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Journal ArticleDOI

Parenting as Mediator Between Post-divorce Family Structure and Children’s Well-being

25 Feb 2016-Journal of Child and Family Studies (Springer US)-Vol. 25, Iss: 7, pp 2178-2188
TL;DR: In this paper, the mediating role of both maternal and paternal parenting between various family structures after divorce and children's well-being was investigated, including the custodial arrangement as well as the repartnering of both parents.
Abstract: Divorce and its subsequent transitions can be stressful for children and therefore, affect their well-being in a negative manner. Effective parenting (with high support and high control) can, however, function as a protective factor. While previous studies have indicated that effective parenting does indeed improve children’s well-being after divorce, these studies tended to concentrate on maternal family structures and transitions as well as maternal parenting. With this study, we investigate the mediating role of both maternal and paternal parenting between various family structures after divorce (including the custodial arrangement as well as the repartnering of both parents) and children’s well-being. Therefore, we analyzed 618 parent–child dyads from the multi-actor dataset “Divorce in Flanders—DiF” using a mediated structural equation model. Results revealed that both maternal and paternal parenting can mediate between family structure after divorce and children’s well-being. Depending on the type of post divorce family constellation, parenting can be considered as a risk or a protective factor, for both maternal and paternal parenting.

Summary (1 min read)

Jump to: [Introduction][Participants][Procedure][Data Analyses] and [Results]

Introduction

  • The optimal development of children requires both support and control from parents.
  • Self-esteem reflects the affective component of subjective well-being, and life satisfaction reflects to the cognitive component (Diener & Diener, 1995; Huebner, Gilman & Laughlin, 1998).

Participants

  • The authors analyses are based on data from 618 parent-child dyads participating in the ‘Divorce in Flanders – DiF’ study (Mortelmans et al., 2011).
  • The DiF study is a multi-actor study providing information on parents, children 10 years of age or older, grandparents, and stepparents.
  • These children had contact with both their parents.
  • 30% of the mothers completed at most lower secondary education, 41.67% of the mothers completed higher secondary education and 45.03% of the mothers completed higher education.

Procedure

  • For the DiF dataset, both continuously married (1/3) and divorced partners (2/3) were contacted as primary respondents, based on their addresses, which were selected at random from the National Register.
  • Data were collected between October 2009 and December 2010.
  • Information regarding the family structure and the background characteristics of parents and children was provided by the parent, while information regarding the parenting of the mothers and fathers and regarding the children’s well-being was reported by the child.
  • Children who had stayed with their mothers between 33% and 66% of the nights and with their fathers between 33% and 66% of the nights were defined as children in joint physical custody arrangements.

Data Analyses

  • For this type of subsample, raw data are restructured dyadically, with each data line containing information on both the child and the parent.
  • This restructuring is based on the dyadic data-organization technique used by Kenny, Kashy, and Cook (2006).
  • The dyadic structure of their data allowed us to estimate actor effects (e.g., the indirect effect of the maternal family structure on children’s well-being through maternal parenting) and partner effects (e.g., the indirect effect of the maternal family structure on children’s well-being through paternal parenting).
  • Preliminary test indicated that their subsample deviated from the normality assumption, all models were estimated using MLR estimation, which is suitable for non-normal data (Brown, 2006).
  • Missing data on the dependent variables were treated with FIML (full-information maximum likelihood).

Results

  • The measurement model for all latent constructs is presented in Figure 1.
  • They focus only on various parts of the variation within the family structure after divorce.
  • According to their results, parenting did indeed mediate between family structures and children’s well-being.

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This item is the archived peer-reviewed author-version of:
Parenting as mediator between post-divorce family structure and childrens well-
being
Reference:
Bastaits Kim, Mortelmans Dimitri.- Parenting as mediator between post-divorce family structure and childrens well-being
Journal of child and family studies - ISSN 1062-1024 - (2016), p. 1-11
Full text (Publishers DOI): http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1007/s10826-016-0395-8
Institutional repository IRUA

1
Introduction
According to Amato’s divorce-stress-adjustment perspective, divorce and the subsequent transitions are stressful
for children, possibly having a negative impact on their well-being (Amato, 2000). Whether this stress actually
does have a negative impact depends heavily on various mediators and moderators, one of the most important of
which is effective parenting. Previous studies have indicated that effective parenting (characterized by high
levels of support and control) can improve the well-being of children after a parental divorce (Amato, 2000;
Amato, 2005; Lansford, 2009). Although most of these studies concentrated on maternal parenting (e.g., Lengua
et al., 2000; Wood, Repetti & Roesch, 2004), scholars have recently begun to investigate the role of paternal
parenting as well (Bastaits, Ponnet & Mortelmans, 2014; King & Sobolewski, 2006). Nevertheless, studies on
parenting and children in various post-divorce family structures tended to concentrate on either the repartnering
of one of the parents (e.g., Hetherington, 2006; Gibson-Davis, 2008) or on the custodial arrangement (e.g.,
Campana et al., 2008; Lee, 2002). Moreover, many studies of family structure and transitions focused on the
structure and transitions of the mother, leaving the father out of the picture (as observed by Bjarnason et al.,
2012; Langton & Berger, 2011). To understand the impact of family structure on children’s well-being, research
on parenting of both mothers and fathers as a mediator is important.
Studies on parenting often draw upon the renowned and widely used theory of parenting styles developed by
Baumrind (1991, 2013). This theory has several advantages over other parenting theories (e.g., attachment
theory). First, it is not linked to the gender of the parent. Second, its focus is not restricted to parental support,
but extends to include parental control (contrary to attachment theory or other perspectives). Third, although it
stems from research concentrating on intact families, it is frequently applied in research on divorced families
(Bronte-Tinkew, Scott & Lilja, 2010; Ozen, 2004; Stewart, 2003).
Baumrind’s theory of parenting styles is based on parent-child interaction (Baumrind, 2013). According to this
theory, children develop by interacting with their parents, and the socialization of children runs through this
interaction. Through training, education, and imitation of their parents, children learn the essential values, habits,
and skills that they need in order to function. The optimal development of children requires both support and
control from parents. Support refers to the emotional warmth (love and affection) that parents give to their
children, as well as their supportive acts with respect to the individual needs and plans of their children
(Baumrind, 2013). With regard to control, Baumrind identifies confrontive control as optimal for the
development of children. Confrontive control is goal-oriented, and it involves setting boundaries and limits for

2
children in order to help their optimal development. Parenting should thus not be defined along a continuum with
support and control at opposite ends. Instead, it should be defined as consisting of two different dimensions:
support and control (in particular, confrontive control). In order to be effective in child development, parenting
should include both of these dimensions.
Establishing whether parenting mediates between family structures and the well-being of children requires the
identification of three relationships: (1) between parenting and children’s well-being, (2) between family
structure and parenting and (3) between family structure and children’s well-being. First, the relationship
between parenting and children’s well-being is established by Baumrind and corroborated in previous studies:
parenting with high levels of support and control effectively improved children’s well-being (Baumrind, 2013).
Based on studies of parenting and the substance use of adolescents in various family structures, she concluded
that authoritative upbringing with high levels of support and control was a sufficient (albeit not a necessary)
condition for raising well-adjusted children (Baumrind, 1991). Similarly, results reported by Bastaits, Ponnet,
and Mortelmans (2014) indicated that the well-being of children was promoted when parents avoided a non-
involved parenting style and, especially, when they raised their children in an authoritative manner. In contrast,
Verhoeven et al. (2010) reported that both maternal and paternal control were positively related to higher levels
of externalized problem behavior.
Second, a relationship between parenting and family structure can be identified, given the essential role of
contact in parenting. According to parental resource, parents can provide both money and time to their children
theory (Thomson, Hanson, & McLanahan, 1994). If parents have money, they can provide their children with a
certain lifestyle; if parents have time, they have the opportunity to support and control their children. After a
divorce, parents work out custodial arrangements to divide the time that each will spend with their children. The
resulting reduction in contact can lead to a decrease in parental support and control.
Previous studies have revealed that residential parents (in most cases, mothers) provided more support and
control than do non-residential parents (in most cases, fathers) (Bastaits, Ponnet & Mortelmans, 2012;
Hetherington, & Stanley-Hagen, 1999; Vandoorne, Decaluwe, & Vandemeulebroecke, 2000). Research has also
indicated that parents with joint custody were more involved than non-residential parents were, and that their
parental involvement and parenting styles more closely resembled those of residential parents (Bastaits, Van
Peer & Mortelmans, 2013; Campana et al., 2008). Moreover, the time that parents and children spend together
after a divorce may decline due to the presence of a new partner in the household. If a divorced parent repartners,

3
he or she must divide time between the new partner and the child, possibly leading to role conflict and a
subsequent decrease in support and control (Adamson & Pasley, 2006; Thomson et al., 2001). However, this loss
of time does not automatically result in a loss of support or control. New partners bring along resources of their
own, and they may take up part of the parenting, possibly even having a positive effect on the parental support
and control of the divorced parent (Hetherington, 2006). Previous studies have reported mixed results in this
respect. Some results indicated that repartnered parents were less controlling and, in some cases, less supportive
(Henderson & Taylor, 1999; Thomson et al., 2001), while others suggest that parental support increased when a
new partner was present (Vandoorne et al., 2000).
Third, previous research indicated the existence of a relationship between family structure and children’s well-
being, although it focused largely on negative indicators of subjective well-being among children (e.g., Brown,
2006; Langton & Berger, 2011). Nevertheless, the absence of problem behavior and depression does not
necessarily equate to happiness, success, and growth (Ben-Arieh, 2000). We should therefore look beyond
negative indicators (e.g. deviant behavior or psychological problems) and concentrate on positive indicators of
subjective well-being, such as self-esteem and satisfaction with life, in line with other studies (Ben-Arieh &
Frønes, 2011; Huebner, Gilman & Laughlin, 1998). Self-esteem reflects the affective component of subjective
well-being, and life satisfaction reflects to the cognitive component (Diener & Diener, 1995; Huebner, Gilman &
Laughlin, 1998). Self-esteem refers to a person’s feelings of self-worth and self-acceptance (Rosenberg, 1965).
Satisfaction with life refers to an overall evaluation of a person’s life (Diener & Diener, 1995). Children were
able to distinguish between these two indicators, as demonstrated in a study involving children in secondary
school (Huebner, Gilman & Laughlin, 1998). Both self-esteem and life satisfaction can be affected by family
structure and parenting, due to the nature of these factors.
Consisting of the level of satisfaction with and acceptance of one’s self and one’s behavior, self-esteem is
constructed in childhood and adolescence, in close relationships with significant others, especially parents. In
early sociology, this is described by Cooley (1902) as the looking-glass self”: the appreciation of one’s self is
shaped through reflected appraisals of significant others (like parents) within a context of social interaction.
Because parents provide the first socialization of children, their parenting and the ways in which they interact
with their children will largely shape their children’s self-esteem. Previous research has established that
parenting is closely related to children’s self-esteem. Chan and Koo (2011) reported that children in various
family structures had significantly higher levels of self-esteem when their parents had an authoritative parenting
style, as characterized by high levels of both support and control. Focusing on possible gender differences

4
between mothers and fathers, Milevsky et al. (2007) observed a positive association between maternal
authoritative parenting with high levels of support and control and higher self-esteem in children. A similar
finding was reported in relation to paternal authoritative parenting.
Disruptions in this pattern of initial socialization (e.g., parental divorce and the ensuing family transitions) might
also affect the self-esteem of children, given their potential to influence parenting. Previous research has
indicated that children who did not live with both parents in the same household had lower self-esteem than did
children living in intact families (Langton & Berger, 2011; Robson, 2010). As indicated by Chan and Koo
(2011), parenting partially explained the link between family structure and children’s self-esteem. It is important
to note, however, that joint physical custody was not included as a category of family structure in those studies.
In an overview of the literature, Sodermans and Matthijs (2014) indicated that joint physical custody can
influence child adjustment in two ways. First, children benefit from the continuity of parental involvement and
resources. Second, because the adjustment of children depends on stability, living in alternating households
might increase stress levels for children. Nevertheless, the outcomes of joint physical custody for children might
depend on the differentiating factors (e.g., family structure), as well as on the indicator of child adjustment.
Proceeding from parental resource theory, we expect that joint custody is beneficial to the self-esteem of
children, as it ensures the continuity of parental resources and involvement.
A similar pattern to that of children’s self-esteem has been observed with regard to children’s satisfaction with
life. Given that life satisfaction refers to an overall evaluation of the lives of children, it is logical that it is
affected by individuals who are close to them (e.g., parents). The family systems perspective regards families as
complex, multilateral, and integrated systems, with family members being necessarily interdependent and the
actions of one family member affecting other family members (Cox & Paley, 1997; Minuchin, 1974). Living
arrangements and the actions of parents should thus necessarily influence the ways in which children perceive
and evaluate their lives. Evidence from different studies indicated that an authoritative parent (as characterized
by high levels of both parental support and control) affected children’s life satisfaction in a positive manner
(Milevsky et al., 2007; Suldo & Huebner, 2004).
Family structures in which children grow up should also affect their satisfaction with life. Bjarnason et al. (2012)
compared the life satisfaction of children in various types of families (i.e., single-mother, residential-mother and
stepfather, single-father, residential-father and stepmother, and joint physical custody) to that of children in
intact families. They reported that children from intact families had significantly higher life satisfaction than did

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