Having Kids May Hike Parental Conflict with In-Laws

Marriage is a complicated proposition as each partner works to create a common bond. Implicit in the new family is developing a relationship with the parents of the respective spouse.

Researchers describe the contact with in-laws as an intergenerational relationship and an environment that typically includes various forms of help and support but also tensions and conflicts.

Although relations with in-laws are the subject of many anecdotes and proverbs across cultures, they remain little studied in contemporary societies.

A new Finnish study investigates how being a parent is associated with conflicts between family generations.

Using survey data from Finland with over 1,200 respondents, study authors, lead by Professor Anna Rotkirch, studied conflicts that couples reported having with their own parents and their in-laws.

Overall, Finns reported higher conflict occurrence with their own parents than with their in-laws.

Compared to childless couples, couples with children were as likely to report conflicts with their own parents. But they were more likely to report conflicts with their parents-in-law. The results took into account how frequently family members were in contact with each other and how emotionally close they felt, as well as other sociodemographic factors.

Previous studies have shown that in-laws become more “kin-like” to each other when a grandchild unites kin lineages.

Treating an in-law almost as biological kin can make the adults involved feel closer to each other and help each other more, what has been called a “kinship premium.”

This study documented evidence also of a “kinship penalty.” As in-laws become more kin-like through the presence of a grandchild, their mutual conflicts increase.

Childcare provided by grandparents is of great help to parents of young children, but may also be a source of conflicts.

“Daughters-in-law were more likely to report conflicts when their mother-in-law provided more grandchild care,” said researcher Mirkka Danielsbacka.

“This indicates that the increase in conflicts between in-laws are related to grandchild care.”

The study appears in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

Source: Academy of Finland