Intergenerational Ambivalences: New Perspectives on Parent-Child Relations in Later Life

By Peters, Cheryl L. | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Intergenerational Ambivalences: New Perspectives on Parent-Child Relations in Later Life


Peters, Cheryl L., Journal of Marriage and Family


Intergenerational Ambivalences: New Perspectives on Parent-Child Relations in Later Life. Karl Pillemer & Kurt Luscher (Eds.). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier. 2004. 357 pp. ISBN 0-7623-0801-X. $90.00 (cloth).

Karl Pillemer and Kurt Luscher's (2004) edited volume is a satisfying extension to the original introduction of the intergenerational ambivalence approach presented in JMF (Luscher & Pillemer, 1998). Readers desiring empirical proof from earlier theoretical discussions (see JMF, 64(3) for a five-paper symposium) will find tangible evidence of both personal and social ambivalences experienced between generations. Thirteen chapters divided into four sections provide an organized path tracing the theoretical roots, conceptual dilemmas, and methodological issues for assessing ambivalence in intergenerational relationships. Empirical results from a mixture of European and U.S. scholars were especially compelling as validation for the concept of intergenerational ambivalence, as was the promising glimpse into studies with young adult samples. Family researchers using the ambivalence framework will find the collection useful and thought provoking. Pillemer and Liischer's (2004) edited volume belongs to the Elsevier series of Contemporary Perspectives in Family Research. Consistent with most areas of gerontology, the volume presents work from a variety of disciplines including psychology, human development and family studies, sociology, and family therapy. The multidisciplinary approaches by the volume's contributors create different understandings of the ambivalence concept that at first appear problematic. The editors, however, believe that "over time, the perspective is likely to become more clearly articulated and the field of study more integrated" (p. 7). Regardless of multiple definitions, this volume advances the operationalization and methodological assessments of intergenerational ambivalences.

The introduction written by the editors provides the rationale for needing a theory in family gerontology that addresses positive and negative features of intergenerational relationships. The editors maintain that they are not presenting a formal theory but rather illustrating a sensitizing concept for the study of parent-child ties in later life. Luscher's chapter follows with a historical sketching of ambivalence as a social science construct. Luscher is uniquely positioned to provide views on the origins of ambivalence because of his access to early and current German writings, which have a deep tradition in this field. The connections made between current-day theorizing and earlier positions from Bleuler, Freud, and Knellessen are particularly interesting. Readers familiar with Luscher's 2002 remarks in JMF and work with the Konstanz research group will recognize his heuristic model for dealing with intergenerational ambivalences, which are presented in detail (pp. 47-57).

Chapter 4 written by Frank Lettke and David Klein is an alternate entrance point for the volume. This chapter begins the section on methodological issues and is a treasure of ideas for anyone planning or designing a study. A key feature of this chapter is the distinction between direct and indirect measurement of the ambivalence construct. Not surprising, different methodologies can yield results that are interpretable on various levels of the construct. Measurement issues are not entirely resolved in this chapter but instead are identified for the reader to consider. The next three chapters in the methodology section offer readers a selection of empirical studies that find compelling evidence for the individual experience of ambivalence in social relationships.

Pillemer (Chapter 5) focused on a sample of older mothers and found that nearly 40% reported ambivalence with at least one adult child. Pillemer suggests from the measurement of ambivalence in his study that the concept is different from indicators of poor relationships. …

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