Academic journal article Family Relations

Fathering after Separation or Divorce

Academic journal article Family Relations

Fathering after Separation or Divorce

Article excerpt

Current popular belief in the United States is that children fare best if they grow up in a home with their two biological parents. However, over one million children each year experience their parents' marital dissolution (Amato & Keith, 1991), after which approximately 90% reside wfth their mother (Furstenberg, 1990) For the majority of such children, contact with their noncustodial father becomes limited, and often decreases over time (Furstenberg, Nord, Peterson & Zill, 1983; Seltzer, 1991; Seltzer & Bianchi, 1988). Although the effect sizes in the research literature have generally not been very large (Amato & Keith, 1991), there is consistent evidence that children who have expetienced their parents' marital dissolution tend to show poorer social, psychological, and academic adjustment than those whose parents have not separated (Allison & Furstenbers, 1989; Bronstein, Clauson, Stoll, & Abrams, 1993; Dawson, 1991; Guidubaldi, Penry, & Natasi, 1987; Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1982, 1985; Lindner, Hagan, & Brown, 1992; Mulholland, Watt, Philpott, & Sarlin, 1991; Wallerstein, 1987, 1991). However, the evidence is much less consistent regarding the extent to which children's reduced contact with fathers may contribute to this pattenn of outcomes. Key questions remain as to whether children who have more contact or a closer relationship with a noncustodial biological father are likely to be better adjusted than those who do not, and whether the presence of an alternative male parenting figure in the home can also foster positive adjustment.

Relations Between Noncustodal Fathers' Involvement and Children's Adjustment

Overall, findings regarding the parenting involvement of noncustodial fathers have been mixed. Greater frequency or duration of visitation has been associated with improved child adjustment (Hetherington et al., 1982), and infrequent, inconsistent contact has been associated with children's feelings of low self-esteem and rejection (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). In addition, children's positive feelings or perceptions about their relationship with their noncustodial father have been found to be related to higher levels of social competence (Hess & Camara, 1979; Shybunko, 1989), self-concept (Nunn & Parish, 1987), and adolescent boys' overall psychological and social adjustment (Wallerstein, 1987). On the other hand, a number of studies have found children's relationships with their noncustodial father and frequency of contact to be only weakly related--or unrelated--to adjustment outcomes (Amato & Keith, 1991; Clingempeel & Segal, 1986; Furstenberg, Morgan, and Allison, 1987; Jacobson, 1987; Shaw, 1991), and others have found greater contact to be associated with a higher level of behavioral or emotional problems (Baydar, 1988; Hodges, Wechsler, & Ballantine, 1979).

Additional factors related to the noncustodial father's involvement, such as his relationship with the child's mother, the length of time since separation or divorce, and the child's gender, may also affect children's adjustment, although the findings have, again, not been entirely consistent. A number of studies have found that a cooperative or nonconflicted relationship between ex-spouses was related to positive child outcomes (Brody & Forehand, 1990; Camara & Resnick, 1988; Heath & MacKinnon, 1988), and that less contact and poorer quality of the relationship were related to children's increased problem behaviors (Wood & Lewis, 1990). However, Wood and Lewis also found that the better the quality of the ex-spouse relationship, the poorer the children's peer relations. Regarding the length of time since separation or divorce, a clear pattern of findings has also not yet emerged. Whereas Hetherington et al. (1982, 1985) found that the strongest negative outcomes for children occurred in the years immediately following divorce, Bronstein et al. (1993), in a previous study involving the present sample of 10-year-old children, found that time since separation was associated with poorer adjustment. …

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