Relations Between the Generations in Immigrants Families.

Foner, Nancy and Joanna Dreby. 2011. “Relations Between the Generations in Immigrants Families.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol.37, pp.545-564.

Foner, Nancy and Joanna Dreby. 2011. “Relations between the Generations in Immigrants Families.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol.37, pp.545‐564.

Relations Between the Generations in Immigrants



Immigrant families are significant and growing proportion of all families in the United States. Immigrant parents with their foreign-born and second generation children have made up more than a fifth of United States population.  The rapid growth of immigrant families has attracted interest in studying the nature of intergenerational relationships in immigrant families. The main goal of researchers is to depict the intergenerational relationships between immigrant parents and their children.  Foner and Dreby (2011:546) stated that their review brings together the diverse strands in literature to identify the factors that shape the nature of relations between parents and children in immigrant families whether they live together or divided by borders. Their study analyzes the causes of tension and conflict compared to the cooperation between immigrant parents and their children.

Intergenerational Relations: Conflict, Cooperation, and Accommodation

American society have misleading views regarding conflicts between children (foreigners and second-generation) and their tradition bound parents. Parental values, norms, behavioral patterns and mainstream American culture are strains that infuse tension between U.S-born children and their immigrant parents. Second generation children often view their parents as authoritarians due to their high expectancy of respect, deterrence and obedience. Since corporal punishment is common and tolerated in foreign countries, immigrant parents are often challenged with not being able to discipline their children in a manner that they deem is essential to prevent wrongdoing.

Sexual relationships are another major source of conflict in immigrant families because immigrant parents place greater emphasize on their daughter’s sexuality and dating choices more than sons’.  Strict immigrant parents may monitor their daughter’s clothing, relationships and set up curfews in order to protect them from potential sexual threats; it usually allow sons more freedom. Another source of conflict is parental pressure to marry within the ethnic group, which second-generation young people may resent (Foner and Dreby 2011: 547). The push for higher academic success can set as stressors that determine whether children accept or reject parental goals. Ethnographic research on Filipino and Chinese families emphasizes the tremendous pressure young people feel from parents to excel academically and pursue careers such as medicine, engineering, and law (Foner and Dreby 2011: 548). Non-English-speaking parents’ dependency on second-generation children to interpret the English language, translate documents, fill out forms, and conduct business transactions may plunge their self-esteem. Immigrant parents may most likely encounter a sense of frustration and wonder if their children are translating documents correctly.  On the other hand, children might feel a sense of embarrassment toward parents’ inability to speak or write English language.

Middle class immigrant parents are more likely to accept American norms, are less strict with their children, and are more willing to work out strategies with their children to generate peace and harmony (Foner and Dreby 2011: 548). When children recognize that parents are easy to cope with, they tend to appreciate their parents’ determination for American success and strive to follow that footstep. For example: many children of Mexican immigrants willingly and happily give back through financial and social support in repayment for their parents’ struggles (Foner and Dreby 2011: 549). Even though the presence of embarrassment never diminishes between children and their immigrant parents, many second-generations have a sense of pride in their culture of origin and respect for their parents’ struggle.

If immigrant parents compromise with their children, these children will accept parental expectations and make efforts to conceal behaviors that lead to clashes. Immigrant parents are appreciated by their second-generation children when they alter they values, expectations, and learn new norms from their children and other colleagues. This relationship may change over time when new problems arise in the family’s lifespan. Reduction of conflict is more likely to occur when aging and frail parents need support and care.  Second- generation children become more sympathetic and put aside conflicts due to the condition of their parents. For example, daughters come to rely on mothers for advice, support and sometimes, help with child care.

Intergenerational Relations in Transnational Families

Legal restrictions related to immigration policy too often prevent parents and children from migrating to United States together (Foner and Dreby 2011: 550). These legal restrictions force parents to migrate to a foreign country without children when they find it difficult to meet their families’ economic needs by living together. Children and husbands may be left behind by their mothers who have obtained work visas to legally work in the United States. Women may also join husbands who have already migrated to the United States and leave children behind until they can send for them or return home. One study of immigrant children in the United States found that more than 80% had been separated from parents prior to migration and that separation from fathers was most common (Foner and Dreby 2011: 551).

Children may also migrate alone and leave parents behind in order to pursue academic success or search for job opportunities abroad. These children are often referred to as “parachute children.” When mothers and children migrate alone together, they are also referred to as “astronaut families.” These types of separations can cause strains and conflicts in a family.  These conflicts emerge when the person left behind feels a sense of betrayal. Younger children in the community of origin often disregard the authority of their migrant parents and cede control their day-to-day caregivers. Older children make appeals to migrant parents when they feel the caregivers are too restrictive.

Dependence on remittances sent by immigrant parents to children adds to the difficulties related to discipline. Conflicts may arise when migrants excessively monitor the use of the money they send to relatives. Parents who migrate to work in the U.S make it a priority to finance their children’s education; the goal is guarantee their children will qualify for good jobs and not have to migrate as they have done.  Several studies have determined that just the separation from parents may impact children’s schooling outcomes and aspirations (Foner and Dreby 2011: 552). Parents experience feelings of loss during periods of separation that create tensions in relationships with the children with whom they do not live.

Another potential source of difficulty for nonimmigrant children is the addition of new family members in the United States; this new addition could be a stepparent and stepsibling. This strain occurs when children left behind feel like they cannot successfully compete with their new siblings for their parents’ love, affection, and resources. Financially stable migrant parents can successfully communicate with the children through communication tools like cells phones, email, webcams, etc. The level of conflict rapidly decreases when parents communicate with their children on a daily basis. It’s quite unpredictable to pinpoint the problems that might arise when children reunite with their parents in the United States. Reunions can lead to great joy and renewed intimacy, as well as tension and disappointment. If children are confused, resentful or ungrateful for the reunion, parents may be disappointed due to the enormous amount of money spent to bring them to the United States.

What’s New About Intergenerational Relations

Intergenerational tension between parents and their left-behind children was rare among U.S immigrants a century ago. In 1910, only 7% of immigrant women across ethnic groups had left their children in the home country when they came to U.S; that percentage has certainly skyrocketed since that time period. Corporal punishment in immigrant families have steadily declined since it’s now considered as child abuse in the United States.  The strains associated with demands on children to translate for non-English-speaking parents also have become more of a problem, given the expansion of government and private bureaucracies and services in which young people’s translating skills are required(Foner and Dreby 2011: 555). In the past, females were forced to work and contribute to the family instead of pursuing education. Nowadays, those strains on daughters have lessened since most immigrant parents now acknowledge the importance in American education.

The ubiquity of cell phones enables parents in the United States to keep in close touch with children who have remained in the home community- giving advice and responding to day-to-day problems in a manner that was not present decades ago. Even though second generation children were perceived to be ashamed of their immigrant parents, extensive research proves that they were proud of their parents and culture. Nearly all the respondents said they would try to teach their children about their parents’ culture, have their children visit the home country and help them learn the language(Foner and Dreby 2011: 555).

Comparing The United States And Europe

Like the United States, European countries have also experienced massive amount of immigrant population right after World War II. Muslims in Western Europe are considered as the most problematic immigrant minorities in terms of their cultural patterns as well as poverty, unemployment, education rates and honor killings. Majority of Muslims are considered as threats to European values. Most Muslim females may resent their parents’ marriage choices; rejection of an arranged marriage may lead to conflicts in the family. Second –generation Muslim women may adopt traditional customs, such as wearing a headscarf in public, to show parents their identification with Islam and thus justify refusal of arranged marriages (Foner and Dreby 2011: 557). Overall, immigrant families signify that a broad array structural and cultural factor affects the nature of intimate relations between the generations, both when they are living together and when they are separated by borders(Foner and Dreby 2011: 559).

Collins Asomaning

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