Linking the practicing and represented family: The transmission of relationship representations via family stories

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Barbara H. Fiese


Parent-child, Relationship representations, Family stories, Discourse

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Social Psychology and Interaction


The link between family processes and child behavior has been approached from two major perspectives, one emphasizing the stability of family relationships as residing within individuals, via internalized representations, and the other emphasizing this stability as residing between individuals, via patterned interactions. Both theory and accumulating evidence, however, suggest that an integrative perspective provides the most comprehensive picture of development. The current study examined the role of a common family practice, storytelling, in the intergenerational transmission of narrative representations of relationships. Participants were 59 families with a child in the 3rd or 4th grade ( M age = 9.3 years). Each parent was videotaped telling the child two stories about his or her own childhood experiences. A story-stem task was used to elicit children's stories about social situations. All stories were coded for coherence and portrayals of relationships, and parents' stories were additionally coded for the degree of narrative interaction. Contrary to predictions, the coherence and degree of interactivity of the family stories did not predict the coherence of children's stories. However, the discrepancy between parents' portrayals of relationships was marginally predictive of the coherence of children's stories. In addition, exploratory analyses revealed differences in the pattern of correlations between fathers' and mothers' narratives and more general parenting behavior. Results are interpreted in terms of the important distinction between family stories as a means of socialization versus the social construction of children's representations of self and relationships.