Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parents' Partnership Decision Making after Divorce or Widowhood: The Role of (Step)Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parents' Partnership Decision Making after Divorce or Widowhood: The Role of (Step)Children

Article excerpt

Using data from the Netherlands Kinship Panel Surveys, this study investigated divorced and widowed parents' (N = 350) decision making about living arrangements after repartnering: Twenty-eight percent lived apart together (LAT) and others lived together (remarried or cohabiting). The focus was on determinants of LAT: Women, older respondents, residents of larger cities, and parents of 2 or more children are more apt to LAT. On the basis of additional qualitative interviews with LAT respondents (n = 25), the reasons for LAT were investigated. Data showed that many children are involved in pure boundary work in an effort to guarantee the continuation of their family. Other (step)children use the sabotage or refusal types of boundary work, not accepting the new partner or excluding a parent from contact, especially with grandchildren. Many of these efforts are successful. To preserve the ties with their children, parents often adapt their decision making about the living arrangements with a new partner accordingly.

Key Words: divorce, intergenerational relationships, living apart together, repartnering, (step)children, widowhood.

Longevity, higher divorce rates, and other demographic trends have led to a growing number of older adults who are unpartnered either because of a breakup or the death of a partner. Divorced or widowed adults not only have to cope with grief and bereavement, but also have lost an important source of social support and daily companionship. They can remedy this absence of a significant other by establishing a new romantic bond (Carr, 2004). Widowed men in particular report an interest in getting remarried or living together (Moorman, Booth, & Fingerman, 2006). The demographic imbalance in the sex ratio makes it easier for men at advanced ages to find a new partner, whereas for women the pool of suitable men becomes smaller. This discrepancy is intensified because elderly men tend to prefer women who are younger than they (Morgan & Kunkel, 1998). Therefore, age at dissolution of the former partner relationship is a strong predictor of repartnering (de Jong Gierveld, 2004), although women with noncoresidential children have a higher probability of repartnering than do women with children still at home (de Graaf & Kalmijn, 2003). Men in better socioeconomic circumstances have more opportunities of finding a new partner, especially if they are involved in activities through which they meet other people, such as labor force participation (Chevan, 1996; de Jong Gierveld, 2004).

Sociostructural and cultural changes, such as emancipation and individualization, have altered the family life and household composition of younger and older adults, and traditional biographies have been replaced by choice biographies (Brothers & de Jong Gierveld, 2011; Du Bois-Reymond, 1998), including various forms of repartnering and stepfamily arrangements. Many older adults are successful in finding a new partner. "Individuals select from a veritable smorgasbord of romantic options, including . . . entering into shared living" (Sassler, 2010, p. 557). Some remarry, others live together, and some start livingapart-together (LAT) relationships, although it is unclear whether each of these options is always freely chosen rather than a default option. In the current study, LAT relationships were defined as a living arrangement in which intimate partners (who regard themselves as a couple and are recognized as such by others) maintain separate households and finances and share living quarters on an intermittent or temporary basis (Haskey, 2005; Strohm, Seltzer, Cochran, & Mays, 2009).

Repartnering of Parents

Repartnering at an older age and living arrangements such as remarriage and living together or LAT have already been the topic of ample research (e.g., de Jong Gierveld, 2002, 2004; Karlsson & Borell, 2002; Régnier-Loilier, Beaujouan, & Villeneuve-Gokalp, 2009). Studies have also examined the role children and stepchildren might play in influencing their parents' decision of whether to move in together (e. …

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