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‘Returning the love’, not ‘balancing the books’: talk about delayed reciprocity in supporting ageing parents

  • LAURA M. FUNK (a1)

A desire to ‘return’ or ‘pay back’ past care has been identified as a potential motivator of support provided by adult children to their ageing parents. The purpose of this study is to examine whether, how and in what ways adult children interpret and apply the concept of delayed reciprocity in filial relationships. Twenty-eight men and women supporting one or both ageing parent(s) in a Western Canadian city participated in a qualitative study of filial responsibility. Data were analysed interpretively, using thematic coding, contextualised reflection and guiding questions. Findings suggest delayed reciprocity is limited as an interpretive framework for describing parent support. Overall, comments reflected qualification or rejection of ‘paying back’ in the sense of a filial contract. Delayed reciprocity appears for most participants to symbolise imbalance, expectedness or obligation, and a lack of affection. In response, participants tended to reject delayed reciprocity in favour of interpretations emphasising mutuality, family role duties and reciprocated love. Findings are discussed in relation to interpretive purposes, symbolic meanings of parent support, participant characteristics and cultural contexts.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Laura M. Funk, Centre on Aging, University of Victoria, PO BOX 1700, STN CSC, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada V8W 2Y2. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
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