Public Release: 

Enjoyable mother/adult daughter chats become more realistic as women age

Penn State

University Park, Pa. --- The sweet closeness in enjoyable visits between middle-aged mothers and their young adult daughters fades as the women age and is replaced by a more realistic interaction that includes negatives as well as positives, a Penn State researcher has found.

Mothers and daughters who try to keep their visits at the same sweet intensity later in life will probably be thwarted says Dr. Karen Fingerman, assistant professor of human development.

"The research shows that what constitutes a pleasant adult mother/daughter interaction differs for older and younger mother/daughter pairs. What seems right at the beginning might not be the same when you get older," she says.

Fingerman detailed her study in the most recent issue of the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences in a paper titled, "We Had A Nice Little Chat: Age and Generational Differences in Mothers' and Daughters' Descriptions of Enjoyable Visits."

To detail the focus of enjoyable visits and to see how they differ between age groups, Fingerman administered interviews and questionnaires to 182 mothers and daughters. These included 48 pairs of older mothers and daughters (mother's average age 76 and daughters's 46) and 44 pairs of younger mothers and daughrters (mother's average age 47 and daughter's 21). The participants were healthy, middle class women mostly of European American heritage. Eight pairs of African American mothers and daughters also participated.

Analysis of the data showed that younger mothers and daughters both like to talk about the daughter. For example, Fingerman says, "These mothers described their young adult daughters' achievements, special times together, and their daughters' unique attributes when they were asked what they enjoy about their daughters visits."

Only one daughter mentioned something special about her mother in reporting about a pleasant visit. The younger daughters appear to be self-absorbed without recognition of their mothers as individuals, Fingerman writes. Younger mothers and daughters were also more likely to describe the strength and quality of their ties in detailing their enjoyable visits. They portrayed their relationship as intense and intimate at this stage of life, says Fingerman. She notes that several younger daughters described their mothers as their "best friend."

Older mothers and their middle aged daughters, on the other hand, rarely referred directly to the tie between them. Many older daughters and nearly two-thirds of older mothers described situations involving the daughters' children, siblings, father, husband, or the family. Fingerman says, "It has been well-established that women do the majority of work involved in keeping extended families together. Findings from this study suggest that mothers and daughters find this aspect of family life particularly rewarding in later life."

Older daughters often described visits in which they provided assistance. Fingerman says, "Although the older mothers were still healthy, their daughters enjoyed doing things for them. Daughters helped their mothers prepare for holidays, prepared food for them or simply took them shopping." Although outright negative comments were made by fewer than a third of older women, they were nevertheless more likely to make them than were younger mothers and daughters. Fingerman says, "Some mothers and daughters volunteered negative comments about the other's health habits, her intrusiveness or her annoying attributes. However, they continued to describe enjoyable aspects of their relationships as well."

In her paper, Fingerman notes that her prior research had shown that older mothers and their middle aged daughters indicated that conflict in their relationship peaked during the teenage years, with continual improvement across adulthood. "Thus, mothers and daughters may come to view their relationships more favorably across adulthood by accepting the other party's faults and may feel free to voice these faults," she writes.


Fingerman's study was supported by a University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School Dissertation Award, American Psychological Association Dissertation Grant, Society for the Study of Social Issues Grants-In-Aid, a grant from Sigma Xi, and a Seed Grant for Interdisciplinary Collaboration through Penn State's College of Health and Human Development. ***bah*** EDITORS: Dr. Fingerman is at by email.

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