The Mother-in-Law Mystique: A Tale of Conflict, Criticism and Resistance

Fiona Ward, Ruth Linn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While women have been described in various disciplines as the kin keepers of family relationships, empirical data show that the greatest rivalry in newly constructed heterosexual families exists between two women: the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. Numerous rituals are employed across cultures in order to ease the expected tension between these two rival women. Yet, the topic seems to have been overlooked by feminist and family therapy research alike. Inspired by Bowen's (1978) concept of differentiation of self and Linn's (1998) and Gilligan's (Linn & Gilligan, 1990) ideas of the resisting self, the present study examines these female rivals as moral critics in the war zone of the family. The study sample consists of 14 mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, and sons/husbands, belonging to five Israeli families of diverse cultural origin. Gilligan's Listening Guide was used to assess how participants saw the dilemmas of their situation, adopted a critical distance, and formed an authoritative moral voice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-392
Number of pages12
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Australian Association of Family Therapy


  • authoritative voice
  • critical distance
  • criticism
  • daughter-in-law
  • moral resistance
  • mother-in-law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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