Moderating Factors for Children of Divorce
Many people in America are children of divorced families. It’s said that more than 16 million people in America have divorced and not remarried (Anderson, Taylor, & Logio, 2015, pg. 319). It’s no argument that divorce is detrimental to children. A study about children and their adjustment to divorce states that children might experience the loss of a parental figure, and the quality of parenting might decline (Kelly and Emery, 2003). This means that children are often left without the same support that their peers might get. It is well known that divorce causes children to be left emotionally damaged. According to an article published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, divorce is detrimental to ‘children’s psychological well-being’ (Potter, 2010). This in turn could cause children to develop behavior problems. Another study suggests that children of divorce often have more behavior problems than their peers from families remain together (Weaver and Schofield, 2015). But from these issues that divorce causes, we might wonder if there are certain sociological factors that influence how a child will experience a divorce, and we might also wonder what resources there are available to aide children in the divorce process. By looking at these factors, we can begin to understand what measures might benefit children in divorce and in turn we can implement changes in how we as a society take care of children in the divorce process. Divorce is a painful time for children, but certain factors can influence the child’s adjustment to evolving family life and vary their overall emotional wellbeing throughout the divorce process. These factors include family income, parental involvement, and the child’s own social abilities.
Divorce Stress Adjustment Theory
Paul Amato’s Divorce Stress Adjustment model supports the idea that there are some external sociological factors that can influence how a child fares through their parent’s divorce. Here it is important to note that divorce should not be seen as a single, isolated event. Amato defines divorce as not one single event but as “a process that begins while the couple lives together and ends long after the legal divorce is concluded” (Amato, 2010). This suggests that divorce can begin to affect a child and family much before the actual legal divorce, and continue initial emotional trauma can continue into children’s adulthood. Parents will begin conflict and arguing, or financial troubles will put stress on the family perhaps long before the separation paperwork is signed. At the same time, a financial situation may drastically change after parents separate, and parents may continue their conflict. Children’s own social skills are largely dependent on their age and can change how they might react to a divorce process as well. The Divorce Stress Adjustment Model states that there are certain ‘mediators’ or divorce related things that cause issues in family life. For example, a child may experience sibling or parental conflict, or they might change schools (Amato, 2010). These are factors that cause stress, and are things that the child must adjust to. Factors like parental involvement, child’s social skills, and family’s income are all examples of what Amato defines as ‘moderators.’ These are factors that, if positive, can benefit the child’s emotional well-being through a divorce process. If negative, these factors could be detrimental to the child’s emotional well-being. Family Income It can be said that family resources or income can predict how a child will receive the effects of a divorce. Families with ‘fewer financial resources’ before their divorce may cause children to externalize their issues (Weaver and Schofield, 2015). Families lacking a stable income may find it more difficult to support their children.
How it works
In our contemporary American society, its not uncommon for both parents to be the ‘bread-winners.’ If a divorce takes place, one parent may end up being the sole care-giver for their child or children, essentially cutting the families income in half. In this example the newly single parent becomes spread thin, having to support children on their own and give them proper care and support. Financial situations that change negatively after a divorce may cause confusion for a child. They’ll find themselves in a situation that lacks some luxuries that they might’ve had before a divorce. Sociology, the Essentials (2015) states that divorce rates are slightly greater for families with lower income, “a fact reflecting the strain that financial problems create” (pg. 320). This is an unfortunate fact because children in low income families may suffer and experience more emotional problems than they need to. The fact of having more financial resources might imply that coming from a wealthy family will make children happier. But this is an idea that is likely false. Having more financial resources simply means that having money allows parents to afford beneficial resources for children. For example, they could afford family or child counseling or to keep children in extracurriculars, which are activities and programs that will benefit the child. These are things that low-income families might not be able to afford.
In the divorce process, its not uncommon to hear about parent’s being at war with each other. Parents might end up pre-occupied in the divorce process and end up spending less time with their children, or the quality of their parenting may decrease (Kelly and Emery, 2003). Parents who are navigating their way through their own personal issues with each other may find it difficult balance parenting and their personal issues. Parental involvement is one factor that can affect how a child reacts to their parent’s divorce.
The Essentials states that if divorced parents remain active participants in raising their children, then they are less likely to experience divorce’s negative effects (Anderson, Taylor, & Logio, 2015, pg. 321). Likewise, it is said that if a child’s home life is less ‘supporting and stimulating’ they might experience more stress and behavior issues. (Weaver and Schofield, 2015). These facts mean that children fair well when they remain in a loving and nurturing environment. In this case, it is important for parents to keep the best interest of their child in mind. At the same time, if the children are sensitive to their environment that parents create. Parents who are at war with each other doesn’t exactly foster a nurturing environment. Parental conflict is one of the many stressors that children would experience in the divorce process (Kelly and Emery, 2015). Another influential factor may be mothers. Mothers who fall to depression after the divorce or mothers who aren’t very sensitive before the divorce can cause problems for children as well. One study states that mothers sensitivity levels towards their children before a divorce can protect children from the negative effects of divorce (Weaver and Schofield, 2015).
Child’s Social abilities
Sociologist Paul Amato details in his 2000 paper that children with good coping skills and social skills have less of a negative impact from the effects of divorce (Amato, 2010). He said, “Children who use active coping skills… tend to adjust to divorce more quickly than children who rely on avoidance or distraction as coping mechanisms.” (Amato 2010). So, children that understand how to manage their feelings might have an easier time processing a divorce. It is good to note here that children who lack those social skills may benefit from programs or therapies that implement and teach coping mechanisms. A child’s intelligence will also factor into how they experience divorce. Higher IQ may act as a safeguard for divorce’s negative effects. This finding could suggest, assuming that older children maintain higher IQ’s than younger children, that older children could fare better during a parent’s divorce process and long after. Or it could mean that the higher a child’s IQ, the better coping skills they have and the more capacity for logic and reasoning. Weaver and Schofield say it well in their 2015 paper, “[Children] may be better able to understand why their parents are separating and to reason about the possible benefits of divorce for their parents and perhaps themselves” (Weaver and Schofield, 2015). One study in the Journal of Marriage and Family examined the scores of kindergarten students, and showed that children who went through their parents’ divorce on average scored 3 points less than their classmates (Potter, 2010). It is known that one of the consequences of divorce is that academic performance may suffer. If we know that ‘psychosocial well-being’ is a predictor of how children do in school, and that divorce lowers children’s psychological well-being (Potter, 2010), we can infer that when children experience a divorce they will see a decrease in overall academic performance. But, there may also be other divorce related factors, or mediators, that cause this problem. Conflicting parents might cause a distraction for the child, so they spend more time thinking about their parents divorce rather than their schoolwork. Stress could cause a child to not want to participate in school. Many of these issues go hand in hand.
Many of the moderating factors of divorce effects on children are intertwined with one another. Based on the research findings above, we can assume that children in divorce situations benefit from quality parenting, foundational social and coping skills, and stable financial resources. In order to support children in divorce situations they must utilize some family counseling resources. For parents who conflict with each-other, there are co-parenting coaches.
These coaches help parents work through their personal issues with each other and act in the best interest of the child. According to Weaver and Schofield’s study about how divorce effects behavior issues, helping divorced parents to maintain a ‘supportive and stimulating home environment’ is one of the major goals for parents (2015). Co-parenting and family counseling might help parents achieve just that. One co-parenting program offered by “CoachMediateConsult.com” wants to offer guidance to parents as they divorce, help parents put together schedules and parenting plans, and reduce and resolve family conflicts. In order to make this more of a ‘sociological’ solution, programs like these could be recommended by or referred to by divorce courts as a resource for high conflict parents. For children with lesser coping skills that their peers, it may be beneficial for them to see a counselor or therapist to learn those skills. Likewise, one child-centered divorce program in the Netherlands has proven to be effective. The program is called Kids in divorce situations, or KIDS. This school-based program resulted in reducing emotional issues and improve communication between parents and children (Pelleboer-Gunnick, Van Der Valk, Branje, Van Doorn, & Dekovic, 2015). Programs like this help children develop their coping and problem-solving skills, which given the opportunity for them to work on these skills will benefit children in divorce situations Families of low-income may benefit from a waive of fees or government aid for programs that benefit the well-being of the child, and for programs that assist parents in resolving conflict and practicing better parenting.
Weaver and Schofield say is well in their study, “Divorce itself may not be as detrimental for children as the circumstances that accompany it” (2015). Children who’s parents aren’t as involved as they once were or that argue, children with lesser social skills, or children who are in a family with lesser financial resources or children who’s family’s finances changed upon a divorce might experience a difficult time. Psychological factors are important to consider yes, but psychological factors don’t entirely explain the scope of how divorce effects children. It is important to understand and look at a bigger picture, one that has external, sociological factors. By understanding the factors that influence how a child will experience a divorce, we can manipulate the situations to benefit children. It seems that many of the negative issues that surround children in a divorce situation can be remedied by offering families resources and connecting them with programs that will benefit and alleviate families, parents, and children of the pain that divorce can cause. Moderators such as parental involvement, financial resources, and individual children’s coping skills can be tailored in such a way that will support children for the better.
- Amato, P. (2000). The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children. Journal of Marriage and Family,62(4), 1269-1287.
- Anderson, M., Logio, K., Taylor, H. (2015). Sociology: The Essentials (9th ed). Boston, MA: Cengage. Bonnell, K. (2018) Co-Parent Coaching. Coach Mediate Consult. Retrieved from https://coachmediateconsult.com/co-parenting-coach/
- Cherlin, A., Chase-Lansdale, P., & Mcrae, C. (1998). Effects of Parental Divorce on Mental Health Throughout the Life Course. American Sociological Review, 63(2), 239-249.
- Kelly, J., & Emery, R. (2003). Children’s Adjustment Following Divorce: Risk and Resilience Perspectives. Family Relations, 52(4), 352-362.
- Pelleboer-Gunnink, H., Van Der Valk, I., Branje, S., Van Doorn, M., & Dekovi?, M. (2015). Effectiveness and moderators of the preventive intervention kids in divorce situations: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Family Psychology : JFP : Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 29(5), 799-805.
- Potter, D. (2010). Psychosocial Well?Being and the Relationship Between Divorce and Children’s Academic Achievement. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(4), 933-946.
- Weaver, J., & Schofield, T. (2015). Mediation and moderation of divorce effects on children’s behavior problem. 29(1), 39-48.