Methods:This exploratory study uses data from a larger mixed methods study examining sons-in-law, fathers-in-law, daughters-in-law, and mothers-in-law’s relationships with their same-sex in-law. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with sons-in-law to assess perceptions of their relationship with their fathers-in-law. Master of Social Work students, trained in qualitative data collection methods, conducted the interviews. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and coded for themes.
Our study’s sample consisted of Black/African-American sons-in-laws who participated in the qualitative interviews (N=11). Sons-in-law were between the ages of 25 and 60 and married, on average, for 8.6 years (SD=5.3 ). Fifty-five percent of sons-in-law (n = 5) reported having at least one biological or step-child.
Findings: Three themes emerged, as sons-in-law identified interactions and situational factors that impacted their relationship with their fathers-in-law. First, sons-in-law believed having similar interests or participating in activities helped to shape their relationship with fathers-in-law. Next, sons-in-law consistently reported how explicit and intentional communication with fathers-in-law, following a significant life event, strengthened the in-law relationship. For example, sons-in-law considered marriages and children’s births as events where fathers-in-law communicated their expectations of sons-in-laws in their new role as a husband or father. As a result, in-laws were able to discuss culturally masculine values and establish a mutual respect for one another as providers and protectors for their family. Finally, sons-in-law described instances of social fathering, where fathers-in-law served as role models, as contributors to building the in-law relationship. Sons-in-law seemed to appreciate receiving advice from fathers-in-law on issues related to employment and child rearing. Sons-in-law found these opportunities to be helpful in building a relationship with their father-in-law, particularly for sons-in-laws who did not have a close relationship with their biological fathers.
Conclusions & Implications: These findings suggest that quality interactions, explicit communication, and opportunities for social fathering can aid in the relationship-building process for male in-laws in Black families. These exchanges allow for discussion and consensus-building around values specific to men of color supporting and protecting the family unit. Additionally, understanding the role of Black fathers-in-law in strengthening sons-in-law’s parenting skills may also lead to evidence-based interventions that include multi-generational approaches to healthy child development. Therefore, more research on the influence of sons-in-law and fathers-in-law on family functioning is of great need.