Academic journal article Family Relations

Boundary Diffusion, Individuation, and Adjustment: Comparison of Young Adults Raised in Divorced versus Intact Families

Academic journal article Family Relations

Boundary Diffusion, Individuation, and Adjustment: Comparison of Young Adults Raised in Divorced versus Intact Families

Article excerpt

Anchored in structural family systems theory, this study investigated the role of psychological individuation during young adulthood in mediating the relationship between growing up in families with diffuse boundaries and poor psychological health outcomes. A sample of 404 young adults was recruited to reflect relatively equal numbers of individuals raised in two-parent married households and those who had experienced their parents ' separation by age 14. Participants completed self-report questionnaires to assess specific types of crossgenerational boundary diffusion in the forms of parentiflcation and triangulation experienced in their adolescence, individuation, and general psychological and relationship adjustment. Experiences of boundary diffusion were commonplace recollections for young adults with divorced parents, revealing a large effect size in comparison to young persons raised in intact families. As expected, individuation mediated the significant relationship between boundary diffusion, especially in the form of triangulation, and psychological and relationship adjustment outcomes. The role of gender was explored.

Key Words: family boundaries, parentification, triangulation. individuation, young adult adjustment.

Structural family systems theory emphasizes the importance of clear, hierarchical boundaries for healthy development across the human life span, including the normative separationindividuation processes occurring from adolescence to young adulthood. Although the family is conceptualized as a "whole," each family consists of several subsystems, including the marital, parent-child, and sibling subsystems (Minuchin, 1974). These subsystems are delineated by boundaries that define developmentally suitable family roles and allow individuals the opportunity to meet their needs in developmentally appropriate ways (Kerig, 2005). Families with diffuse or poorly defined boundaries risk drawing their children into unhealthy roles. For example, in families who have lost generational boundaries between the parent and child subsystems, the child may act in a peerlike, spousal, or caregiving role in response to parental needs, commonly referred to as "parentification" (Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark, 1973). This is thought to occur at the expense of the child's own developmental needs and has been linked empirically to a variety of negative adjustment indicators in adolescence and young adulthood, including depression and anxiety (Hetherington, 1999), diminished identity exploration (Fullinwider-Bush & Jacobvitz, 1993), and excessive caretaking in adult interpersonal relationships (Valleau, Bergner, & Horton, 1995). A recent meta-analysis confirmed a small, yet consistent association between parentification and negative adjustment (Hooper, DeCoster, White, & Voltz, 2011).

Parentification, however, is not uniformly associated with negative outcomes and may sometimes foster positive adjustment (Mattanah, Brand, & Hancock, 2004), including enhanced sensitivity, empathy, social responsibility and altruism (Kerig, 2005), capacity for intimate relationships (Barnard & Spoentgen, 1987), independence, and flexibility (Chase, 1999). Parentification may be less problematic if it is of moderate intensity, time limited or, if prolonged, normative for the cultural context or supported by the community (Jurkovic, 1997). Parentification dyamics characterized by these elements may be observed in divorced, single-parent families, where parents may turn to their children for additional support in a time-limited fashion as a reaction to crisis. A handful of studies suggest that parentification is more common in divorced than intact families (Jurkovic, Thirkield, & Morrell, 2001), but results are inconsistent as to whether parentification has beneficial, detrimental, or no effect on children's adjustment in divorced families (Arditti, 1999; Rosenberg & Guttmann, 2001). Methodological issues such as varying definitions of parentification, confusing heightened practical responsibilities at home with emotional parentification, and treating participants from divorced families as a homogenous group contribute to these mixed results. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.