Abstract: "When the Chips Are Down, He Will Come through": A Qualitative Analysis of the Male in-Law Relationship in Black Families (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

"When the Chips Are Down, He Will Come through": A Qualitative Analysis of the Male in-Law Relationship in Black Families

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 12, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ericka Lewis, PhD, LMSW, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Brianna Lemmons, PhD, Assistant Professor, Baylor University, TX
Michael E. Woolley, DCSW, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Background & Purpose: Healthy in-law relationships, developed through frequent positive interactions and established roles and boundaries, can promote family stability across generations. Additionally, the male in-law relationship in Black families provides a context for building supportive networks, and may serve as a protective buffer against various forms of racial and economic injustice. Understanding the innerworkings of these relationships can provide important insight into how they might be leveraged to promote the well-being of Black men and the vitality of Black families. Drawing from various conceptual models of Black masculinity and guided by the Afrocentric Intergenerational Solidarity model, this qualitative study explores the nature of the Black male in-law relationship, with an emphasis on understanding the situational factors and interpersonal exchanges that contribute to fostering positive and mutually supportive relationships.

Methods: This exploratory study was part of a larger mixed methods study examining in-law relationships. 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. The study’s sample consisted of Black sons-in-laws who participated in the qualitative interviews (N=11). Participants were between the ages of 25 and 60, with a median age of 37. Participants were married, on average, for 8.6 years (SD=5.3), with 55% (n=5) reported having at least one biological or stepchild.

Findings: Two major themes emerged. First, sons-in-law believed holding similar values and expectations about masculine norms were key to building better relationships. For example, participants noted that having a clear understanding of one’s place within the family and establishing boundaries were important as fathers-in-law adjusted to new family dynamics. Next, sons-in-law believed providing and receiving affective (e.g., companionship, encouragement) and instrumental (e.g., food, housing, money) support was essential to building the male in-law bond. Participants also described instances of social fathering, where fathers-in-law served as role models, providing advice 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: Study findings suggest that shared values and expectations of masculine norms, social fathering, and mutual social support, are all salient aspects of the male in law relationship in Black family systems. Furthermore, study findings highlight the aspects of male in-law relationships that may contribute to positive Black male development. The male in-law relationship is often understudied, however, study findings underscore the need for greater attention toward identifying how this relationship can improve parenting and family outcomes, and serve as a protective buffer against various forms of injustice. Finally, study findings help to advance the development of culturally relevant frameworks that can enhance our understanding of how Black men make meaning of their roles within multigenerational family systems.