The healthy adjustment of children, therefore, is contingent upon the existence of protective factors, including: 1. Cooperative parenting (Hetherington & Elmore, 2003) 2. Meaningful relationships with parental figures (e.g., Hetherington &
Stanley-Hagan, 2000; Kelly & Lamb, 2003) 3. Stable social supports within the home (e.g., Hetherington & Elmore, 2003) 4. Positive community environments (Hetherington, 1989; O’Connor, Hetherington, & Reiss, 1998). 5. While the relationship with the non-custodial parent is important to a child’s long-term well-being, the relationship with his or her primary caregiver may exert the greatest developmental influence (Gordon v. Goertz, 1996). Older children tolerate more extended separations with less stress than younger children, provided meaningful contact is regularly maintained (Maccoby et al., 1993) and Short-term visitation with the non-custodial parent does not harm
attachment relationships with the custodial parent (Bray, 1991)
While a quality relationship with the custodial parent significantly influences developmental
outcomes for children, healthy adjustment is also contingent upon a quality relationship with the
non-custodial parent (Gunnoe & Hetherington, 2004; Hetherington et al, 1993). Therefore careful consideration must be given to the child’s relationship with this parental figure, most often the father.
Why are paternal relationships so important?
Fatherly involvement is strongly correlated with children’s psychological and behavioural
adjustment in the short and long term (Pruett, Williams, Insabella, & Little, 2003; Rohner &
Veneziano, 2001). Active involvement by fathers in their children’s lives fosters positive
psychological development by helping protect against:
Depression (Rohner & Veneziano, 2001)
In addition to the buffering influence fathers may have on their young and adolescent children
(Amato & Rivera, 1999), paternal involvement offers unique benefits to children that only a
positive father-child relationship may provide. Such important fatherly contributions include:
Improved socialization (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999)
A child’s relationship with the father is particularly significant for boys who may experience
limited identification with their male parents following divorce, and thus be placed at a
developmental disadvantage (Peretti & DiVitorrio, 1992). Active father involvement also exerts a
positive influence on mother-son relationships, and therefore indirectly benefits child adjustment
over time (Gjerde, 1986).
It is important to note, however, that only those fathers who actively engage in their children’s
lives exert a positive developmental influence (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999). Moreover, a father’s
involvement with his children may largely be dependent upon his traditional attitudes about
19 gender roles, suggesting that past experiences have considerable influence on future caregiving in the father role (Bulanda, 2004).
In general, however, it may be concluded that children who engage meaningfully with their
fathers over time are better adjusted on a variety of measures than those children whose fathers
are absent following divorce (Pruett et al., 2003). Consequently, assessors must not preclude the
positive influence fathers have on their children (Maccoby et al, 1993).
Research indicates that children who do not see their parents on a frequent or regular basis may
feel intensely disconnected and rejected (Emery, 2004; Grief, 1997; Wallerstein, 1987), which
increases these children’s risk for developing a variety of psychological and behavioural
problems following divorce (Hetherington et al., 1998; Kelly & Lamb, 2000; Ross, Roberts, &
Scott, 1998b; Whiteside & Becker, 2000). It is vital, therefore, to consider the impact of parental absence on the child’s emotional and psychological development.
Infants may cry, fuss, or pull away once reunited with an absent parent,
while toddlers may demand more personal attention by exhibiting clinging
or regressive behaviour (Anasuri, 2001). Older children are more likely to feel guilty or anxious about their parent’s absence, perhaps angry that the parent has been away while at the same time afraid that the parent will never return (Anasuri, 2001). Teenagers may tend to pull away from the absent parent, preferring to spend time with friends, or may challenge that parent’s authority and limits (Anasuri,2001). However, it is the quality rather than the frequency of contact that is considered most important (Hetherington et al.,1998).
A parent’s ability to respond to his or her children’s physical, psychological, emotional,
behavioural, and spiritual requirements has significant implications for child development
(Jackson & Donovan, 1990; Sherkow, 2005; Sparta, 1999). As primary caregiver, therefore, the
custodial parent should be assessed with respect to parenting capacity on a variety of measures:
Since a child’s long-term well-being is associated “with the adjustment of the custodial parent”
(Hetherington et al., 1993, p. 217; Felner & Terre, 1987; Jackson & Donovan, 1990), it is
important to ascertain the residential parent’s psychological stability as it may impact parenting
capacity and the child’s sense of security. In particular, comprehensive assessment should assess:
The presence of psychological disorders including psychosis, personality or
emotional disorders, substance abuse, criminality, and physical, emotional, or
sexual abuse of others, with particular attention to past neglect or abuse of a
child (Gardner, 1999) Whether the parent’s psychological conditions are chronic or if they arose mostly due to the circumstances of divorce, and thus more apt to abate with
time and altered situation (Bray, 1991)
The style of parenting most predictive of healthy child adjustment is authoritative parenting
(Amato, 2000; Demo & Cox, 2000; Hetherington & Elmore, 2003; Ross et al., 1998a; Sorensen
& Goldman, 1990). Through authoritative parenting, the caregiver displays toward his or her
Consistent control and monitoring of behaviour (Greene et al., 2003)
In other words, authoritative parenting is characterized by nurturing and responsive care, as well as implementation of age-appropriate limits (DeHart et al., 2000). Children reared in this manner typically exude energetic, curious behaviour, emotional responsiveness, and appropriate selfreliance (DeHart et al., 2000). Authoritative parenting has also been associated with:
Improved parent-child relationships
Reduced aggression in children
A child’s more positive attitude toward school and education (DeHart et al.,2000)
Those parents who are too permissive or too authoritarian in their parenting style may place their children at increased risk for a variety of psychological and behavioural problems (Demo & Cox,2000) including:
Passive hostility (DeHart et al., 2000)
Assessors must therefore be cognizant of these negative parenting practices due to the detrimental effects such interactions have on children’s long-term development.
It is important to note, however that the immediate period following divorce generally undergoes a deterioration of parenting, and that as parents and children adjust to the post-divorce situation, caregiving ability generally improves with time (Hetherington & Elmore, 2003). Further, parents may behave differently in front of the assessor than when alone with their infants, which could show a discrepancy of parenting practices (Pedersen, Zaslow, Cain, &
Anderson 1981 as cited in Parke, 1988).
Finally, while a parent’s prospective caregiving ability is important to assessment, past indicators
of parenting capacity must also be given due consideration. Comprehensive evaluation therefore
requires exploration of parenting history to gauge previous success in a caregiving role (Bricklin,
1995; Chrisholm & MacNaughton, 1990; Jameson et al., 1997), which may include:
Previous behaviours that have limited the parenting role, such as alcoholism/addiction
Past indicators of parenting style
Historical fulfillment of parenting responsibilities
Previous social engagements that negatively impacted the parent-child relationship
The children’s best interest: get used to hearing this phrase and more importantly, get used to making it your number one priority because this is what it all boils down to. Your attorney will fight for you in the court room or mediation with everything available, but if you have not made your children your number one priority then he or she will be fighting for nothing. You have to remember that there is nothing in this world more important than your children and you must prove that you believe this by acting in their best interest at all times. This brings us to the issue of custody. If you are fighting for custody just out of nastiness then that is cowardly because only a coward would use an innocent child as a weapon against their ex. If you don’t want or can’t handle custody for any reason, then be a man/woman and step back; but if you do want custody, your children’s best interest is something that you should be willing to fight for. You need to consider the type of custody that you feel is in the children’s best interest.
Parents need to tell children repeatedly that there is no such thing as being divorced from their mother or father. Parents' behavior must give them the same unconditional, loving message. To reinforce that message, parents should show up on time for scheduled visits and pick up, or drop off, children on time. Failure to do this is a major stress for children and a major source of conflict between parents.
Here are some suggestions for you as parents to help you and your children during the divorce and afterwards. They are designed to help you protect your children from damaging side effects of divorce:
- Don't discuss your divorce problems or argue in front of your children.
- Don't use your children as messengers.
- If you make negative comments about your spouse, even in a joking manner, your children may get angry with you because children never want to hear anything negative about either of their parents.
- Maintain your positive parenting - your children want and need structure and limits (Make sure that your children are doing all they are supposed to be doing, like homework and other obligations).
- Reassure the children that you and your spouse love them and you both will always love them and take care of them.
- Reassure the children that the divorce is not their fault in any way.
- Let them know that there is nothing that they can do or say to prevent the divorce.
- Give age appropriate explanations to the children about your plans before you separate.
- Tell them your plans about the time they will spend with you, and where they will live and attend school. Invite questions and give age-appropriate answers.
- Maintain a positive attitude in front of your children - smile.
- Reduce stress by including physical exercise as a part of your regular activities together.
- Give each of your children their own journal where they can record their activities, and feelings through drawings and writing.
- Encourage your children to maintain, or develop hobbies and socialize with friends.
- Show your interest in your children's lives: Ask about school activities; go to parent teacher night; volunteer at their school; attend functions that are important to them.
- Have some fun with your children - take them to a ballgame, movie or museum.
- Keep your promises to your children.
- Your children may need to talk to an impartial, trusted adult, a counselor, a relative, a member of the clergy, or a therapist to deal with their fears and emotions surrounding the divorce.
Enjoy your children and let them be children when they are with you.
- Take care of yourself so that you can care for your children.
- Remember, when one door closes, another one opens.