Recent Parental Death and Relationship Qualities Between Midlife Adults and Their Grown Children


The death of a parent is considered a normative event in midlife, but little is known about how this loss could affect the relationship between bereaved middle-aged adults and their grown children.


Family systems theory postulates that the death of a family member can have a significant impact on the individual and other family members. The death of a parent is one of the most common types of loss in adulthood, which may signal a final transition into adulthood. The death of an older parent may lead to a reevaluation of one's own relationships with grown children.


By using prospective data from the two waves of the Family Exchanges Study, the authors examined middle-aged adults' experience of recent parental death and its impact on relationship qualities (i.e., negative, positive, ambivalent) with each of their grown children.


When compared with the nonbereaved, bereaved participants who experienced the death of the last living parent reported increased positive relationship qualities with grown children. Among the bereaved participants, having more positive memories of the deceased parent was associated with decreased ambivalent relationship qualities with grown children.


The findings suggest that the death of an older parent is a significant turning point in the life course and highlights the role of positive reflection in the context of intergenerational ties.