Parenting and Child Development
The family is ideally the best social support system that would take care of the child and help it develop into a good human being. When the family structure changes, emotional, psychological and financial problems occur and affect everyone within the family. Parental separation and divorce are common nowadays and it has adverse effects on children, adults and society as a whole (Mullock, 2002) but only 20 to 25 percent suffer significant adjustment problems as teenagers and into adulthood such as mental health problems, impaired educational attainment, socioeconomic and family well-being (National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], 2002).
Approximately 50 to 60 percent of all children that turned 18 in 1990 have been affected by divorce (Miller, Ryan & Morison, 1999) and about 1. 5 million children experience the divorce of their parents each year (NIMH, 2002). Divorce-related problems are also ongoing sources of stress to children, even up to eight years after the initial separation (Miller, Ryan & Morison, 1999). In most cases, however, children initially experience the separation as stressful (Hetherington, Stanley-Hagan & Anderson, 1989). How the parents deal with the separation and parenting the children affects their child’s development.
The children normally go through socio-emotional problems and needs after their parents’ separation/divorce (Poortman & Seltzer, 2005). Sometimes the effects are reflected in their classroom behavior (Miller, Ryan & Morison, 1999). A case study of Mr. Roberts separation with his children’s mother and how his separation affected his parenting with his sons, and its impact on his kids will be used to analyze the approaches used for children’s coping with separation and the effects of separation and divorce on parenting and child development.
The case of Mr. Roberts is not the typical separation/divorce case that most people would think of. His two sons did not turn out to be the stereotype problematic child of a divorced parent, rather they were the complete opposites. They are both gentlemen, very nice, outgoing, have many friends, they engage in several sports, they are close to their family and have high grades. His oldest son is a senior student at a prominent university and is a student leader; he is also in the top 10 percent of his graduating batch.
His youngest son is currently enrolled in a private high school, has good grades, a good set of friends and is into sports. His two sons are part of the statistics of children that adapt well to divorce; however, the oldest son was a bit anti-social and did not talk much to anyone right after divorce and prior to high school. Mr. Roberts was also not married to his partner. They just lived together for nine years and in these nine years his partner gave birth to his two sons.
By law, they are common-law partners (Legal Services Society of B. C. [LSBC], 2007). It is said by Poortman and Seltzer (2005) that couples with young children are less likely to separate than childless couples, however, economic and social-psychologists suggest that their decisions to stay together or not depends on their alternatives- whether staying together would make their lives better or worse and if it would be better for their children (ibid). In the case of Mr.
Roberts, he and his partner decided that they should end it, though they did not take into consideration who would take care of the children, they both knew that it would be better for them to separate since they really could not live with each other anymore and their children were already witnessing their endless, and sometimes violent fights. They were in a highly-conflicted relationship and research shows that the end of a highly-conflicted marriage (common-law relationship in this case) seems to normally improve outcomes for children, “freeing them as it does from an angry and unstable home life” (Innovative Media, 2006).
Since the children were already witnessing their conflicts, which were violent at times, they were probably in a way relieved of their home situation and they knew that their parents fighting would be over, but of course they were sad about it (Mr. Roberts, personal communication, April 23, 2008). The high-conflict relationship of the parents may have also contributed to the better coping of the children since they understood more why their parents had to end their relationship. In terms of child custody, both Mr.
Roberts and his partner wanted to take care of their children after separation, however, they could not initially agree on this and they had to hire lawyers for a settlement and a separation agreement. The sons were asked to make a letter and say which parent they wanted to stay with. Both of the sons chose to stay with their mother, and this is very typical since children of separated parents opt more to live with their mother than their father (Poortman & Seltzer, 2005). Mr. Roberts said that his sons were closer to their mother during that period that is why they chose to live with her.
But in the end, the mother told her children that they have to live with their father because it would be better for them to do so. Mr. Roberts owns a large company and the mother knew that he will be able to provide for their children’s needs more, and this is a big consideration for any parent when considering about the child’s future and who the child will live with (ibid). The children, however, still got to see their mother whenever they wanted and they stayed with her during weekends. This allowed them to still have a good relationship with their mother while growing up, and allowed her to be there for her sons when they would need her.
According to Mullock (2002), when the co-parenting stage of divorce is simplified, the better the children will adjust and develop. This co-parenting stage is when the parents negotiate on when their children will be with them, and in the case of Mr. Roberts, his sons lived with him most of the time and on weekends, they would be with their mother. They both agreed to that living arrangement and this made it easier for their sons since they did not have to witness a custody battle, and they were still also free to see and visit their mother any time.
Separated/divorced mothers and fathers have their own set of values, beliefs, needs and attitudes that they bring into raising their children (Mullock, 2002). Mr. Roberts did not mention whether he and his former partner had conflicts in how they each raised their children, particularly with how Mr. Roberts was doing since his sons were with him most of the time. They probably let each other do what they wanted in how to raise their children since it is said that parents have to accept that they can no longer control the other spouse, in this case- partner, and shift their attention to the needs of their children (ibid).
This is an effect of post-divorce or post-separation; sometimes in this stage the parents focus on their individual wants and needs rather than family obligations and the children are then left to cope on their own (ibid). This also happened in the case of Mr. Roberts since he married another woman after a few years of separating from his common-law partner. Usually in cases like this, the children tend to get depressed, anti-social or exhibit different kinds of behavior related to coping (ibid; O’Connor & Jenkins, 2000) but in the case of Mr.
Roberts and his sons they were not left alone. Mr. Roberts kept constant communication with his sons and he made them close with his wife. Some researchers say that the children of divorce tend to experience more psychological, social and academic difficulties than do children who live in two-parent families- violence and serious conflict aside (Mullock, 2002; Innovative Media, 2006) and that the absence of a parent have negative consequences for the children (Innovative Media, 2006). This was not the case of Mr.
Roberts’ sons since they seemed to have adjusted and coped well with the situation except for the oldest son who had a bit of social problems a few years right after the divorce but adjusted well once he entered high school. This may have also been due to his acceptance of the situation and the constant presence of a step-mother by his side. His step-mother filled in the missing parental role of his real mom, although he saw his mom on weekends and whenever he wanted to, it is still different to have a constant mother figure for a growing child.
The family of Mr. Roberts did not go through any therapy or professional intervention during any of the stages of the separation, except for the case of child custody. Previous researches have indicated that psycho-educational assistance and other forms of intervention are needed by children in order for them to cope well with the separation and divorce of their parents (Slavkin, 2000). One form of this psycho-educational assistance is the Building Healthy Families Program. It is a program where children and adolescents are taught about the changing roles of the members of their family and on how to positively cope with parental separation (ibid).
Since family structures matter to an important degree for children (Innovative Media, 2006), this program targets the structure that they are adjusting to and looking for. Children’s perception regarding their relationship with their parents and siblings after the separation is also taken into consideration in the program (ibid). Though Mr. Roberts did not use any program for his children to cope, he and the mother communicated well to the kids what is going on with their family. Mr.
Roberts also assimilated the children with his new wife and made them close to their extended family to make them feel that they are well supported and love. Their new family structure was explained to them well, such as in the case of the Building Healthy Families Program.
Children of separated and divorced parents should have a supportive environment, safe channels to communicate their feelings and problems, instruction on building coping and self-regulation skills, while parents should have ample resources (Miller et al. , 1999) to help them cope with the separation and at the same time still be good parents to their children. It is not enough that children and parents just receive and read books regarding separation adjustments since an experiment by the National Mental Health Institute (2002) found that teens who had undergone the Literature Control Condition of their experiment had more than twice as many sexual partners and had 4. 50 times higher prevalence of mental disorder diagnosis.
The institute found that children had lesser risks of aggression and hostility as well as lesser use of alcohol and drugs when they underwent the Mother Program, which improves the mother-child relationship, discipline, father’s access to the child and reduces the conflict between the parents, and Mother plus Child Programs, which are group session for children designed to improve their coping, mother-child relationship and negative thoughts (ibid). The case of Mr.
Roberts was opposite of the scenarios given since it was not the mother-child relationship that had to be improved but his relationship with the children since they were made to live with him and the kids were much closer to their mother. It was also the access of the mother to the children that was given, and there was no need for improvement in the case of Mr. Roberts since he granted his kids to visit their mother whenever they wanted to and they stayed with her during weekends.
These together with the communication and good relationship that both parents had with their children prevented the sons from being delinquent and from showing signs of problems that were related to the divorce. The negative impact of divorce is seen into adulthood (ibid) but the sons of Mr. Roberts only exhibited the impact right after the divorce and in the case of the oldest, into adolescence. The long term effects that are seen in the sex and temperament (Hetherington et al, 1989) were not seen in the Roberts boys.
The support system that they had while growing up helped them cope with their situation. The eldest son also exhibited more adjustment problems with the parental separation since he was the one that was more exposed to the problems of the parents and he was much closer to his mother. The study of O’Connor & Jenkins (2000) says that the nature of change in a child’s adjustment that is associated with the separation “requires an understanding of the initial level of disturbance prior to the separation” and since he got to witness more of the fights, he was affected more.
The change in the family type- from living with father and brother to having a step-mother, added resiliency to the eldest son since he also became close to the step-mother and he had a constant mother figure present. Also the conditions that the boys lived in helped them adjust with the parental separation and the re-organization of their family since they were made to understand of what is happening around them, they were given a good support system and both their biological parents were there for them. Adjustment difficulties are not just associated with separation alone but with the conditions that promote “family upheaval” (ibid).
Different children in the same family adjust differently to parental separation but given the proper family and environmental support, good communication, less conflict between the parents after the separation and putting the children’s needs first the children will adjust well and exhibit less problems associated with separation and divorce. The family of Mr. Roberts exhibited great coping and adjustment, and he and the mother of his sons gave total support to their children which helped their children adjust to their new family structure.
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