Author Identifier

Nikki Rajakaruna

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Justine Dandy

Second Supervisor

Dr Deirdre Drake


The number of interethnic relationships is increasing in many countries around the world. Research regarding the experiences of interethnic couples indicates considerable variation in the reactions of parents towards such relationship types (as reported by those within the relationship). In some studies, significant and sometimes violent opposition has been reported, resulting in negative consequences for the adult child, the couple and presumably the parents. Despite such reports, no research has considered the experiences of parents from the perspective of parents themselves. As such, I explored mothers’ experiences of their child’s interethnic relationship with the aim of determining the nature of their experiences and the factors that influenced their experiences.

I approached the research from a developmental psychology perspective, considering the meaning that mothers ascribed to their experiences, and the implications of their experience for their relationships, their role as a parent, and their development as an individual. I applied social constructionist, grounded theory methodology to develop an understanding of mothers’ experiences. Interviews were conducted with 30 mothers from various ethnic backgrounds, aged 43 to 78 years, all of whom resided in Australia.

I found that mothers’ experiences of their child’s interethnic relationship were varied. Concern regarding ethnic difference, the possibility of relocation and/or the possibility that their child’s relationship was driven by insincere motives (on the partners’ part), characterised the experience of some mothers. Mothers experienced concern about these issues because each was perceived as a threat to their parenting-related, developmental goals of 1) wanting the best for their child and 2) wanting to stay involved in the life of their child. Both goals were important to mothers in satisfying generative concern.

Experiences were varied in the sense that concern was not experienced by all mothers. Instead, concern was moderated by mothers’ experience of difference; that being the extent of difference that mothers’ perceived between themselves/their child and their child’s partner, and their acceptance of any perceived differences. Concern was also moderated by mothers’ progress with the parenting task associated with middle adulthood; letting go. The experiences of mothers were also varied in that some mothers described change over the course of their child’s relationship. Specifically, a number of mothers experienced personal growth in the context of their child’s interethnic relationship which not only influenced experiences of the relationship but also moved them closer towards the developmental goals of generativity and wisdom. Growth was, however, dependent on a number of factors relating to the nature of their child’s relationship and their own personality. In this way, growth can be understood as resulting from the interaction between contextual and individual factors; consistent with systems theory of development.

The findings of my research provide new understanding of the relevance of a child’s life decision (their choice of intimate partner) to the developmental progression of mothers. This brings new insight to existing theory and research regarding parent experiences of their child’s interethnic relationship, parenting an adult child, and adult development in middle to later adulthood.