Academic journal article Family Relations

"I'm Sure She Chose Me!" Accuracy of Children's Reports of Mothers' Favoritism in Later Life Families*

Academic journal article Family Relations

"I'm Sure She Chose Me!" Accuracy of Children's Reports of Mothers' Favoritism in Later Life Families*

Article excerpt

Abstract: We used data from 769 mother-child dyads nested within 300 later life families to explore the accuracy of adult children's perceptions of mothers' patterns of favoritism in terms of closeness and confiding. Adult children were generally accurate regarding whether their mothers preferred a specific child, but often had difficulty identifying whom mothers favored. Multivariate analyses indicated that overall accuracy of children's reports was positively related to similarity of religious participation and negatively related to parental status of the adult child and family size. Because parental favoritism may affect adult children psychologically and have implications for later life care for parents, family practitioners should be aware of mothers' patterns of favoritism and the sometimes inaccurate perceptions adult children have concerning this favoritism.

Key Words: within-family differences, parent child relations, parental favoritism, reporting congruence.

Discrepancies in parents' and children's reports of intergenerational affect and interaction patterns have long been recognized among family scholars (Aquilino, 1999; Bengtson & Kuypers, 1971; Giarrusso, Stallings, & Bengtson, 1995; Pruchno, Burant, & Peters, 1994). Widi few exceptions (Aquilino; Rossi & Rossi, 1990), studies of parents and adult children have conceptualized these discrepancies as a general tendency emanating from the differential generational stake of parents and children (Bengtson & Kypers; Giarrusso et al., 1995). This line of research has focused on differences in reports of intergenerational affect and support between the generations-for example, whether parents report greater intergenerational closeness and support exchange than do their adult children. Researchers have not, however, thus far attempted to explain why some pairs of parents and children report greater consistency than do others regarding socioemotional dimensions of their relationships. One question of particular interest not addressed in the scholarly literature is whether adult children are aware of the patterns of parents' favoritism that exist in many later life families (Suitor & Pillemer, 2006).

Identifying and explaining within-family variations in parent-child agreement have both theoretical and practical implications. First, although much is known about within-family differences in parent-child relations in the early stages of the life course, only recently has attention been directed toward later life families. This work has shown that most mothers favor some children over others in terms of emotional closeness and exchange of both instrumental and emotional support (Suitor & Pillemer, 2006; Suitor, Pillemer, & sechrist, 2006). However, there has been no exploration of whether adult children are aware of such patterns of favoritism. Studying these patterns will shed new light on intergenerational congruence by documenting the ways in which such agreement varies within families in later phases of the life course. Given that consensus among family members has played a central role in the development of some of the most influential theoretical perspectives in family studies (Bengtson & Roberts, 1991; Silverstein & Bengtson, 1997), understanding these processes is particularly important.

second, studying within-family variations in perceptions of relationship quality has potential implications for clinicians who work with older individuals and their families. Research is needed to increase understanding of support processes in later life families. Studies of informal social support during health crises has demonstrated that individuals are more likely to receive appropriate aid when there is a high level of consensus between care recipients and caregivers (Burg & seeman, 1994; Martire, Stephens, Druley, & Wojno, 2002). Thus, documenting the conditions under which parents and adult children share perceptions regarding their relationship may help to identify which adult children are likely to be the most reliable source of support to their parents. …

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