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Emotional Support from Parents and In-Laws: the Roles of Gender and Contact

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After the birth of a child, new mothers and fathers commonly have a substantial amount of contact with their parents and in-laws. However, this contact may not always result in emotional support. We tested if contact, rather than geographical distance, influenced emotional support received from parents and in-laws and whether there were gender differences in these associations. Online questionnaire data were collected in 2008 from a community sample of U.S. first-time mothers (n = 93) and fathers (n = 93) who were in a heterosexual relationship and living together. Results indicated that for new mothers, greater contact with own parents and in-laws was related to receiving more emotional support. However, for mothers, greater contact with parents also was related to less emotional support from in-laws. For new fathers, contact was not related to emotional support from either parents or in-laws. These findings suggest that receiving support as a result of contact with family members may be gendered, particularly for new mothers’ and fathers’ relationships with their in-laws. The current study highlights the importance of reducing stigmas about men and their emotional needs and of encouraging new fathers to seek and receive support from family during the transition to parenthood.

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Correspondence to Alexandra Chong.

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Chong, A., Gordon, A.E. & Don, B.P. Emotional Support from Parents and In-Laws: the Roles of Gender and Contact. Sex Roles 76, 369–379 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0587-0

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  • Social support
  • Family relations
  • Emotional support
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Caregivers