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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mother-Adult Daughter Relationships in the Context of Chronic Conflict

  • Author(s): Pickering, Carolyn
  • Advisor(s): Phillips, Linda R
  • et al.

One out of ten older adults is a victim of elder abuse. Perpetrators of elder abuse include anyone who is in a position of trust with an elder, though adult children are the most frequent perpetrators of abuse. The role of gender in relationships has been largely ignored in elder abuse, despite the research on aggression in interpersonal relationships demonstrating gender differences. While research has shown how adult daughters successfully transition to caregivers and maintain relationships with their aging mothers, there is little understanding of how these relationships transition to violence and victimization. Mother-daughter relationships are lifelong intimate relationships, making their unique dynamics integral in understanding the context which creates aggression. Therefore the purpose of this study was to generate theory to explain the experience of aggression between adult daughters and their aging mothers, from the perspective of the daughters, describing the factors that influence the development of elder abuse. Grounded theory methodology, informed by feminism, was used to achieve the study aims. Thirteen telephone interviews were completed with adult daughters who self-identified as being in an abusive relationship with their aging mother. Daughters' descriptions of their mother-daughter relationship were framed around their perceptions of past childhood injustices. This past-framing led to the negative emotional responses daughters experienced in their relationship. Despite feeling the relationship was explicitly negative daughters remained in the relationship out of a desire to pursue the dream relationship and validate their mother-daughter bond, as well as a sense of obligation to do their due diligence. Daughters used both coping and self-protective strategies in managing their ongoing relationship with their mother. These strategies developed over time as daughters found them useful. While the strategies served the daughters' needs, they often came at the expense of the mothers' needs resulting in a situation in which elder neglect could occur. Additionally, daughters found the use of reciprocal and spiteful aggression to be useful, promoting the occurrence of elder abuse. Findings from the study provide theoretical insights to the conceptualization of aggression, power relationships between adult daughters and aging mothers, as well as the development of elder abuse and neglect. Furthermore, the findings have practical relevance as they suggest targeted areas for assessing family safety and elder abuse as well as potential opportunities for interventions.

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