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Mothers and Their Adult Daughters: Mixed Emotions, Enduring Bonds Nov 01, Provide feedback about this page. There's a problem loading this menu right now. Get fast, free shipping with Amazon Prime. Get to Know Us. The following personal characteristics of both parents and children were included in the analyses: The following variables were included to assess how dimensions of the intergenerational solidarity—conflict model Bengtson et al. Provision of support was measured with two dichotomous variables indicating whether the parent or child provided at least one of the following types of support to the other generation: Preliminary analyses determined that emotional support and functional types of support had associations similar to ambivalence for parents and children, and thus we used a combined measure to simplify the analysis.

Perceived consensual solidarity or attitude similarity was measured by the following question: Multivariate regression analyses were then estimated to determine the relationship between key independent variables with both ambivalence measures. Regression analyses were run using Mplus Version 4.

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We used full information maximum-likelihood estimation to account for missing data and robust standard errors to adjust significance tests for family clustering. Next, we compared the means of each type of ambivalence, affection, and conflict between matched parents and children; data are shown in Table 3. There were no significant differences in direct ambivalence as expressed by parents and children; however, children expressed significantly greater indirect ambivalence than did mothers and fathers.

To further explore compositional differences within the indirect ambivalence measure, we compared means of its two component scales. As shown in Table 3 , parents expressed significantly stronger positive feelings about their children than their children expressed toward them, and children reported greater conflict with their mothers than their mothers reported toward them. Estimated unstandardized regression coefficients are shown in Table 4. The first two columns show estimates predicting direct and indirect ambivalence as expressed by parents.

In terms of relationship characteristics, parents whose children had stronger filial norms, greater value similarity, and provided greater support expressed less direct ambivalence; parents who perceived greater value similarity with their children and who had more frequent contact with them expressed less indirect ambivalence. The last two columns of Table 4 show estimates predicting both types of ambivalence as expressed by children. Children had less indirect ambivalence toward mothers than toward fathers.

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Children whose parents were employed or those who had more siblings also expressed less direct ambivalence than those whose parents were unemployed or those who had fewer siblings. Children with greater self-esteem expressed less ambivalence of both types compared to those with lower self-esteem. Children with stronger filial norms reported greater direct ambivalence than those with weaker filial norms.

Children who perceived greater value similarity with parents reported less ambivalence of both types. Children who provided support to parents expressed greater direct ambivalence compared to those who did not provide such support. Children who lived closer to their parents had less ambivalence on the indirect measure compared to those who lived farther away.

Children who had greater contact with their parents tended to have greater ambivalence of both types. Across both sets of equations, more variance was explained for indirect ambivalence compared to direct ambivalence. Among parents, R 2 s for direct were.


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In this study, we compared direct and indirect measures of intergenerational ambivalence to examine their relationship to each other and with multiple individual and relationship characteristics among older parents and adult children. Our investigation was at the measurement level to determine their correspondence within and across generations, and at the conceptual level to distinguish their meaning and interpretation.

Research on intergenerational ambivalence has tended to conflate these two measurement approaches or treat them as interchangeable without considering the underlying conceptual differences. Our analyses suggest that the difference between the unitary approach using direct questions and a dualistic approach using a combination of independent assessments of negative and positive feelings is not trivial. Because it used a sample of parent—child reciprocal dyads, our research lends further evidence that indirect and direct measures correspond to two underlying concepts, labeled potential and felt ambivalence , following the lead of Suitor et al.

Consistent with our expectations, we found moderate correlations between the two measures of ambivalence indicating a substantial degree of independence between indirect and direct measures of ambivalence that held for reports by children, mothers, and fathers. Furthermore, adding to the work by Suitor et al. We found no evidence that associations vary by generation, in contrast to Suitor et al.

Second, we examined the agreement between parent—child dyads in both of the ambivalence measures. Our expectations based on the intergenerational stake hypothesis—that parents would report less of both types of ambivalence than their children—was partially supported by the findings. Parents expressed levels of direct ambivalence similar to those of their children but lower levels of indirect ambivalence indicating their positivity bias. The positivity of older parents toward their children is consistent with the intergenerational stake phenomenon and leads us to encourage researchers to acknowledge this discrepancy when relying on indirect assessments.

Last, we looked at whether direct and indirect measures of ambivalence were associated with the same individual and relationship factors, comparing the two generations. We expected the two measures to have some overlap in their associations with these factors but the direct measure to be associated with more factors than the indirect measure. Our expectations were partially supported. We indeed found overlap in the measures, but there was also variation in the characteristics associated with the measures, and both indirect and direct measures were associated with the same number of characteristics.

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Furthermore, we found several generational differences. Among parents, having an unmarried child and less perceived value similarity were related to greater levels of both direct and indirect ambivalence. These findings suggest that parents have a stake in maintaining continuity across the generations and that ambivalence may emerge when expectations for their children are not fulfilled. Children with low self-esteem, less perceived value similarity, and more frequent contact with parents was related to increased direct and indirect ambivalence. These results are consistent with much of the literature demonstrating a connection between psychological deficits and intergenerational ambivalence Fingerman et al.

An important contribution of this research is the finding that children who interact frequently with parents are more ambivalent toward their parents. We suggest two explanations to be explored in future longitudinal research: That geographic proximity reduced indirect ambivalence suggests that living close to parents—with frequency of contact controlled—may be a manifestation of harmonious relationships.

Despite conceptual overlap in the two measures, direct ambivalence seems more salient to intergenerational dependency and normative values e. Furthermore, these concepts are related to ambivalence in opposite ways, depending on generational location.

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We saw a similar pattern in terms of parent—child interactions. Children who had more frequent contact experienced more indirect ambivalence, whereas parents had less indirect ambivalence. Ambivalence research has long proposed the theory that interdependency may induce ambivalence, but research has not yet demonstrated this complex generational interaction.


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We speculate that receiving support from adult children, as a normative expectation of parents, leads to a situation with fewer mixed feelings. Similar behavioral conditions are perceived differently by each generation, leading to opposite assessments about contradictory feelings in their mutual relationships.

Children had greater levels of indirect ambivalence toward fathers than mothers when relationship characteristics are considered see Table 4 , supporting the idea that relationships with fathers may be more strained and conflicted than with mothers. In additional, children whose parents were not working, perhaps indicating perceived dependency on the part of the parent, reported greater levels of indirect ambivalence.

Children with more siblings reported lower levels of direct ambivalence, suggesting that parents may maintain more diffuse and less highly charged relationships with any one child among many.

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Several limitations of this investigation deserve mention. First, the sample was ethnically homogeneous and originally derived from a regional subpopulation that overrepresented White non-Hispanics. Thus, our results and conclusions can be only cautiously generalized to other regions and ethnic subgroups. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that many findings emanating from this sample on the topic of intergenerational solidarity have been replicated in ethnically diverse and multinational populations Silverstein et al.

Second, because our study design was cross-sectional, it is likely that many of the relationships observed, in particular those related to provision of support, frequency of contact, and psychological well-being, are bidirectional. We emphasize that our results should not be interpreted as causal. For instance, lower self-esteem may be an outcome of having strongly ambivalent relationships with parents or an adverse reaction to the underlying reasons why ambivalence emerged.

Longitudinal designs will be needed to better establish directions of influence, although at present such designs are rare in family studies that contain measures of ambivalence. Fourth, because of restrictions in sample size our study precluded the investigation of more intensely dependent caregiving situations when ambivalence among adult children may peak.

This study does not purport to offer a definitive statement about the causes and consequences of intergenerational ambivalence, but it nevertheless provides a useful attempt to clarify how two commonly used measures of ambivalence behave in two linked generations of middle-aged children and their older parents.

Interpreting these results in terms of the concepts underlying direct and indirect ambivalence measures is challenging, but referring to direct and indirect measures of ambivalence as felt and potential ambivalence, respectively, in future research may help tease out the conceptual differences. A promising direction for future research will be to integrate these two forms of ambivalence within a common theoretical framework in which potential ambivalence may serve as a precursor to directly expressed ambivalence as the felt manifestation of the construct.

Such conceptual development based on whether ambivalent feelings are acknowledged or unacknowledged will help refine our understanding of the interplay between positive and negative valences in intergenerational family relationships. When analyzed together, few of the individual and health-related characteristics were significantly associated with ambivalence; however, most associations involved relational characteristics. Refining the measures of causes and consequences of ambivalence focusing on the indicators of dependency, filial norms, and parent—child interactions may be fruitful for future work on intergenerational ambivalence in late life.

In contrasting the two forms of measuring ambivalence, we conclude that, in terms of verticality, indirect ambivalence is more consistently measured between parents and children but, in terms of construct validity, direct ambivalence is more closely associated with interdependency between generations. Further work is needed to better understand the relationships between indirect ambivalence and its components given perceptual biases on the parts of parents and children.

We suggest that researchers consider the possible implications of choosing one measure of ambivalence over the other in terms of their strategic aims, their interpretation of results, and the conclusions they will be able to draw. Merril Silverstein, Syracuse University. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Author manuscript; available in PMC Apr 1.

Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Abstract This research compared direct and indirect measures of ambivalence, 2 commonly used strategies for measuring intergenerational ambivalence between older parents and their adult children.

Direct Measure The unitary character of ambivalence, as assessed by direct measures, has its philosophical roots in sociological literature that conceptualizes ambivalence as greater than the sum of its opposing forces. Research Questions and Hypotheses Our approach contrasted two operationally different measurements of ambivalence across two reciprocal generational perspectives and examined the factors associated with ambivalence by measure and generation.

We asked the following research questions and advanced the following hypotheses: How similar are direct and indirect measures of ambivalence within each familial generation? If, as we expected, direct and indirect measures are not equivalent representations of ambivalence, the two measures will be less than highly correlated. Do parents and children express similar levels of ambivalence in their relationships, and does this depend on the measure of ambivalence used? Furthermore, we expected indirectly measured ambivalence, because it explicitly includes conflict as a component, to exhibit a stronger generational bias than directly measured ambivalence.

Are direct and indirect measures of ambivalence associated with the same individual and relationship factors? We expected the two measures to have some overlap in their associations with these factors, but we expected the direct measure, because it assessed ambivalence as a unitary construct, to be associated with more factors than the indirect measure. Open in a separate window. Measures Ambivalence The dependent variables represented direct and indirect forms of ambivalence taken from the perspectives of parents and children. Personal characteristics The following personal characteristics of both parents and children were included in the analyses: Parent—child relationship characteristics The following variables were included to assess how dimensions of the intergenerational solidarity—conflict model Bengtson et al.

Dyad Direct ambivalence with indirect ambivalence Direct ambivalence with affection Direct ambivalence with conflict Fathers about children. Discussion In this study, we compared direct and indirect measures of intergenerational ambivalence to examine their relationship to each other and with multiple individual and relationship characteristics among older parents and adult children. Contributor Information Jessica P. Continuities and discontinuities in intergenerational relationships over time.

Research on continuities and discontinuities. Solidarity, conflict, and ambivalence: Complementary or competing perspectives on intergenerational relationships?


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