child with BPD despite chronic stress and impossible conditions, or whether to let go.