Presentation on theme: "Wellbeing in Children in Separated Families: Past and Present Research"— Presentation transcript:
1 Wellbeing in Children in Separated Families: Past and Present Research Jan PryorRoy McKenzie Centre for the Study of FamiliesVictoria UniversityWellington, New ZealandPresentation for the series “Promoting theWellbeing of Children: Bringing all the Evidence Together”Oxford Centre for Research into Parenting and ChildrenOctober 2007
2 History of the debate about children and divorce Early research comparing children from ‘intact’ families with children from ‘broken’ families found differences in a range of outcomes.Pryor & Rodgers concluded in 1998 that on average children of divorce were at twice the risk of poor outcomes when compared with those in intact families. HOWEVERThe majority of children experiencing their parents’ divorce were functioning well.
3 Media response in 1998: “Divorce, the great liberator” (Polly Toynbee) “(This report is) a bizarre retreat from reality.” Daily MailSeveral longitudinal studies around this time suggested that children’s problems were apparent before the separation of their parents.
4 What are the major contributors to poor outcomes for children of separation? Inter-parental conflictPovertyParents’ psychological wellbeingRelationship with nonresident parentParenting styleMOST OF THESE FACTORS ARE MEDIATED BY THE ABILITY OF ADULTS TO PARENT THEIR CHILDREN SATISFACTORILY
5 Longterm outcomes 1Laumann-Billings and Emery (2000) pointed out that although children of divorce generally function well on measures of disorder, they may suffer ongoing distress as adults - subjective ill-being.They developed the Painful Feelings About Divorce (PAFD) scale and compared young adults from intact and divorced families.Found no difference in depression and anxiety, but differences in distress - feelings of loss, wondering if their fathers loved them.They conclude that father contact after divorce is especially important for ongoing feelings of distress in otherwise resilient young people.Reference: Laumann-Billings, L. & Emery, R. (2000)Distress among young adults from divorced families. Journal of Family Psychology 14 (4)
6 Longterm outcomes 2Paul Amato assessed outcomes for young adults who had experienced parental divorce or highly conflicted parents in childhood.Reference: Amato, P. (2006): Marital discord, divorce, and children’s wellbeing: results from a 20-year longitudinal study of two generations. In: Clarke-Steward & Dunn (eds). Families Count. Effects on Child and Adolescent Development. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
7 Comparative predictiveness of conflict and divorce (Amato) ModelsYrs edPsych wellbeingSocial supportClose MotherClose to fatherMarital discordDisrupted relationshipsParental divorce-.28**-.18-.22*-.93***.29*.33*High discord marriage.06-.31**-.19*-.14-.27**.24*.07
8 Children’s voices and change over time: Young people’s experiences of family structure change Ph.D thesis by Andrea Rigg, Victoria University, New Zealand52 children and adolescents interviewed after parental separation and 18 months lateryears oldEarly stage separation (ESG; 1-10 months) and later stage separation (LSG months)Interviewed and assessed in domains of individual wellbeing and family dynamics
9 Individual wellbeing measures: Self concept (strengths)Strengths and difficulties QuestionnaireDepressionLocus of controlReports of feelings (scale developed for the thesis)
10 Family measures Family environment scale (cohesion, communication) Perceptions of parents (positivity and negativity)Parental conflict
11 Points of interest from interviews (1): All young people would have preferred to have been told about the separation face to face by both parents at the same timeAlmost all of them were aware the separation was coming - had seen problems between their parents49 of the 52 did not know why separation had happened; all wanted to know
12 Points of interest from the interviews (2) The most negative aspect of the separation was not seeing enough of their nonresident parent:“I miss Dad, like, I miss that he isn’t there for all the little things - tucking me in, reading to me, tickling me.” (9 year old girl)“I guess I’d prefer it if Dad wasn’t just a Dad at Christmas.” (12 year old girl)
13 Impact of conflict:“Mum and Dad don’t fight any more. I hated the fighting; it scared the shit out of me.” (16 year old boy)“Like, if Mum and Dad stopped putting each other down in front of us and didn’t put us in the middle then I think I could deal with things so much better.” (16 year old girl)
14 What did children say they needed? Support from both parentsTime to adjustInformation on the present and the future“My mind’s working over time. I wish Mum would open up and tell me what went on. Then I’d know what I was trying to cope with.” 18 year old.
15 Coping and resourcesA majority either used the internet, or wanted electronic resourcesStrong aversion to counselling, psychologists, therapists47 of 52 were not offered resources by anyone
16 Advice to parents:“Look, don’t be horrible, don’t be mean to each other, just do what you have to do in a civil way so that your children don’t get more upset than they already are.” (15 year old girl)
18 Retrospective feelings about separation at the time
19 Present feelings about separation, time 1 and time 2
20 Living Arrangements after parental separation “Tender years” doctrinePrimary caretaker viewDefault position (for fathers who do have contact) every other weekend, maybe a day in betweenBut see Laumann Billings findings
21 Feelings of loss and distress according to levels of contact with nonresident parent
22 Why do men lose contact with their children? Some think it is best for their childrenFor some the infrequent contact is too painful to maintainSome do not care enough to stay in contactToo hard - live too far away, too much conflict with partner, etcSurprisingly, re-partnering does not reduce contact levels
23 Children’s voices“Once we had to do this article on what was the worst thing that ever happened to you…and I just wrote ‘Dad’ because I never seen him.” 8 year old boy“Sometimes I’d go ‘Mam, where’s my Dad?’ and she’d go ‘I don’t know’ cos my Mam doesn’t know either. I wish she did know because then I’d ask here what he did look like and then if she had his number I’d take it off her and I’d say ‘Dad send me a photo’ and hang up.” 8 year old boy.
24 Levels of contact are changing… Increased understanding of the importance of fathers in children’ lives generally (Developmental Psychology)Realisation that fathers matter to children after divorce (Amato meta-analysis)Fathers themselves are demanding more contact with childrenPresumption of shared responsibility in some countries
25 What affects levels of contact with nonresident parents? The quality of the parental relationshipGeographyStatus at birth of the parental relationshipAge at separationRepartnering appears not to have a major impact on levels of contact
26 Recent findings on outcomes for living arrangements Fabricious (2003) surveyed 820 college students about experiences of parental divorce.Found that the more time they spent with their fathers, the closer and less angry they felt toward them. This was not related to how close or angry they felt about their mothers.Those from continuously intact families were significantly closer to mothers than fathers, and significantly angrier with fathers than with mothers. HOWEVER:These differences did not exist for those growing up in separated households who had spent a lot of time with their fathers.Reference: Fabricious, W. (2003). Listening to children of divorce: New findings that diverge from Wallerstein, Lewis, and Blakeslee. Family Relations
27 Consequences of undermining behaviour (Fabricious continued) Undermining behavioursCloseness to MotherAnger with motherCloseness to fatherAnger with fatherWanted other parent involved.27*-.24*.01-.07Interfered with seeing other parent-.27*.51*-.03.28*Criticised other parent-.25*-.14.42*
28 Is anything worse than divorce? Walper 2006, in her study of German adolescents, found few differences in wellbeing in children in stable single, step, and intact families. Those who ere not thriving were those who had recently experienced a transition (most often the breakdown of a stepfamily)Similarly, Ahrons (2007) reported that stepfamily loss was recalled as especially traumatic for adult children.Research generally supports the suggestion that multiple transitions are the most damaging for children.For some children, their parents’ separation is not top of the list of their worries - other things like poverty, bullying, etc take precedence.
29 Conclusions: what helps children of divorce Conclusions: what helps children of divorce? (Checklist compiled from several sources)Being told about divorce, and told early (not left to guess)Being given an explanation appropriate to their age and understandingHaving living arrangements discussed with them but not left to make decisionsHaving good support from family and friends (not professionals)Having ongoing relationships with both parents, with adequate time with nonresident parent
30 Conclusions: what helps children of divorce Conclusions: what helps children of divorce? (Checklist compiled from several sources)Minimal conflict between parentsA degree of civility between parentsTime to adjust (‘psychological travelling time’)Availability of resources electronicallyInformation on what is likely to happen in future to the family