"I'll never be like my parents." Many youngsters must have said this at least once in their lives. The truth emerges as soon as you have your own children: you increasingly become more like your own parents. Dutch researcher Freek Bucx analysed data from more than a thousand young adults, their parents and partners. Children make you more like your own parents, but a partner who doesn't get on well with his or her 'in-laws' can really sour the relationship between you and your parents.
Freek Bucx investigated the link between parents and children in the 'middle phase' of the parent/child relationship. The children were between 18 and 35 years of age and the parents were in the 50 to 75 years age bracket. Bucx discovered that one of the most disruptive factors affecting the relationship between parents and children is the relationship between partners and in-laws. If your partner does not get on well with your parents, there's a significant chance of contact with your parents being weakened. Fortunately, this is quite easy to resolve -- all you need to do is have your own child.
Living close to your parents Bucx discovered that the parent/child relationship in this 'middle phase' period is very strong. For instance, children often end up living close to their parents. But the relationship between parents and children isn't always plain sailing. According to Bucx, changes in the children's living situation is the main reason for this: they go and set up home on their own and spend more time with their partners than with their parents. The relationship between parents and children deteriorates a bit during this period. There is less contact with parents, less mutual support, and ideas about immediate and extended families start to drift apart.
As soon as young adults have their own children, however, the relationship gets stronger again. There's more contact, for example, often because the grandparents come round more often to help look after the children. But it's not just a matter of increased contact: similarities also increase between parents and children. The results suggest that the birth of a child makes young adults think more like their parents about issues of divorce and marriage, and the allocation of household duties. However, the relationship between parents and children also changes in another way: the emotional distance increases.
Family relationships: The ties that bind Freek Bucx's research is part of the NWO research programme 'Family relationships: The ties that bind'. This research programme is about the social causes and consequences of changing family relationships; it started in 2003 and was concluded on 12 November this year with the symposium on 'Families in Flux' in Madurodam.
The research programme opened with an enormous data collection among no fewer than 10,000 indigenous Dutch nationals and 1350 Dutch people of Turkish, Moroccan, Antillean or Surinamese origin, between the ages of 18 and 80. This 'Netherlands Kinship Panel Study' (NKPS) provides a valuable collection of data concerning relationships between partners, parents and children, brothers and sisters, the nuclear family and the wider family circle, and about living, employment and care. Freek Bucx also used these data. The NKPS will be used by hundreds of other researchers in the future for socio-scientific research.
The above story is based on materials provided by NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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