Older mothers' expectations of intergenerational relationships : the intergenerational ambivalence perspective

  • Sze Wing YAN

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


With the effects of social changes, family values have changed and tensions and contradictions are probably more likely to occur among family members. According to the intergenerational ambivalence perspective, intergenerational relationships are inherently structured so as to generate ambivalence. Ambivalence means the contradictions in the relationships between older parents and adult children that cannot be reconciled. Individuals are expected to use various strategies in their attempts to manage ambivalence at least temporarily.

Older women, who often have different life experiences than older men given the influence of traditional Chinese culture, are the focus of this research. The present study aims to explore the expectations of older mothers with respect to four specific features: marriage, childbearing, social support and living arrangements of their adult children and how tensions and contradictions arise in their relationships. It also attempts to identify any adaptive strategies that older mothers use to manage the contradictions in the relations with their adult children.

A focus group discussio n was conducted as an exploratory stage to help design subsequent qualitative interviews. Fifteen married mothers aged 65 and above with at least one living child aged 18 years and above were invited to undertake in-depth interviews selected via a snowball sampling method in conjunction with the Fu Tai elderly center in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong.

The findings suggest that contradictions occurred when adult children remained single, childless or provided insufficient social support to their mothers. Tensions were found when older mothers received unsolicited assistance and shared the same household with their adult children. Guided by the norm of non- interference, older mothers were found to use several constructive strategies to ignore, accept or rationalize the contradictions in the relations with adult children. Destructive strategies such as overt conflicts were generally avoided to prevent intergenerational relationships from disruption.

This research suggests older women demonstrated active roles in managing the tensions and contradictions in the parent-adult children relationships. They reconstructed traditional family values and adapted to the changes in the intergenerational relationships. However, their adaptive abilities depend greatly on their options or resources. Interventions from the government and the community are to be expected to help older people to adapt and achieve active and successful ageing.
Date of Award2005
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology and Social Policy
SupervisorDavid Rosser PHILLIPS (Supervisor) & Cheung-ming Alfred CHAN (Supervisor)

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