Understanding Chinese Immigrant and European American Mothers’ Expressions of Warmth

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Abstract

Maternal warmth, the quality of the affectional bond between mothers and their children, has been found to be consistently associated with children’s positive developmental outcomes in Western cultures. However, researchers debate the potential differences in the cultural meanings of maternal warmth, particularly between Chinese and European American families. To address the lack of empirical research on this issue, the present study examined culturally derived perceptions and practices of maternal warmth through open-ended interviews with 70 Chinese immigrant and 70 European American mothers of preschoolers. Specifically, we compared mothers’ perceived importance and degree of expression of warmth toward their children, and why and how they express warmth toward their children in the 2 cultural groups. Results showed that, although mothers perceived expressing warmth to be similarly important, European American mothers perceived expressing more warmth toward their children. Moreover, both cultural similarities and differences were found in why these 2 groups of mothers believed it was important to express warmth and the specific practices they used. Chinese immigrant mothers’ responses were interpreted as reflecting a cultural emphasis on nurturance and instrumental support, whereas European American mothers’ responses reflected the Western cultural focus on more direct and outward demonstrations of warmth.

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