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The parent-child relationship is one of the most long-lasting and emotionally intense social ties. Although often positive and supportive, this tie also includes feelings of irritation, tension, and ambivalence. Indeed, parents and their children report experiencing tensions long after children are grown. There is a lack of information, however, regarding the topics that generate more intense tensions for parents and their adult children, and whether mothers, fathers, and their sons and daughters report tensions of similar intensity. In addition, it is unclear whether tensions are associated with the overall quality of the relationship. Describing variations in perceptions of tensions and whether tensions are associated with relationship quality among parents and adult children is crucial due to implications this tie may hold for overall quality of life, depressive symptoms, and health.

Broadly defined, interpersonal tensions are irritations experienced in social ties. Tensions may therefore range from minor irritations to overt conflict. The developmental stake and developmental schism hypotheses provide a useful framework for understanding why tensions exist in the parent and adult child relationship across the lifespan. According to the developmental stake hypothesis, parents are more emotionally invested in the relationship than are adult children and this generational difference remains consistent across the lifespan expanded on the developmental stake hypothesis with the concept of the developmental schism in which she proposed that tensions occur in the parent-child relationship due to discrepancies in the developmental needs of parents and their children. Two of the schisms that characterize the parent and adult child tie include independence (also referred to as care of self) and the importance placed on the relationship. These schisms may lead to different topics of tension and variations in perceptions of tensions between family members.

Qualitative studies have described tension topics in the parent and adult child tie, establishing that tensions are common and cover a wide range of issues. These studies mainly focused on describing tensions between adults and their parents, without providing theoretical explanations of why tensions occur or the intensity of these topics. Furthermore, little is known about how perceptions of tensions vary within or between families or the implications of these tensions for relationship quality

Parenting Styles

One of the interesting things about being a parent is that there is great variation in how they raise their children. At the same time, there are many commonalities from one parent to another. In fact, there is enough similarity that researchers have tried to group parents into four common parenting styles.

One’s parenting style refers to the combination of strategies that they use to raise your children. The work of Diane Baumrind in the 1960s created one commonly-referenced categorization of parenting styles. The four Baumrind parenting styles have distinct names and characteristics:

Authoritarian or Disciplinarian

Permissive or Indulgent



These Baumrind parenting styles are United States-centric and it is not clear how well these styles describe parents cross-culturally. Each parenting style varies in at least four areas: discipline style, communication, nurturance, and expectations.

Baumrind Parenting Styles: Four Types Of Parenting

Authoritarian Parenting:

Authoritarian parents are often thought of as disciplinarians.

They use a strict discipline style with little negotiation possible. Punishment is common.

Communication is mostly one way: from parent to child. Rules usually are not explained.

Parents with this style are typically less nurturing.

Expectations are high with limited flexibility.

Permissive Parenting:

Permissive or Indulgent parents mostly let their children do what they want, and offer limited guidance or direction. They are more like friends than parents.

Their discipline style is the opposite of strict. They have limited or no rules and mostly let children figure problems out on their own.

Communication is open but these parents let children decide for themselves rather than giving direction.

Parents in this category tend to be warm and nurturing.

Expectations are typically minimal or not set by these parents.

Uninvolved Parenting:

Uninvolved parents give children a lot of freedom and generally stay out of their way. Some parents may make a conscious decision to parent in this way, while others are less interested in parenting or unsure of what to do.

No particular discipline style is utilized. An uninvolved parent lets a child mostly do what he wants, probably out of a lack of information or caring.

Communication is limited.

This group of parents offers little nurturing.

There are few or no expectations of children.

Authoritative Parenting:

Authoritative parents are reasonable and nurturing, and set high, clear expectations. Children with parents who demonstrate this style tend to be self-disciplined and think for themselves. This style is thought to be most beneficial to children.

Disciplinary rules are clear and the reasons behind them are explained.

Communication is frequent and appropriate to the child’s level of understanding.

Authoritative parents are nurturing.

Expectations and goals are high but stated clearly. Children may have input into goals.

Factors In How Children "Turn Out":

While it is easier for the family when both parents practice the same style of parenting, some researches shows that if at least one parent is authoritative, that is better for the child than having two parents with the same, less effective style.

And there are more influences on who children become than just parenting style. Some of the many other factors impacting a child’s development include these elements:

The child’s temperament and how it “fits” with the parents.

A teachers’ style of working with children and the match of teaching style to parenting style.

The influence of a child’s peer group.

Today, new names for parenting styles are arising. For example, helicopter parentingis similar to the authoritative style, but with a little more involvement or some might say over-involvement, in a child’s life. Free range parentingresembles the uninvolved style, but with a conscious decision to allow more independent thinking that is in the best interest of the child.

style, but with a conscious decision to allow more independent thinking that is in the best

A Study on Finding Reasons For Tension Between Parents and Their Children

Perceptions of Tensions by Generation, Gender, and Age:

Developmental schisms and the tensions that result from them may vary by structural and developmental contexts. We consider three factors that are particularly salient in the parent and adult child relationship:

generation, gender, and age (Rossi & Rossi, 1990). First, due to variations in developmental needs and investment in the relationship, parents and adult children may have different perceptions of tension topics. Clarke and his colleagues (1999) found that adult children reported more tension regarding


(1996) found that daughters reported more tensions regarding feeling intruded upon (relationship tension) than did their mothers. These variations may result from the schism between parents and children in their views about the importance of the relationship (Bengtson & Kuypers, 1971; Fingerman, 1996). Because parents feel more invested in the relationship than do their children, they may report fewer tensions regarding fundamental dyadic interaction problems whereas their adult children may report more relationship tensions due to parents' efforts to have a closer relationship. For example, parents may make more demands to have greater contact or provide more unsolicited advice (relationship tension) than do their children.

topics. Fingerman









Because of these developmental schisms, perceptions of individual tensions may also vary by generation. Clarke and his colleagues (1999) found that parents reported more tensions regarding adult children's habits and lifestyle (how they spend their time and money, health related concerns) than other tension topics. Indeed, parents often expect their adult children to start careers, gain financial independence, get married, and have children. Parental well-being often depends on their children's success in these roles (Ryff, Lee, Essex, & Schmutte, 1994). Because parents experience strong desires for their children to achieve adult status and independence (Fingerman & Pitzer, 2007), they may perceive more intense tension regarding their adult children's independence and ability to care for themselves and report more intense individual tensions than their adult children.

Much of the research thus far on parent and adult child tensions has focused on the mother-daughter tie or, when including fathers and sons, has not examined the findings separately by gender. Perceptions of tensions, however, may vary by gender. Relationships with daughters tend to be more emotionally intense involving more closeness and conflict (Fingerman, 2001; Smetana, Daddis & Chuang, 2003).

Mothers also tend to have more intimacy and conflict with their children than do fathers (Collins & Russell, 1991). Overall, tensions may be more intense with mothers or with daughters than with fathers or with sons.

Because of developmental changes and age-related variations in developmental schisms, the tensions that parents and adult children report may also vary by adult children's age (Fingerman, 1996). For example, families with older adult children may experience less intense tensions due to increases in adult children's autonomy. As adult children gain employment and start new relationships, parents may feel less concerned about their adult children's lack of independence. Having less contact as children grow older may also lead to less intense tensions (Akiyama, Antonucci, Takahashi, & Langfahl, 2003).

Implications of Tensions for Affective Solidarity and Ambivalence:

Tensions most likely have implications for relationship quality. Two dimensions of relationship quality considered in the present study include affective solidarity and ambivalence. Affective solidarity refers to positive sentiments between family members including affection, emotional closeness, trust, and respect (Bengtson & Roberts, 1991; Bengtson, Giarrusso, Mabry, & Silverstein, 2002). Because of the developmental stake, parents tend to report greater affective solidarity with their offspring than their offspring report with them (Shapiro, 2004).

In contrast to solidarity, intergenerational ambivalence includes conflicting feelings or cognitions that arise when social structures do not include clear guidelines for interpersonal behaviors or relationships (Connidis & McMullin, 2002). This sociological or structural ambivalence occurs when roles include contradictory expectations for behavior. Gender and generation are important structural determinants of ambivalence in the parent and adult child relationship. This structural ambivalence leads to psychological ambivalence, which is defined as experiencing positive and negative sentiments about the same relationship (Luescher & Pillemer, 1998). For example, a daughter may experience simultaneous feelings of love and irritation regarding her mother. It is most likely that factors in addition to social roles predict more or less ambivalence. In particular, certain tensions may be associated with ambivalence.

The implications of tensions for affective solidarity and ambivalence may vary depending on the tension topic. In fact, a small number of studies indicate that relationship tensions in the parent and adult child tie are associated with less regard for the relationship and ambivalence. Fingerman (1996) found that

mothers who felt excluded by their daughters reported less regard for the relationship. Likewise, daughters
mothers who felt excluded by their daughters reported less regard for the relationship. Likewise,
daughters who reported tensions about their mothers' provision of unsolicited advice conveyed less
regard for the relationship. Parents reported greater ambivalence when their children were too busy to
spend quality time with them (Peters, Hooker, & Zvonkovic, 2006). Adult children reported greater
ambivalence with parents who were rejecting and hostile earlier in life (Willson, Shuey, & Elder, 2003).
Some research suggests a possible link between individual tensions and relationship quality. Fingerman
(1996) found
reported greater regard for the relationship. Parents tend to report greater ambivalence when their
children have not achieved adult statuses (marriage, children, and employment) or have financial
difficulties (Fingerman, Chen, Hay, Cichy, & Lefkowitz, 2006; Pillemer & Suitor, 2002; Willson,
Shuey, Elder, & Wickrama, 2006). Parents also report more ambivalence when adult children provide
help and support for their health problems (Spitze & Gallant, 2004). Similarly, adult children tend to
report ambivalence when they anticipate parent caregiving and health concerns (Willson et al., 2003;
Wilson et al., 2006). Relationship tensions most likely have a greater impact on overall perceptions of
the relationship than do individual tensions because they have to do with fundamental tensions in how
the dyad interacts.

Types of Conflicts between Parents and Children

Any close relationship is going to experience conflict; especially when it is between a parent and child. As a parent, they are charged with the huge responsibility of helping their child understand the difference between good and bad, right and wrong and what it means to be respectful to others. In their quest to instill these values, there will inevitably be times when the child resists or miscommunication happens. Here are three common types of conflict and some helpful remedies.

1. Inevitable conflict. This is the type of periodic conflict that we experience in all of our closest relationships. This type of conflict is inevitable because we can't always be attentive, mindful and sensitive to those we are closest to. There will be times where we are preoccupied, miss verbal or non- verbal cues, show impatience, overreact, etc. When children feel disconnected in these types of situations, they have a heightened need to be understood.

2. Boundary conflict. This occurs when parents attempt to set limits with their children. Limits are an important part of creating structure for children. But, setting limits can create tension between parent and child, resulting in an emotional disconnect in the relationship. The key to staying in connection during these limit-setting interactions is to align with the child's primary emotional state. We can empathize and reflect back to the child the essence of her desire without actually fulfilling her wish. For example: "I know you'd like to go outside and play, but it's important that you finish your homework before dinner. Then you can play outside for awhile." This is far better than just saying, "No, you can't go outside."

By allowing the child to have her distress without trying to punish her or indulge her can offer the opportunity to learn how to tolerate her own emotional discomfort. Letting the child have his emotion and letting him know that you understand that it's hard to not get what he wants is the kindest and most helpful thing you can do for your child at the moment. This helps the child learn to regulate his or her own emotion.

3. Intense conflict. This type of conflict involves intense emotional distress and a significant disconnection between a parent and child. This occurs when a parent loses control of his or her emotions and engages in screaming, name-calling, or threatening behavior toward a child. These are the most

distressing types of disconnections for children because there is often an accompanying sense of shame. These types of conflict often occur because parents have unresolved issues from their own backgrounds.

There is often an overwhelming feeling of shame in the parent and also the child. The parent feels a deep sense of inadequacy that may have been triggered by feeling helpless or incompetent. The child feels a sense of shame from being criticized, demeaned or ridiculed. For example: you are in a grocery store and you come down harshly on your child's behavior because you feel humiliated in front of others. Instead of trying to understand the meaning of your child's behavior, you unconsciously respond to the shame you feel in public of not being able to control your child.

you feel in public of not being able to control your child. Facilitating Repair: Repair is

Facilitating Repair:

Repair is an interactive experience that usually starts with the parent's own centering process. It is virtually impossible for true emotional repair to occur if the parent is still angry or resentful toward their child. Plus, the child will intuitively pick up that the parent is not fully emotionally available and will likely respond in a cautious manner.

Step one: Be aware of your own emotion

If you are not comfortable with your emotion, you will have a hard time giving your children permission to express the full range of their emotion. Questions to consider: Are there emotions you are

uncomfortable expressing or express too frequently (anger, sadness, guilt, anxiety)? Are you explosive in your expression of anger? If so, what might be the source of that behavior? Do you overeact to situations that seem out of your control?

The anger you might feel at yourself for acting out of control may keep you from making efforts at repair and block you from seeing your child's need for reconnection. This is an example of how your life story is blocking the repair process. Being able to focus on your own experience and that of your child is a central feature of effective repair.

Step two: Initiate repair with your child

It is the parent's role to initiate repair. Timing though can be very important. Learn and respect your child's style for processing and reconnecting. Start by addressing the disconnection in a neutral way. For example, "This has been very difficult for both of us to be fighting like this. I really want us to feel good about each other again. Let's talk about it." Don't give up if your first few attempts are met with a dismissive attitude.

In order to begin the process of repair you must resist the urge to blame. As the parent, you have the responsibility to own your behavior and know your internal emotional issues.

Don't try to conceal or dismiss emotional moments with your child. In doing so you teach your child to conceal or minimize his or her emotion. By taking the lead you give your children permission to express themselves. By appropriately expressing your emotion you also communicate that strong emotion can be expressed and managed.

Step three: Listen carefully to your child's thoughts and feelings

Encourage them to express how the experience of the conflict felt to them. Allow them to express the full range of feelings and even do it strongly as long as it is done respectfully and does not create an unsafe situation. Do not judge or counter their expression. Do not defend yourself. Allow your child to fully express him or herself before you share your experience of the interaction. Use the interaction as a teaching opportunity to help set boundaries on how emotions are expressed. Join with your child

emotionally by reflecting back what you hear about his experience of the events. How we communicate with our children helps to shape the ways they learn to regulate their own emotions and impulses.

Potential Problems

Social problems including withdrawal, loneliness, loss of confidence, school problems, learning disorders, anxiety and depression, alcohol and drug abuse (particularly associated with mental illness), suicide or self-harming, theft and criminal behaviour.

Discipline problems including selfishness, defiance, unstable behaviour, recklessness, deceitfulness, violent behaviour and disruptive behaviour.

Educational problems including disruptive behaviour, bullying and decreased learning ability and academic achievements.

Challenges in Improving Parent-Child Relationships

Relationships are always the hardest goals to work on, because they involve another party. This adds a whole new dynamic, compared to goals like earn an income or lose weight, which are more static and linear.

Especially parent-child relationships they are even more challenging due to the following reasons:

1. Years of baggage. Unlike other relationships where you start from a clean slate, with parent- child relationships, there is a baggage built up from young. This weighs down the relationship. Rather than work toward the vision, sometimes you may need to work through the baggage first, which makes the goal bigger than it already is. Also this baggage may house subconscious triggers which make you behave out of character around your parents, making it even harder to work on the goal objectively.

2. Non-reciprocation. While deep down you may want to improve your relationship with your parents, your parents may not have that intention. They may well be okay with how the relationship is today. This makes it near impossible to improve the situation, since effort is required both ways to make things work.

3. Differences in vision. What is your ideal for your relationship with your parents? For them to be stronger mentor figures? To be more open in communication? To be more emotionally

expressive? To be good friends with each other? Whatever it is, they may not share the same ideal. If that’s the case, if expectations are already different at the on-start, conflict is inevitable.

4. Generation gap. Being brought up in different generations create deep-seated implications, from differences in communication style, mindset, world views, philosophy on life, way of expressing love, and so on. With my parents, our generation gap created a very deep chasm that made it near impossible us to communicate, until after I came to my revelations.

5. Different personality types. Your parents may have personalities which make it impossible for you to relate to. With my mom, she can be very stubborn, opinionated, and difficult. With my dad, he’s very quiet and inexpressive. Our personalities don’t gel at all, and this made it very difficult for me when I was trying to work through the relationship at the beginning.

gel at all, and this made i t very difficult for me when I was trying

Solutions for Children to Maintain Good Relations

The Good News: In the vast majority of cases, parent/adult daughter relationships can be greatly improved, and here’s how:

Step I: Get Your Own House in Order

Acknowledge that you are different from your parents and that it is OK.

If you haven’t already done so, begin to separate emotionally from your parents. Take the risk of defining yourself, and stop trying to win their approval.

Accept that your parents aren’t perfect (and neither are you).

Take responsibility for who you are today. Acknowledge what was troublesome about your growing up experience, accept it, and move on.

Realize that your parents are a product of their own growing up and life experiences.

Know that as an adult you are entitled to your own choices, opinions and decisions, even if they turn out to be mistakes. How else can you learn?

Understand that today you have the power to influence your relationship with your parents, even though you’re still “the kid.”

Step II: Avoid the Same Old Traps: Do Something Different

Stop trying to change your parents. Instead, think about how you can change your behavior so as to create better interactions with them.

Although you can’t change Mom and Dad, you can establish limits with them. You can let them know if they have overstepped your boundaries. Be clear about what is acceptable or unacceptable when they are dealing with you in the future.

Avoid old, toxic topics that are never resolved, and which only bring you pain.

Gently remind your parents that you are an adult now, capable of making your own decisions and sometimes those decisions may be wrong.

Develop and enjoy interests and activities together, where you can participate as equals.

When issues come between you, treat them as problems external to you both, not as character flaws or as a battle to be won.

Do not expect Mom and Dad to do things for you, such as pick up your dry-cleaning or take care of the kids. This is part of the old parent/child relationship.

Refrain from asking for their advice unless you really want it.

Notice and acknowledge the good things they have done, and continue to do for you. Thank them for these things.

Even if relations are strained, try to remain in contact, if only through notes, e-mail or voicemail.

And If the Best-Laid Plans Don’t Work

In rare cases even these steps won’t be enough. The pain you experience as a result of continued contact with your parents may be greater than any benefit you receive. In such instances it is OK to say enough is enough. No relationship is worth sacrificing your personal sense of well-being.

Ultimately it is to your advantage to work on developing a healthy relationship with your parents. Upbeat interactions with Mom and Dad can add a wonderful dimension to your life. And at the end of the day, it is rewarding to feel good about the kind of daughter you’ve been.


Like every individual, each family has its own idiosyncrasies. Those of us who fret that our own isn’t normal are typically unaware that most people struggle with the same issues. So long as inevitable woes aren’t getting in the way of focusing on your own needs and goals, we’re probably in the clear. In the event we find ourself held back by our relationship with your parents, we should noy be shy about asking a family therapist to help figure things out.


Purcell, M. (2016). How To Create a Healthy, Adult Relationship With Mom and Dad. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 17, 2018, from adult-relationship-with-mom-and-dad/

McLeod BD, Wood JJ, Weisz JR; Examining the association between parenting and childhood anxiety: a meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2007 Mar27(2):155-72. Epub 2006 Nov 16.

Gilles, Gary. “Navigating Different Types of Conflict Between Parents and Children.” Family & Relationship Issues, navigating-different-types-of-conflict-between-parents-and-children

Birditt, K. S., Miller, L. M., Fingerman, K. L., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2009). Tensions in the Parent and Adult Child Relationship: Links to Solidarity and Ambivalence. Psychology and Aging, 24(2), 287295.

Chua, Celestine. “How to Improve Your Relationship With Your Parents: A Delicate Guide.”Personal Excellence, 27 Nov. 2017,

Name: Saanchi Baid

Class: 2 nd year BSc. (Hons.) in Human Development

Roll. No.: 17HD1018

Session: 2017-2018

Subject: Adulthood And


Topic: Tension in Parent-Child

Relations: A Study


Sl. No










Parenting Styles



A Study on Finding Reasons For Tension Between Parents and Their Children



Types of Conflicts between Parents and Children



Potential Problems



Challenges in Improving Parent-Child Relationships



Solutions for Children to Maintain Good Relations with Parents