Links between Parent Characteristics and Attachment Variables for College Students of Parental Divorce

By Carranza, Laura V.; Kilmann, Peter R. et al. | Adolescence, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Links between Parent Characteristics and Attachment Variables for College Students of Parental Divorce


Carranza, Laura V., Kilmann, Peter R., Vendemia, Jennifer M. C., Adolescence


The high rate of divorce in America is considered a major risk factor for children (Bray & Hetherington, 1993). Indeed, negative emotional effects of divorce on offspring olden include lingering feelings of abandonment, rejection, guilt, and low self-esteem (e.g., Kurdek, Blisk, & Siesky, 1981).

Attachment theory, based on the early work of Bowlby (1969, 1973, 1977, 1980), and followed by Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall (1978), offers a framework for understanding how disrupted parent-child relationships stemming from parental divorce can foster later relationship difficulties. Attachment theory holds that infants' initial experiences of attachment become cognitively represented in the form of internal "working models" of the self and others. These mental models incorporate expectations about self-worth, and the extent to which others are accessible and responsive in providing support and protection. Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) identified four adult attachment patterns (secure, fearful-avoidant, preoccupied, and dismissive-avoidant), defined by the intersection of two dimensions, the positivity of self and the positivity of others. Positivity of self refers to one's overall level of self-esteem, or a sense of one's own worthiness, while positivity of others refers to the overall level of interpersonal trust, or the belief that others are generally accepting and responsive. Securely attached (positive self, positive other) adults are comfortable with intimacy and autonomy. Adults with a fearful-avoidant (negative self, negative other) attachment pattern have difficulty trusting others and avoid intimacy. Adults who are dismissive-avoidant (positive self, negative other) avoid intimacy to experience autonomy and self-sufficiency. Preoccupied (negative self, positive other) adults are dependent and overly concerned about abandonment.

Attachment theory assumes that a prototype for expectations from adult friendship or romantic relationships develops from early relationships with parent figures or caregivers (Shaver & Hazan, 1994). In this regard, Main, Kaplan, and Cassidy (1985) found that adults could be classified into different attachment patterns based upon their retrospective reports of childhood relationships with their parents. Securely attached individuals had more positive memories and valued their parents to a greater extent than insecures. Avoidant adults recalled parents as being distant, rejecting, or unavailable when needed. Hazan and Shaver (1987) found that secures reported closer relationships with parents than insecures. Avoidants described mothers as cold and rejecting, and preoccupieds perceived fathers as unfair. Bringle and Bagby (1992) found that avoidants reported inconsistent mothers, cold fathers, and more family problems as adults and as children. Feeney and Noller (1990) found that preoccupieds recalled being close to parents but were annoyed by their lack of support.

Parenting style has been defined as a parent's attitude toward the child in various situations in which parenting practices (goal-directed behaviors) and emotion (non-goal-directed behaviors) are expressed (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). In developing her model of parenting styles, Baumrind (1966) incorporated emotional and behavioral processes into a conceptualization based on parents' belief systems. Baumrind (1967, 1971) distinguished among three qualitatively different types of parental control (authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive). This configural approach, in which the influence of any one aspect of parenting is dependent on the configuration of all other aspects, reflected the notion that children contribute to their own development through their influence on their parents.

Baumrind's configurational approach and the processes through which parenting styles influence development and subsequent adult relationship functioning are largely hypothetical. Maccoby and Martin (1983) merged Baumrind's (1967) approach in defining parenting styles as a function of two dimensions, responsiveness or the contingency of parental reinforcement, and demandingness or the number and type of demands made by parents. …

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