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Older Parents’ Perceptions of Ambivalence in Relationships With Their Children


*Cheryl L. Peters is an Evaluation Specialist in Extension Family & Community Development, Oregon State University, 161 Milam Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331 (

Karen Hooker is a Professor in the Department of Human Development & Family Sciences and Director of the Gerontology Program and the Center for Healthy Aging Research, Oregon State University, 322 Milam Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331 (

Anisa M. Zvonkovic is a Professor and Chair in the Department of Human Development & Family Studies, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409 (


Abstract: This qualitative study explores older parents’ ambivalent perceptions of their relationships with their adult children. Interviews with 17 mothers and fathers (aged 67+) provided reports on 75 relationships (43 sons, 32 daughters). Two predominant sources of ambivalence emerged when parents discussed their current relationships. The first identified source of ambivalence relates to children being busy, so that parents were dissatisfied with the frequency and quality of time spent together. Help exchanges are also discussed in light of children’s busyness. The second identified source of ambivalence explores parents’ ambivalent perceptions about their children’s romantic partners and parenting styles. Results are integrated into the developing theory of intergenerational ambivalence and practice implications for family communication are discussed.