Family Transitions

By Philip A. Cowan; Mavis Hetherington | Go to book overview

for either temperamentally easy or difficult boys or girls. Moreover, there were few effects of temperament on externalizing for girls. Only under the most adverse conditions of high stress and low protective factors did differences associated with early temperament emerge for females. When stressful life events outweigh available protective factors even the most resilient child can develop problems ( Werner, 1988).


SUMMARY AND CAUTIONARY NOTE

The responses to divorce and remarriage involve pervasive changes in family functioning and in the adaptation of family members. These changes may be particularly adverse for temperamentally difficult boys. As Rutter has suggested differences in parent-child relations with easy and difficult children are exacerbated when families are undergoing stressful marital transitions and seem to mediate the subsequent adjustment of children. When parents are sensitive to the needs of their temperamentally difficult children and able to maintain authoritative parenting they can to some extent diminish the adverse outcomes for these vulnerable children. During marital transitions, however, parents may become involved in the new challenges they face and their own emotional needs to the long-term detriment of temperamentally difficult boys.

The findings of this study should be viewed as hypotheses generating rather than conclusive. Although the sample size is large in comparison to most longitudinal family studies which use an extensive array of multiple method including observational methods, it is not large enough to simultaneously examine the multiple factors that interact with children's temperamental predispositions to produce later psychopathology or social competence. The effects of personal vulnerabilities such as a difficult temperament are moderated by their interactions with other risk and protective factors.

Furthermore, this study involved middle class, White, divorced, mother custody and stepfather families. The findings may not generalize to other social class or racial groups or to other types of divorced and remarried families. In particular, the behavior and adjustment of boys and girls may vary with custodial arrangements and whether the remarriage involves the addition of a stepfather or stepmother to the home.

Finally, this paper focuses on parent child relations within the home. We know that other relationships with siblings, grandparents, the noncustodial parent, peers, and teachers influence the adjustment of children and play an important role in children's coping with their parents' marital transitions ( Hetherington, 1988, 1989). They seem likely also to moderate the effects of gender and temperament on children's long-term adjustment. A broader ecological perspective would be likely to contribute to the understanding of the interaction among these factors.

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