Intergenerational Relationship Quality and Mental Health at Midlife: Considering Mother’s Relationship With Multiple Children

Zhe Zhang , Rice University

Parent-child relationship quality is highly influential for parents’ wellbeing across the life course. However, few studies investigate how relationships with multiple children matter for midlife parents’ mental health. Moreover, collective intergenerational ambivalence, the presence of both positive and negative emotions from multiple children, has received insufficient research attention despite its theorized impacts on maternal well-being. Using NLSY79 data, this study addresses these gaps by analyzing how multiple adolescent and young adult children’s reports of relationship quality with their mother, categorized by uniformly close, collective ambivalent, and uniformly unclose, are associated with mother’s mental health at age 50. Models from OLS regression with lagged dependent variables find that midlife mothers in a collectively ambivalent relationship were at higher risk of increasing psychological distress than mothers in a uniformly close relationship with children. This research adds nuances to understanding complex intergenerational relationships at mothers’ mid-life, with implications for improving the family’s wellbeing.

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 Presented in Session 9. Marriage, Family, Households, & Unions; Gender, Race, & Ethnicity