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Modeling, Monitoring, Trusting: Successful Parental Facilitation of Sibling Caretaking Routines

Alisa Gonzalez


Marjorie H. Goodwin


Eve Tulbert

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 84


In this paper we examine embodied interactive practices entailed in sibling caretaking within a middle class dual-earner family in the Los Angeles area. We first describe the goals of sibling caretaking, considering how it contributes to the cohesiveness and well being of the family. We next show in several care-giving sequences how effective mutual frameworks for participation are established and maintained, through visual, tactile, and as well as verbal means. We examine trajectories that are successful for orchestrating joint attention in sibling caretaking during the activity of reading a bedtime story, and by way of comparison, less than optimal forms of sibling caretaking in a second family, during a similar activity. We find that not only are older siblings capable of guiding younger siblings’ participation in activities; they can provide effective linguistic input into literacy activities during bedtime stories as well. In the last section of the paper we provide a more extended sequence which demonstrates how an older sibling is able to put into practice appropriate ways of socializing her younger sibling that mirror her parents’ practices. Sibling caretaking allows parents in a dual-wage earning family to attend to other members of the family, to attend to their own needs, and even have a momentary reprieve from the hyper-vigilance that parenting can sometimes require. Additionally, sibling caretaking has other benefits, such as creating strong and intimate bonds, while learning the valuable skills of assessing another’s needs and building a “flexible repertoire” of responses (Zukow-Goldring 2002:270) to situations and events. Data are drawn from the video archive of the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of Families study of 32 middle-class, dual-income families.

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