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Navigating Relationships in the Modern Family

Communication, Identity, and Difference


Edited By Jordan Soliz and Colleen Warner Colaner

Despite growing recognition of the diversity of family forms and structures, discourses among family scholars and practitioners as well as in popular culture continue to operate from the assumption that families are fairly homogeneous in terms of the values and beliefs, social positions, and identities of individual family members. Navigating Relationships in the Modern Family provides a unique and important perspective on how communication within and about families related to issues of identity and difference can ameliorate negative processes and, at times, potentially amplify positive outcomes such as well-being and relational solidarity. Chapters in this edited volume focus on divergent social identities in the family (e.g., interfaith families, multiethnic-racial families, acculturation and immigration) as well as differences emerging from family formative processes (e.g., stepfamilies, in-law relationships, foster care). In addition to synthesizing the current state of the scholarship in these particular family contexts, each chapter discusses the interplay between families and the larger social and cultural context. For instance, how does grandparent-grandchild communication influence attitudes toward older adults and aging? Can we improve interfaith dialogue in larger societal interactions by understanding communication in interfaith families? How do ideologies of social class and social discourses about adoption and foster care influence family functioning? Chapters conclude with a discussion on implications for scholars and family practitioners. The edited volume would make an ideal primary or secondary required text for upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses on families as well as specialized family courses on understudied family relationships and forms. The volume also serves as an important resource for family scholars and practitioners.

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12. Communicatively Managing In-Law Relationships (Sylvia L. Mikucki-Enyart and Sarah R. Heisdorf)


12. Communicatively Managing In-Law Relationships

Sylvia L. Mikucki-Enyart and Sarah R. Heisdorf

In the United States, approximately two million marriages occur annually (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). Accompanying these unions is the formation of in-law relationships. Some quick calculus reveals that, on average, 8 million in-law relationships stem from these nuptials, not accounting for step in-law relationships or other “in-law-esque” configurations (e.g., cohabiting parents, long-term parental dating relationships). Despite the ubiquitous nature of in-law bonds, in-laws occupy a liminal space both in family life and academic scholarship. Within families, in-laws are often seen as “insiders” and “outsiders” simultaneously (Fischer, 1983; Mikucki-Enyart, 2016), resulting in in-law bonds being conceived of as “family lite.” In other words, despite in-law’s legal family membership status, they often do not have full membership privileges such as access to private information (e.g., wills/trusts, family secrets) or input in critical decision-making (e.g., parenting, health care). The precarious nature of in-law bonds is rooted in the enduring, negative, and gendered stereotypes that characterize this relationship, such as the possessive, jealous, and meddling mother-in-law or the conniving daughter-in-law looking to “steal” her husband from his family, especially his mother (Cotterill, 1994; Duvall, 1954; Morr Serewicz & Hosmer, 2011). These depictions likely taint the development of in-law bonds and serve as self-fulfilling prophecies. That is, cultural tropes serve as lenses though which in-laws observe and interpret each other’s behavior. These negative portrayals often lead to more reactive and biased interpretations of one another’s behavior,...

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