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Parental Expressions of Love and Care among Chinese Immigrant Families


Parents’ communication of love and care to their child is arguably a universal behavior found among all species. Yet expressions of human love and care are multi-faceted and found to be culturally-varied. In this dissertation, I examine Chinese American parent-child conversations as a case for the multiple ways in which parents express love and care to their child, building on cultural theories about emotion and parenting.

In a sample of 1st generation Chinese American immigrant parents (N =110) and their children (M = 9.16 years old), I measured cultural orientation, parenting style, and expressions of love and care during a dyadic affection discussion task. Three types of affection styles were found: training (guan), relational affirmation, and validation. Results showed that Chinese parents with lower American orientation discussed training more often to express affection. In addition, socioeconomic status (SES) was found to be a robust predictor of affection style. Higher SES was associated with validation, whereas lower SES was associated with training and relational affirmation. Finally, in moments when parents spoke Chinese, they were more likely to discuss training and relational affirmation, whereas parents who used more English were likely to use validation to express affection toward their child.

Cultural theories of emotion and parenting may explain varied expressions of affection styles, including training, relational affirmation, and validation. Beyond the static view that immigrant families espouse heritage and host cultural values, the present dissertation demonstrates how these multiple cultural practices dynamically unfold in conversation. Bilingual code-switching found in these family conversations of love and care may reflect one way in which immigrant parents adopt the new unfamiliar context, while also respecting the old familiar context, thereby bridging the emotional acculturation gap.

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