More than one in ten women are estranged from their children, a study has claimed.
A research team from Iowa State University surveyed 561 “later life” (older) families. These included a total of 2,013 mother-adult child relationships, featuring mothers aged between 65 and 75 and children aged over 45. Individual mothers could of course feature in more than one of these relationships, referred to by Gilligan as ‘dyads’.
No less than 64 of the mothers said they had become estranged from at least one of their children.
The study was designed to assess the ways in which relationships between older mothers and their children vary.
Professor Gilligan explained to Radio Iowa that the mothers had been asked to describe their the state of their relationships with their children.
“Some mothers may be closer to one child, or the opposite where they may be more disappointed in another child.”
The women were asked whether they had spoken to or seen the child in question over the last year, and were also asked to assess their degree of emotional closeness with them, said Gilligan. If their amount of contact between parent and child had been low – such as on a single occasion over the year – researchers classified the relationship as one of estrangement.
The professor and her team were surprised by the number who admitted to emotional distance and estrangement.
“[This] is actually pretty rare in parent-adult child relationships. Most of the time mothers report either middle-range or actually high range emotional closeness.”
The strongest predictor of estrangement between mothers and their children were so-called “value dissimilarities”, reported Gilligan – a fundamental clash between the core values of the mother and the actions of their child.
“One of the mothers was really upset that her adult child had gotten a divorce and then remarried. She was Catholic and she said ‘that really goes against what I believe religiously and morally.’ Something that were kind of core to their beliefs and values, if the child had violated those things, that’s what created this tension and strain in the relationship.”
Other factors, such as the child getting into trouble with the law or developing a substance abuse problem were, surprisingly, not associated with a greater chance of damage to the parent-child relationship.
Estrangement Between Mothers and Adult Children: The Role of Norms and Values appeared in the May 2015 edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family.