Difference in Values May Lead to Mother/Child Estrangement

The mother/child bond is often severed as a result of the difference in values, according to a new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Megan Gilligan, lead author and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, said mother and adult child estrangement is more common than most people might think. Gilligan and colleagues J. Jill Suitor, Purdue University, and Karl Pillemer, Cornell University, found one in 10 families had an estranged child

But Gilligan was surprised at the reason.  “I was surprised it wasn’t a big event or that the child did something illegal. You might expect that if a child is incarcerated or in some type of legal trouble that mothers might be ashamed and that would lead to estrangement,” Gilligan said. “Instead, we found mothers were upset about other issues that related to their core values and beliefs.”

The investigators cited the example of a mother who was more upset by the fact that her son got divorced than she was by her other childrens’ substance abuse. Her religious background didn’t allow for divorce.

In a majority of the cases, there was only one estranged child. However, in one case the mother’s only two children were both estranged. In addition to core values, researchers found the mother’s marital status was also a predictor. Mothers who were divorced or widowed were more likely to have an estranged child than mothers who were married. Gilligan credits the role of the father.

“An explanation for this might be that fathers are maintaining contact with the child. Even if the relationship between the mother and adult child is strained, it’s less likely to become estranged because of the father’s pull,” Gilligan said.


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