Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Friendly Relations? Mothers and Their Daughters-in-Law

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Friendly Relations? Mothers and Their Daughters-in-Law

Article excerpt

Friendly Relations? Mothers and Their Daughters-in-Law. Pamela Cotterill. London: Taylor & Francis. 1994. 198 pp. ISBN 0-7484-01512. $25.00 paper.

Stereotypes surrounding mother-in-law relationships depict a domineering, possessive older woman and conflict-ridden interactions. Yet very little social research has seriously considered relationships between families related by marriage. Pamela Cotterill investigates the myths and realities surrounding the mother-in-law relationship as it is perceived by women in both the daughter and mother-in-law roles. These women have not chosen each other as family members, yet they are placed in the awkward position of a parent-child relationship without clear-cut norms to guide their behavior.

Cotterill interviewed 35 women living in Stoke-on-Trent, a city of 250,000 located in Staffordshire, England. Each woman underwent at least three interviews at 6- to 8-week intervals over a period of 18 months in 1985 and 1986. Cotterill completed a total of 106 interviews with 25 daughters-in-law and 10 mothers-in-law. Only two of these women were related to each other; the rest reflected on relationships they had with in-laws outside of the study sample. Cotterill asked each woman to "tell the story" of her in-law relationship and then augmented these narratives with semi-structured, open-ended questions that reflected specific themes and elicited responses to hypothetical events common in in-law interactions.

After an introduction and a detailed description of the sample and methodology, the author organizes her book as a sequence of life events and the issues and themes that characterize each stage of the relationship. She draws substantially and appropriately on feminist, sociological, and psychological theories to describe the major themes she observes throughout her conversations with the respondents. Supporting quotations both illustrate the author's assertions and make reading the book enjoyable.

The first chapter discusses meeting potential parents or children-in-law, establishing a relationship, and the engagement period. Next, within the context of early marriage, Cotterill analyzes the patterns of each woman's familial visiting, mutual and financial aid, and childcare and the interplay between feelings of obligation and genuine attachment. Chapter 3 primarily deals with emotional issues of the relationship, including kinkeeping tasks, feelings of jealousy or interference, and affection. …

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