URJHS Volume 8

URC

Post-Divorce Living Conditions and Child Maturation

Jessica Crabb
The Master's College


Abstract

Research suggests that the impacts of divorce are far reaching because the nature of divorce changes the family unit and creates new transition points in the life course of the individuals involved. A review of the literature indicated that many changes occur in the lives of parents and children after divorce, including negative changes such as high levels of stress for parents and children, emotional peaks and plummets, regressive behaviors in children, and alteration/strain in the relationships between parents and children. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the living conditions in post-divorce families affect the child’s maturation. Pursuant to the treatment, data were collected through a seven-question survey instrument that employed a Likert-type scale to measure the responses of participants from the Santa Clarita and San Fernando Valleys. The survey instrument was designed to measure what changes were perceived to occur in the lives of children and parents after divorce. The results of the study indicated that the changes in the life of the parent do impact the development of the child. Those surveyed believed that the living conditions in post-divorce families will influence the maturation of a child.

Introduction

Divorce is a common occurrence in the United States. Not only is it common, but “virtually every American’s life is touched by divorce” (Johnson & Rosenfeld, 1990, p. 15). The process impacts more than the two individuals involved in the divorce. Oftentimes children experience the tensions caused by divorce, as children are most shaped and influenced in their home environment, with parents as the primary influence for the earliest years. In all ages, but particularly in younger children, divorce can be seen to “play a dominant role in how he or she copes with the emotions and conflicts of the present” (Vigeveno & Claire, 1979, p. 11). Many researchers suggest “the process of divorce brings about many changes in children's lives, such as changes in contact with each parent and changes in parental emotions and behavior” (Leon, 2003, ¶ 3). Researchers also suggest that a “parent’s emotional adjustment and parenting behavior [are] likely mediators of the effects of divorce on children” (Wood, 2005, p. 122). Children living in post-divorce families are likely to have many changes in their development based on these factors. However, the effects and the living conditions in post-divorce families were unknown.

Parental Roles and Transitions for Parents during and after Divorce

The level of parental involvement in the life of the child influences the rate of development, as well as the skills developed. “Parenting style will be congruent, or synchronized, with children’s developmental level” (Bigner, 2005, p. 15). Parents are ascribed the roles of encouraging the development through structure, such as recognizing the child’s need for regular behavior, discipline, and interpersonal relationships, and through nurture, including noticing, understanding, and responding to the emotional needs of the child. “Divorce may be one of the few major family crisis events in which adults become more focused on their needs than on those of their children” (Bigner, 2005, p. 223). A parent’s role in the life of a child is to foster development, whether it is through providing for their basic needs, such as food and clothing, or for their more complex needs, such as creating an environment that is encouraging to emotional development through the relationship shared with the child. Divorce limits the amount of attention and care a parent can afford to devote to the developing child.

Unlike the traditional family model, the divorce model fosters many significant changes in the family unit, bringing collective family units to a place of individual family units. Instead of following traditional family models, the divorced family model adds to the process of the life course. “Specifically, the divorce models suggest that divorced families must go through additional phases and accompanying tasks, including acceptance of one’s role in the failure of the marriage; working cooperatively with the former spouse in areas related to custody, visitation, and finances; mourning the loss of one’s intact family; and remaining connected with extended families in order to re-stabilize and developmentally proceed” (Price, 2000, p. 10). Each of these transitions will have various emotional and physical effects on each person involved. “Divorce has a variety of effects on adults. Most involve dealing with emotional adjustments as individuals make the transition from being a couple to being single people” (Bigner, 2005, p. 222). Within this, it has been observed that “more than [in] intact families, divorced and post-divorce families are likely to experience a roller-coaster pattern with peaks of emotional tension at transition points through the life course of the family” (Price, 2000, p. 11). These emotional roller coasters experienced by the parents influence and impact the children.

In the event of divorce the family unit is no longer one unit. Instead, it is broken up into smaller components, resulting in joint-custody, sole-, and primary-custody. Each of these creates different environments for the children and parents involved. Recent studies have shown the negative impacts involving each of these. In the case of joint-custody, many children can become lost in the shuffle and constant transitions from house to house and the “kids typically [end] up in the middle of a bitter tug of war and/or [are] forced to pursue a double life in which they [are] bounced back and forth between two worlds that were at odds with each other” (Meyerhoff, 2006, ¶5). Not only have two separate units formed but communication has changed between the units.

Where there would have been a partnership between the parents, there is now a division and a discord and often competition spurred from bitterness. Tension is often raised in joint-custody families; the living arrangements of the primary-custody family unit are often affected by the secondary parent who vies for the child’s favor. This can result in lessening the rules of the house as a means to appease a child or even in attempting to discredit the other parent through venting frustrations and disagreements in front of the children. “Putting a child in the middle of disputes and forcing him to ‘choose sides’ is unconscionable, as is poisoning the child's relationship with the other parent as an act of aggression or revenge” (Meyerhoff, 2006, ¶7). Although these feelings may or may not have been as present prior to divorce, they are often a product of the divorce.

In the case of single-parent families, a product of sole-custody, “it is not unusual for single-parent mothers to institute changes in the boundaries, patterns and rules that define the usual adult and child role behaviors. A mother may transform the definition of her role, particularly in relation to the oldest child, to that of a peer/partner” (Bigner, 2005, p. 231). This can, and often does, lead to a change in the role of the child—who moves to being a confidante instead of a child. “The mother increasingly relies on this child for emotional support and assigns him or her much of the missing adult partner’s responsibilities” (Bigner, 2005, p. 231). In single-parent houses, the emotional changes, especially in mothers, can also cause developmental changes, particularly for the older child. This role change can force the child “into interaction patterns calling for developmental maturity that he or she does not have or is not prepared to provide for the mother” (Bigner, 2005, p. 231).

Developmental Transitions for Children during and after Divorce

A “child’s reaction to parental divorce involves a process of adjusting to change rather than a single, simple reaction” (Bigner, 2005, p. 223). This should be noted because not every divorce case is the same; just as every parent is not the same nor is every child. However, seen as a constant among children of divorced parents, “the effects of parental divorce on the children may be either short- or long-term and positive or detrimental. Short-term effects, for example, include behavior difficulties at home and at school that occur in association with the initial reactions to parental separation. Long-term effects may not appear until adolescence or adulthood when individuals become involved in intimate relationships and experience difficulties in establishing them” (Bigner, 2005, p. 223).

The immediate tensions caused by divorce contribute to changes in a child’s emotions, just as they do with the parents. In the same way as mentioned earlier with parental neglect, “children from divorced families also face the risk of longer term erosion or loss of important relationships with close friends, extended and new family members, and, particularly, nonresident parents” (Kelly, 2003, ¶14).

Children also “experience the effects of parental divorce in ways that are more disruptive and stressful than those experienced by parents” (Bigner, 2005, p. 225). Effects include “regressive behaviors, such as temporary loss of toilet training as well as increased aggressiveness, fretfulness, and negative attention-getting behaviors such as whining or destroying toys [which] may be observed among preschoolers whose parents are divorcing or have divorced. School-age children may manifest feelings of being abandoned or rejected by their absent parent, a drop in school performance, adverse interactions with peers, or boundary shifts with their mother during or following parental divorce” (Bigner, 2005, p. 223).

In addition, “the experiences we have as children provide a blue-print for a number of interactional patterns manifested when we grow up and become parents ourselves” (Bigner, 2005, p. 16). Thus it is safe to say that the changes that occur during the years a child is maturing greatly influence the parenting decisions made later in life, as well greatly influencing relationships fostered with others. Children lacking certain interactions with either parent can be more likely to suffer developmentally.

Method

The purpose of this study was to determine perceptions of whether the living conditions in post-divorce families affect the child’s maturation. To focus the study the following research questions were developed:

  • What changes occur in a child’s life when parents divorce?
  • How does divorce affect a child’s maturation?

Method of Data Collection

The survey instrument used in this study was designed to determine whether the living conditions in post-divorce families have an effect on the child’s maturation. A personal data sheet requested demographic data in addition to the responses to the seven question Likert-type survey questions. The survey instrument was distributed to students enrolled at Peirce Community College, in Woodland Hills, CA, students enrolled at Reseda Senior High School, in Reseda, CA, students enrolled at The Master’s College, in Santa Clarita, CA, and employees of AI Tech Space Systems, in Northridge, CA during the spring of 2008. The survey instrument was personally returned to the researcher immediately after completion.

Statistical Procedures

STATPAK was employed to examine the data; the desired scale of measurement was ordinal. An ordinal scale is “a scale of measurement in which the measurement categories form a rank order along a continuum” (Brown, Cozby, Kee, & Worden, 1999, p. 372). The One-Dimensional Chi-square statistical test was used because it analyzes any discrepancy between the frequencies actually observed as well as frequencies that were expected according the hypothesis. A .05 level of significance was used to test the results of the study. Data retrieved from the demographic portion of the survey instrument were reported in percentages, tables, and figures.

Results

The subjects sampled for this study included students and employees in the greater Los Angeles area during the spring of 2008. Sixty-seven copies of the survey were distributed and sixty-seven were used in this study. The data collected from the sample are discussed below beginning with the demographical data.

The survey indicated that 25.37 percent of those surveyed were between the ages of 13-17 years old, 38.81 percent were between the ages of 18-25 years old, 34.33 percent were 26 years old or older, and 1.49 percent did not respond. It was also indicated that 31.34 percent of those surveyed were male and 68.66 percent were female. The demographical data also indicated that 83.58 percent of those surveyed personally knew divorcees, 11.94 percent did not, and 4.47 percent had no response. Finally, the demographical data indicated that 37.31 percent of those surveyed were children of divorced parents or were divorcees, 61.19 percent were not, and 1.49 percent had no response.

Table 1 Summary of Responses to Survey Questions

SURVEY QUESTION

SCALE NUMBER

TOTAL RESPONSES

COMPUTED CHI-SQUARE VALUE

TABLED CHI-SQUARE VALUE

1

2

3

4

No Response

     

1

0

2

19

46

0

67

44.0896

5.991

2

0

4

3

60

0

67

95.3134

5.991

3

0

17

27

22

1

67

02.2727

5.991

4

3

16

29

18

1

67

20.6667

7.815

5

3

21

32

10

1

67

29.3939

7.815

6

3

14

27

23

0

67

20.3433

7.815

7

0

7

16

43

1

67

31.9091

5.991

Research Question One

What changes occur in a child’s life when parents divorce? Questions 2, 3, and 4 of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this research question.

Because the computed Chi-square value (95.3134) was greater than the tabled value (5.991) at the .05 level of significance for survey question 2, it can be concluded that a stable relationship with both parents is important. This finding is congruent with former research conducted by Meyerhoff, regarding the tensions that arise between parents and children in the event of a divorce. Meyerhoff noted that “putting a child in the middle of disputes and forcing him to ‘choose sides’ is unconscionable, as is poisoning the child's relationship with the other parent as an act of aggression or revenge” (Meyerhoff, 2006, ¶7).

For survey question 3, because the computed Chi-square value (02.2727) was less than the tabled Chi-square value (5.991) at the .05 level of significance, it can be concluded that single parents do not struggle to provide physically for their children. This finding contradicts the findings of Stohschein, who concluded that negative consequences are often a result of divorce due to “parental socioeconomic resources, which reflect [the] parents’ ability to access financial and human capital to enhance child outcomes, and psychosocial resources” failing to “provide a harmonious and emotionally nurturing environment for their children” (2005,¶ 4).

For survey question 4, the computed Chi-square value (20.6667) was greater than the tabled value (7.815) at the .05 level of significance; thus, it can be concluded that parents undergoing divorce are less likely to be emotionally stable. This finding aligns with Price, who writes “more than [in] intact families, divorced and post-divorce families are likely to experience a roller-coaster pattern with peaks of emotional tension at transition points through the life course of the family” (Price, 2000, p. 11).

Research Question Two

How does divorce affect a child’s maturation? Questions 1, 5, 6, and 7 of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this research question.

Because the computed Chi-square value (44.0896) was greater than the tabled value (5.991) at the .05 level of significance for survey question 1, it can be concluded that a parent’s emotions have an effect on the child’s emotions. This finding is in alignment with both Price and Bigner, who write, “A parent who is struggling with the emotional ramifications of divorce may not be able to discipline and supervise the child as well as before the divorce” (Price, 2000, p. 27). This can often lead to a parent “increasingly [relying] on this child for emotional support” (Bigner, 2005, p. 231).

For survey question 5, because the computed Chi-square value (29.3939) was greater than the tabled value (7.815) at the .05 level of significance, it can be concluded that children with divorced parents are more likely to be independent. This finding is congruent with Bigner, who wrote that single parents can often force the child “into interaction patterns calling for developmental maturity” (Bigner, 2005, p. 231) resulting in more independent lifestyles.

For survey question 6, the computed Chi-square value (20.3433) was greater than the tabled value (7.815) at the .05 level of significance; thus, it can be concluded that a child’s academic performance is impacted by divorce. This finding supports Bigner’s findings: “The effects of parental divorce on the children may be either short- or long-term and positive or detrimental. Short-term effects, for example, include behavior difficulties at home and at school that occur in association with the initial reactions to parental separation. Long-term effects may not appear until adolescence or adulthood when individuals become involved in intimate relationships and experience difficulties in establishing them” and “school-age children may manifest feelings of being abandoned or rejected by their absent parent, a drop in school performance” (Bigner, 2005, p. 223, 225).

For survey question 7, the computed Chi-square value (31.9091) was greater than the tabled value (5.991) at the .05 level of significance; thus, it can be concluded that a child’s emotional well-being is affected by divorce. This finding aligns with Bigner, who stated that children “experience the effects of parental divorce in ways that are more disruptive and stressful than those experienced by parents” including “regressive behaviors, such as temporary loss of toilet training as well as increased aggressiveness” (Bigner, 2005, p. 225).

Findings

The results of the One-Dimensional Chi-square statistical analysis suggest there are many effects of divorce on the maturation of the child. According to the data gathered from this sample, it can be concluded that a parent’s emotions have an effect on the child’s; a stable relationship with both parents is important; single parents do not struggle to provide physically for their children; parents undergoing divorce are less likely to be emotionally stable; children with divorced parents are more likely to be independent; a child’s academic performance is impacted by divorce; and a child’s emotional well-being is affected by divorce.

Discussion

Within the stated purpose and findings of this study, the following conclusions appear warranted:

1. Many changes do occur in the life of a child after parents divorce.

2. A child’s maturation is influenced by divorce.

The trend of divorce, although tapering off, has been in steady increase over the years. The effects of divorce on the individuals involved are known to be far reaching, but are specifically inconclusive due to the variety of effects divorce has on specific individuals. Divorce will have an impact on every person involved and especially on the development of children involved.

It has been observed that the level of parental involvement in the life of the child will influence the rate of development emotionally, relationally, and practically. Children in post-divorce living conditions are often subject to more stress, both from the situation itself and from transferred stress from the parents. This stress can influence the child’s academic performance, making it more difficult for the child to focus in school or on specific tasks. This stress can also influence the way a child reacts to outside relationships. If the child has experienced the trauma of losing a relationship with one parent, they may revert to relying on themselves and becoming more independent, they may exhibit an inability to share or work well with others, or they may develop the tendency to overcompensate for their flaws and seek the approval of others to gain nurture they may be lacking at home.

Limitations of the Study

Several limitations were recognized for the study. The sample for this study consisted only of those currently studying or living in the greater Los Angeles area during the spring of 2008. Also, the sample included those who were not divorced, children of divorcees, and those who had not known individuals involved in divorce.

Recommendations for Further Study

This study provides some information regarding the perceptions of living conditions in post-divorce families and the effects on the child’s maturation. Additional questions pertaining to the living conditions in post-divorce families and the effect on the child’s maturation warrant further investigation; thus, the following recommendations for further research and study of divorced parents are offered:

  1. This study should be replicated, using a population to determine the living conditions in post-divorce families and the effects on the child’s maturation.
  2. This study can be narrowed to determine what specific effects the living conditions in post-divorce families have on the academic performance of the child.
  3. This study can be narrowed to determine what specific effects divorce has on the parents’ ability to provide physically for the children.
  4. This study can be narrowed to determine what specific effects the lack of a stable relationship with both parents has on the maturation of the child.

 

References

Bigner, J. (2005). Parent-Child relations: An introduction to parenting. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Brown, Kathleen W., Cozby, Paul C., Daniel W., & Worden, Patricia E. (1999). Research methods in human development. Mountain View: Mayfield.

Johnson, L., & Rosenfeld, G. (1990). Divorced kids. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. E. (2003). Family Relations. Children's adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. 52(4).

Leon, K. (2003). Family Relations. Risk and protective factors in young children’s adjustment to parental divorce: A review of the research. 52(3).

Meyerhoff, M. K. (2006). Pediatrics for Parents. Separate parenting. 22(6).

Price, S., Mckenry, P., & J., M. (2000). Families across time. City: Roxbury Publishing Company.

Stohschein, L. (2005). Journal of Marriage and Family. Parental divorce and child mental health trajectories. 67(5).

Vigeveno, H., & Claire, A. (1979). Divorce and the children. Glendale: GL Regal Books.

Wood, J. (2004). Child Psychiatry and Human Development. Divorce and children's adjustment problems at home and school: The role of depressive withdrawn parenting. 35(2).


APPENDIX A

Survey Instrument

The Effects of Post-Divorce
Parental Relationships on Children

Survey Instrument

Hi, my name is Jessica Crabb and I’m a college student enrolled at The Master’s College. Thank you for your willingness to participate in this survey. The answers you provide will be used to provide data for my undergraduate thesis researching the effects divorce has on the children involved. Please answer the questions to the best of your ability. :)


Please state appropriate age:     _ 13-17     _ 18-25     _ 26+    

Please state gender:  male _     female _

Please state hometown: ________________________

I personally know divorcees: Yes _      No _


I or my parents are divorced: Yes _      No _


Please answer the following questions rating each answer on a scale of 1-4

(1=never, 4=often). Please circle your answer.

  1. A parent’s emotions have an effect on the child’s emotions

        1     2     3     4

  2. A stable relationship with both parents is important.

        1     2     3     4

  3. Single parents struggle to provide physically for their children.

        1     2     3     4

  4. Parents undergoing divorce are less likely to be emotionally stable.

        1     2     3     4

  5. Children with divorced parents are more likely to be independent.

        1     2     3     4

  6. A child’s academic performance is impacted by divorce.

        1     2     3     4

  7. A child’s emotional well-being is affected by divorce.

        1     2     3     4

 

                                                                           

 


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