"The parent-child relationship is one of the longest lasting social ties human beings establish," lead author Kira Birditt of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research said in a statement. "This tie is often highly positive and supportive but it also commonly includes feelings of irritation, tension and ambivalence."
Birditt and colleagues at Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University analyzed data on 474 parents and adult children who were at least 22 years old. The adult children lived within 50 miles of their parents. African-Americans made up one-third of the sample and the rest were European Americans.
The study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, found parents and adult children in the same families had different perceptions of tension intensity. Parents generally reporting more intense tensions than children did, particularly regarding issues having to do with the children's lifestyle or behavior regarding finances or housekeeping.
Both adult sons and adult daughters reported more tension with their mothers than with their fathers, particularly about personality differences and unsolicited advice.
Birditt said it was surprising that parental perceptions of tension increased with the adult children's age, perhaps because middle-age children have formed their own families.