Daughtering and daughterhood : an exploratory study of the role of adult daughters in relation to mothers




Alford, Allison McGuire

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This study investigated the role of an adult daughter in mid-life, a time in a woman’s life when she has a personal relationship with her mother based upon shared interests more than dependence for care. Using interactional role theory (Turner, 2001), this study explored the understanding a daughter has for her role as an adult daughter in everyday encounters with her mother. Participants in this study described that when in situations that call for daughtering, they enact the adult daughter role. For this study, adult daughter participants (N = 33) ranging in age from 25-45 years old participated in face-to-face interviews to discuss their role as an adult daughter to their mothers. All participants had a living, healthy mother age 70 or younger. From daughters’ discussions of everyday communication with their mothers, layers of meaning were uncovered which related to the adult daughter role. Using role theory as a guide, thematic analysis revealed six themes of meaning. These findings contribute to an understanding of the social construction of an important role, which daughters learn over a lifetime and which they use to communicate within a family. Discussions of daughtering were challenging to participants due to borrowed vocabulary for describing this role, narrow role awareness, and a low valuation of the work of daughtering. When sorting role influences, daughters noted their mothers and a variety of other sources that inform role expectations. This finding prompted a new manner for evaluating daughters as a daughterhood, or community of role players collectively enacting the same role. Finally, participant responses revealed new ways to conceive of the social construction of the adult daughter role and the practice of daughtering and daughterhood, with outcomes including a variety of comportments for performing daughtering. Implications for future research by communication scholars, as well as for practitioners who work with adult daughter-mother pairs, will be presented with other results from this study.


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