Academic journal article Family Relations

Adult Children and Their Fathers: Relationship Changes 20 Years after Parental Divorce*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Adult Children and Their Fathers: Relationship Changes 20 Years after Parental Divorce*

Article excerpt

Adult children's reports of relationship changes with their fathers were examined 20 years after their parents' divorce. Data were drawn from interviews with 173 adult children from the Binuclear Family Study about their perceptions of their parents' divorce and its long-term impact. Findings indicated that most adult children felt that their relationships with their fathers had either improved or remained stable over time. Custody did not directly affect reported changes in the quality of their relationship with their fathers; however, increased interparental conflict, early father remarriage, and low father involvement in the early postdivorce years were associated with worsening relationships over time. Those who reported that their relationships with their fathers got worse also reported poorer quality relationships with their stepmothers, stepsiblings, and paternal grandparents.

Key Words: adult children, divorce, father, parenting, remarriage.

The relationship between children and their divorced fathers is of great concern to researchers, policy makers, and practitioners, as well as to children and their fathers. Although there has been an increase in shared parenting postdivorce and paternal custody, it is still the prevailing situation that most postdivorce fathers consistently spend less time with their children compared with postdivorce mothers.

Studies dealing with the long-term consequences of divorce generally find that parents' divorce during childhood weakens the emotional bonds between offspring and parents in later life (Amato & Booth, 1997; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002). This is particularly true for adult children's relations with their nonresident fathers (Amato & Booth; Bengtson, Biblarz, & Roberts, 2002; Silverstein & Bengtson, 1997). Also, studies show that divorce is associated with feeling less close to fathers, especially among college-age daughters (Aquilino, 1994; Zill, Morrison, & Coiro, 1993).

Some disagreement exists in the research literature about how children's postdivorce adjustment is affected by relationships with their fathers (see Amato & Gilbreth, 1999, for a meta-analysis of studies on this topic). However, the general view is that children benefit from continued relationships with their fathers, except when fathers are incompetent or abusive.

Although the importance of maintaining father-child relationships postdivorce has received considerable attention (Leite & McKenry, 2002; Braver & Griffin, 2000; Pasley & Minton, 1997; Ahrons & Miller, 1993), little is known about how adult children feel about their relationships with their fathers many years after parental divorce. Most of the cross-sectional studies that assess children's relationships with their divorced fathers use college-age or adolescent children, do not control for time since divorce, and do not take into consideration adult children's marital or parental status (Arditti & Prouty, 1999; Fabricius & Hall, 2000). Findings like these cannot be used to draw conclusions about differences between adult children of divorced and nondivorced parents because this period of the family life cycle, the launching phase, is a stage of shifting parent-adult children relations. Due to maturational effects, adult children, who may be married and parents themselves, are noted to report improved relationships with their parents, irrespective of family structure (Silverstein & Bengtson, 1997). Here, by examining the perceptions of the adult children 20 years after their parents' divorce, we examine several of many factors that impact father-adult child relationship quality 20 years after their parents' divorce.

Fathers and Children Postdivorce

Whether and how fathers maintain relationships with their children is dependent on an interaction of complex factors. Because of this complexity, the literature is confusing and often conflicting regarding factors and mechanisms that affect the relationship between father involvement and child adjustment, especially following parental divorce. …

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