Parent-Child Tension Never Ends

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If you've ever felt aggravated with your parents, even as an adult, you're hardly alone.

Nearly all parents and their adult children experience at least some tension in their relationships, a new study finds. Among the never-ending topics of frustration: cleaning the house.

The study asked parents and their grown children to rate the tension they felt on specific issues that can cause relationship strain. On simple scale, 1 indicated no tension and 5 indicated a great deal.

Ninety-four percent said they felt at least a little tension about one of the topics.

That's probably no big surprise to, say, about 94 percent of readers. But the researchers also found that mothers and fathers had different views than other family members about some of the tension-causing issues. Parents generally felt more intense strain, specifically when it came to issues such as their children's finances or housekeeping.

Even more compelling, it gets worse when the "kids" get older. Families with children aged 22 to 33 had an average relationship tension of 1.79 on the 5-point scale, but that rose to 1.96 among families with children aged 34 to 49.

Additionally, both mothers and fathers indicated they felt more tension with their daughters than with their sons. Parents usually have a closer relationship and more frequent contact with their daughters, said Kira Birditt, a researcher at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study. This special connection may mean more opportunities for tensions to arise.

The study participants were members of 158 families. Each family was a “triad” with a mother, father and child. About one-third were African American, distinguishing this study from past research that has focused on European American families, Birditt said.

The authors note that the study may not accurately represent all family types because 87 percent of parents in the study were married to each other. It is possible that families with single parents may experience more tension, the researchers said.

The study, done with support from the National Institutes of Health, will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychology and Aging.

Live Science Staff
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