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Stretching the ties that bind: When adult children become estranged from their mothers
Theses and Dissertations Available from ProQuest
  • Megan Gilligan, Purdue University

According to classic theories of norm violation and sanction, groups maintain cohesion through collective norms; however, such cohesion is threatened when members fail to abide by the norms embraced by the group. Often group members sanction the deviant by withdrawing interaction and support in order to restore group stability. In this dissertation, I draw upon these theoretical arguments to examine the process of norm violation and sanction that leads to estrangement between mothers and their adult children. This dissertation consists of two empirical studies in which I used quantitative and qualitative data collected from older mothers to explore predictors and patterns of intergenerational estrangement across time. In the first study, I examined the ways in which children's violations of both serious societal norms and mothers' expectations affected adult children's risk of becoming estranged from their mothers. Findings from this study indicated that adult children's violations of their mothers' expectations were strong predictors of estrangement, whereas violations of serious societal norms were not. In the second study, I examined patterns of stability and change in intergenerational estrangement across a seven-year period. The findings from this study indicated that estrangement was stable across time. Although I was able to identify shifts in degree of closeness or contact in some mothers' reports regarding their children, these shifts reflected only small changes in the relationship. The findings suggested that this may be because estranged children had often violated their mothers' expectations much earlier in the life course and the actions that they had engaged in were, in most cases, irreversible. Taken together, the findings from this dissertation contribute to a growing body of research demonstrating that patterns of relationship quality in later life families reflect those found in other social groups. In particular, estrangement, much like other dimensions of parent-child relations, can be explained using classic theories of interpersonal relations that emphasize adherence to group norms and value similarity

Subject Area
Aging|Individual & family studies
Date of Award
Degree Name
Citation Information
Megan Gilligan. "Stretching the ties that bind: When adult children become estranged from their mothers" (2013) p. 1 - 105
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