A qualitative study of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships
Nuner, Joyce Emmons
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The study investigated the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship from the perspective of the daughter-in-law. A qualitative, phenomenological approach was used to gain insight into how daughters-in-law perceive their relationship with their mothers-in-law, what influences the relationship, and what creates positive and negative aspects of the relationship. In-depth interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 23 daughters-in-law married between 5 and 10 years, with no previous marriages and at least one child from the marriage. Fourteen themes emerged through the analysis of the transcribed interviews. Most daughters-in-law described their relationship with their mother-in-law as positive. Some daughter-in-law’s description of the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship and the interactions were not always consistent. The comfort level of the relationship was also explored and was found to be independent of the perceived quality of the relationship. The mother-in-law’s role within the family influenced the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship as did the mother/son relationship. The mother-in-law as a grandmother was perceived as a positive influence on the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. The impact of the mother/son relationship was widely interpreted by the daughter-in-law. Mother/son relationships were described by the daughters-in-law to be close, “mama’s boy,” polite or distant. Birth of a child and mother-in-law life events such as divorce, loss, and health were reported to influence the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Daughters-in-law described family differences as more likely to negatively impact the relationship, while change over time was a factor that improved most mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Most participants in the study reported entering marriage with an expectation of how the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship should be; however, the daughters-in law that adjusted their expectations were more likely to have the perception of a positive relationship. Daughters-in-law that reported clear relational boundaries, acceptable levels of involvement by the mother-in-law in the family, open communication, and acceptance into the family were more likely to report positive relationships with their mothers-in-law. Daughters-in-law that reported negative aspects of the relationship described using their personal attitude, support systems, distance, and time to manage those negative influences.