Thu | Sep 3, 2015

Barrow takes on Caribbean parenting issues in new text

Published:Sunday | July 18, 2010


  • Title: Caribbean Childhoods
  • 'Outside', 'Adopted' or Left Behind'
  • Author: Christine Barrow
  • Reviewer: Barbara Nelson


Christine Barrow, professor of social development and professorial fellow at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, has written a scholarly text that explores childhood, parenting and family in Barbados. The focus is on childhoods within families where one or both parents are absent.

"Growing up without a mother or, more commonly, a father, for at least some period of childhood is familiar throughout the Caribbean," she writes. The three specific groups of children who experience this, she states, are known as outside children, adopted children, and children who are left behind by migrant parents.

Eight-chapter text

Caribbean Childhoods has eight chapters. The first chapter introduces the study, chapter two introduces the setting for the research and is divided into three sections - a profile of Barbados: social development, families and children; the historical background on slavery and colonialism, and a summary of the core features of Afro-Caribbean families as presented in the ethnographic literature of the region.

In chapter three the author presents material of lived experiences as expressed in the recorded reflections and interpretations of the informants.

The informants are 28 Afro-Barbadian adults - 15 females and 13 males. They are presented in chapter four and range in age from 22 to 68 years. All had lived through the experience of being outside children, adopted children or children left behind by migrant parents. Most had secondary or tertiary education and were employed in clerical, technical or service occupations.

Most informants spoke freely with the interviewers and shared intimate and often traumatic details of their childhoods.

"I did not know who my father was until age 12," Linda, 24, said in her interview.

"At 12, I became aware that people were saying that a neighbour was my father," she added. She was one of the women interviewed in the 'Left Behind' and 'Outside' category recorded in chapter five.

Another informant, 36-year-old Danny, said he had never called his own father 'Daddy'.

Many informants were ambivalent about parental migration. One man was quite bitter that his parents had left him when he was very young. Many grew up without fathers, fewer without their mothers. "The migration and absence of one's mother is less common and invariably more painful, especially for girls."

Outside child status, the author says, does carry negative connotations.

Chapter six explores the meaning and reality of adoption in the Caribbean. Adoption is an informal, cultural phenomenon, rather than a legal arrangement. The writer interprets adoption within the context of Caribbean culture where childcare is a shared experience.

Psychological problems

Some informants said they found themselves in a tug of war between their mothers and the relatives who adopted them. In many cases children experienced psychological and social problems when they were reunited with parents who had migrated. During the time they were separated from parents, they often developed very strong bonds with the adoptive parent(s) who, in many cases, were the grandparents.

Chapter seven looks at how mothering and fathering have been presented in the sociological literature on Caribbean kinship and family. This setting was used for comments from informants on the comparative importance of mothers and fathers and the response to their absence.

Some informants claimed they had 'no relationship' with their fathers during their childhood, but while they accepted the situation without bitterness, others expressed strong resentment. Growing up without a mother was, however, very problematic. Many felt the absence of a mother had made them miss out on an essential emotional foundation in their early childhood.

Chapter eight looks at a way forward for research on families, parenting and childhoods.