Why does ambivalence occur in familial relationships?

Intergenerational ambivalence is the simultaneous presence of both positive and negative dimensions of a parent-child tie. It is a combination of psychological ambivalence. In other words, the simultaneous experience of opposing feelings or emotions, sociological ambivalence or incompatible and conflicting expectations as well as norms of behaviour, beliefs, and attitudes.

These opposing #feelings or #emotions that happen due to countervailing expectations for how each generation should act, may lead to stress spillover and proliferation into other domains of family life.

Research findings by Rappoport & Lowenstein, 2007 suggests that intergenerational ambivalence is common in the parent–adult child tie. It is estimated that about 50% of parents report some degree of ambivalence toward their adult children, whereas about 30% of adult children experience ambivalence toward their parents. Ambivalence occurs when beliefs, expectations, and practices, commonly held and institutionalized by parent-child relations, are violated.

Parents are more likely to experience ambivalence when the children are unmarried, choose romantic partners disapproved of by them, or even fail to maintain romantic relationships. Moreover, ambivalence can happen when an adult child does not achieve normative adult statuses, for example, doesn't complete college; does not share in parents’ values and opinions such as religious values; requires financial support or has lifestyle–behavioural, emotional, or physical health problems.


However, ambivalence happens not only in parent-child relationships but in every long term relationship. For example, ambivalence is reported between siblings during adolescence or adulthood. Ambivalence within adult siblings happens as a consequence of perceived parental favouritism, competition between siblings, and unequal accumulation of resources. On the other hand, in-laws may also be an object for ambivalence because these relationships come together with other, more intimate social ties.

Ambivalence may also exist between parents and gay or lesbian children. Usually, heterosexuality is a central organizing principle of everyday life. It is believed that lifelong heterosexuality is a normal, natural, and inevitable course of development, and it is assumed that everyone is (i.e., heteronormativity) and should be (i.e., heterosexism) heterosexual.

Parents have the expectation that their children will be heterosexual and marry someone of different sex. Therefore, any sexual identity outside of heterosexuality is undesirable or "spoiled" by a group of parents.

Even though ambivalence is widely spread, its effects may impact the family #wellbeing. Therefore a family member’s perceived ambivalence, regardless of that person’s actual feelings of ambivalence, may increase minority stress and psychological distress when ambivalence is understood as an unfair treatment or ambiguous standing in the family relationship.

Source: Ambivalence in Gay and Lesbian Family Relationships
Reczek 2017
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