Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Conflict and Children's Adjustment: Evaluation of the Parenting Process Model

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Conflict and Children's Adjustment: Evaluation of the Parenting Process Model

Article excerpt

This investigation tested whether parenting mediates longitudinal associations between marital conflict and children's adjustment. Data were drawn from a three-wave study of 283 families with children aged 8 - 16 years at Wave 1. Relations among marital conflict, parenting (behavioral control, psychological autonomy, and warmth), and children's adjustment (externalizing and internalizing) were examined. Structural equation models indicated multiple dimensions of parenting mediated relations between marital conflict and children's adjustment. When including controls for earlier adjustment, behavioral control continued to mediate relations between marital conflict and change in children's internalizing symptoms over time. These results advance parenting process models for relations between marital conflict and child adjustment and provide impetus for study of other pathways, including direct and child effects.

Key Words: child outcomes, longitudinal, marital conflict, parent-child relations, parenting, structural equation modeling.

Decades of research have demonstrated links between marital or interparental conflict and children's socioemotional functioning (Davies & Cummings, 1994; Emery, 1982). Continuing to document simple associations between marital conflict and children's adjustment, however, has reached a point of diminishing returns (Curnmings & Davies, 2002). The next step is to identify the processes through which marital conflict affects children's adjustment, including pathways for direct effects, such as chddren's emotional security (Cummings, Schermerhorn, Davies, Goeke-Morey, & Cummings, 2006), and indirect effects resulting from changes in family functioning, such as parenting behavior (Fauber, Forehand, Thomas, & Wierson, 1990).

The present study focuses on further investigating the parenting process model, which posits that parenting quality mediates the association between marital conflict and children's adjustment. Links between the quality of marital and parent-child relationships are frequendy reported (Erel & Burman, 1995; Krishnakumar & Buehler, 2000). In a recent meta-analysis, Krishnakumar and Buehler found the average association between interparental conflict and parenting behaviors to be moderate (Cohen's d = -.62). Yet many questions remain about these relations at a process level, partly because of limitations in approach.

A THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE MEDIATIONAL ROLE OF PARENTING

Although various perspectives emphasize the important role of parenting (e.g., spillover hypothesis, Erel & Burman, 1995), emotional security theory (Davies & Cummings, 1994), grounded in attachment theory, is among the few with well-specified predictions and tests of predictions. Emotional security theory hypothesizes that marital conflict reduces children's emotional security within the family context and that reduced emotional security leads to adjustment problems. The emotional security framework incorporates parent-child relationship quality (i.e., attachment security) as an important component of children's emotional security; insecurity arises when marital conflict disrupts parent-child relationships. Marital conflict is viewed as disrupting parent-child relationships in several ways. First, marital conflict "spills over" to affect other relationships, including die parent-child relationship, causing contagion of negative emotionality. Second, marital conflict results in diminished parental resources to support optimal parenting. Notably, Doyle and Markiewicz (2005) examined adolescent attachment insecurity as a component of the parenting process model and found that attachment insecurity explained associations between parental warmth and adolescents' externalizing problems and self-esteem.

GAPS IN PAST STUDIES OF THE PARENTING PROCESS MODEL

Although the validity of the parenting process model is often taken for granted (e. …

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