Little research have been conducted that examine the effects of father-offspring relationship on the well-being of children after family dissolution. The role of father in childrearing is often stereotyped, being restricted to breadwinning and punitive activities. However, more recent studies have demonstrated the existence of revitalized fatherhood in which fathers play a significant role in children’s development. The current literature review will tackle upon the most popular theories conceptualizing divorce, the effects of parental divorce on children’s development, fatherhood, and father-children relationships.
Theoretical and empirical studies overviewed suggest that a father and his empathic, cooperative, and affectionate attitude to an offspring matters much for the latter at all developmental stages regardless of gender. Stable and qualitative father-children relationships can become a protective multifactor variable that would facilitate a child’s adjustment to post-divorce settings.
The Father-Child Relationship as a Protective Factor for Children of Divorce
The current quantitative study investigated the paternal involvement with children in both intact and divorced families in order to answer the following questions: (1) Can a positive father-child relationship serve as a protective factor for children of divorce in post-divorce adjustment? (2) Does the age/grade level of the child at the time of the parents’ divorce play a role in the protective nature of the father-child relationship? (3) What other factors might represent protective factors for children of divorce?
The father-child relationship does not affect children adjusting to parental divorce.
The father-child relationship serves as a protective factor for children adjusting to parental divorce.
The child’s age/grade level at the time of divorce makes no difference for the degree of child’s adjustment/well-being.
The child’s age/grade level at the time of divorce is relevant for the post-divorce adjustment.
The current research utilized multi-stage sampling. First, a sample of Harrison County school system students (N= 9,724) was stratified by grade level. Second, within the selected student sample pools, a simple random sample (N=150) of students was identified. After explaining the goals and objectives of the study to school system administrators and with permission from the school administrators, the researcher contacted the custodial parent of the students in the sample to describe the study, its goals and objectives and obtain informed consent. These custodial parents who have agreed to participate in the study were asked to provide the researcher with background information through a Demographic Questionnaire form. Background data consisted of (a) type of the family where a child lived at the time of conducting the study (i.e. intact family of origin, biological mother, biological father, biological parent with stepmother/stepfather, other family), (b) the child’s current age and age at the time of the parents’ divorce, (c) the child’s current grade level and grade level at the time of the parents’ divorce, and (d) type of father’s participation in child’s life as adjudged by the court. Based on custodians’ answers, the research sample was stratified through cluster sampling so that to target children who were involved into parental divorce situations at various age/grade levels. So far as the research was conducted with school aged children (children aged 4 to 17), there were expected four clusters of participants: Fathers and Custodial parents of, (1) children who experienced divorce during preschool years, (2) children who experienced divorce during elementary/middle school years, (3) children who experienced divorce during high school years, and (4) children who have never experienced parental divorce. Finally, within those clusters, participants were chosen based on their fathers’ availability and expressed consent to participate in the study.
Three measures were completed in relation to each child in the study (see appendix questionnaires). First, custodial parents were asked to complete a Demographic Questionnaire developed to obtain information on the following points: (a) the child’s age/grade level, (b) the custodial parent a child lives with, (c) parents’ marital status, (d) age/grade level of a child at the time of divorce if the parents were divorced, (e) father’s custody status from the divorce decree (if divorced). Second, a Fathering Questionnaire was developed, utilizing Likert scales, for the biological fathers of the participating students. The focus of the father questionnaires was to gather information related to the frequency of father-children contact per week in pre- and post-divorce periods (non-divorced fathers were asked to rate current frequency of contacts with their offsprings), the type of father-children interactions prior and subsequent to the divorce (non-divorced fathers had to specify the type of current interactions, i.e. playing activities, collaborative participation in social events, father’s assistance in completing homework, etc.), and the perceived quality of the father-child relationship. The third measure, the Adjustment Questionnaire, was developed to assess child’s well-being and adjustment. Due to be completed by the custodial parent, it incorporated a Likert scale to rate the custodial parent’s perception of the child’s academic functioning, functioning within the custodial parent’s residence, and the child’s social functioning prior to divorce and subsequent to the divorce (non-divorced custodians rated current functioning).
Within the identified random sample of students’ families (N=150), 90 fathers agreed to participate in the research study. The fathers of 45 students were divorced from their wives and mothers of their children, whereas 45 individuals lived in intact families. The children from divorced families were divided into three groups of 15 subjects each: those who experienced parental divorce in pre-school ages, those who did it in elementary-middle school, and those whose parents divorced when they were in their senior grades. Degree of father availability was assessed through Demographic and Fathering questionnaires. Each child of divorced parents was matched with a child from an intact family in terms of age and social background by the team of independent matchers. Since individual subject matching was done, t tests for matched pairs were employed. Responses for the two quality measurement instruments, the Fathering Questionnaire and the Adjustment Questionnaire, were computed. The scores were analyzed using a univariate analysis of variance as well as pairwise comparisons.
Frequency of father-children interactions proved to be an invalid measure of children’s well-being and adjustment after parents’ divorce. It appeared that the quality of paternal involvement with children in both intact and divorced families enhanced children’s adaptive behavior after parents’ marital dissolution and strengthened family relationships in intact families. Those children, who had qualitative and frequent contacts with their fathers, demonstrated higher academic achievement and lower levels of anxiety. Children with greater paternal care were more socially adjusted and had less behavior problems.
The current literature review provides an account of 29 scholarly articles that have been reviewed in a qualitative fashion. There will be four strands of analysis undertaken: divorce as a dynamic process, divorce as related to children’s developmental stages, the concept of new fatherhood, and father-children relationship after parental divorce.
Divorce as a Dynamic Process
Since the early 1980s, academic community started treating divorce as a dynamic process. As early as in 1979, Hetherington strongly opposed to “viewing divorce as a single event rather than a sequence of experiences involving a transition in the lives of children” (p. 851). (Rogers [2004, p. 138] also acknowledged that “divorce is seen not as a single event, but as a collection of stressful events that are on-going.”) Hetherington’s crisis model of divorce took into account the perspectives of both parents and children who survived throughout four stages: a pre-divorce collapse of stable family bonds, the disequilibrium and disorganization stage, the stage of experimentation to find the best coping strategies, and the stage of reorganization and re-acquirement of equilibrium in new family settings. In regard to children, the scholar distinguished “a later period of reentry into a two-parent family involving a stepparent” followed by “further alterations in family functioning” (Hetherington, 1979, p. 851). Thus, it is assumed that a child continues coping with the consequences of pre-divorce and divorce disequilibrium long after the period of parental separation. Upon Amato and Keith (1991) performed a meta-analysis of research data on 13,000 children who have participated in 92 studies in the 1950s through the 1980s, they somehow supported Hetherington in expecting complex and long-lasting harm that divorce caused to individuals: “the long-term consequences of parental divorce for adult attainment and quality of life may prove to be more serious than the short-term emotional and social problems in children that are more frequently studied” (p. 40). The statement underlined the dynamic essence of divorce where stakeholders (i.e. parents and children) depended on each other in levels of comfort.
Portes, Smith, and Brown (2000) refined the conceptualization of divorce as a dynamic phenomenon using the revised Divorce Adjustment Inventory (DAIR) parent questionnaire across two samples of divorced families with children aged 5-18. They created their model consisting of five systems taking into consideration the level of interparental discord and some external factors. The system named “Family Conflict and Dysfunction” produced the most devastating influence on both parents and children since it created the most instable atmosphere due to high level of conflict between parents. The “Divorce Transition” system affected stakeholders in a similar manner indicating “an inconsistent, possibly unstable, situation with a parent under considerable stress” (Portes, Smith, & Brown, 2000, p. 102). The other three systems (“Protective Conditions,” “Positive Divorce Resolution,” and “External Support Systems”) described positive outcomes for families in divorce. Overall, Portes, Smith, and Brown (2000) observed that three variables –conflict between parents, financial stress, and the impaired parents’ coping strategies – negatively affected children’s well-being, whereas external support systems, positive parental relationship in a pre- and post-divorce periods combined with the efficient parents’ coping patterns decreased the levels of anxiety and stress in children.
The measured effects of divorce vary in number and depth depending on the rates of divorce and research instruments being utilized by researchers. When Amato (2001) conducted a meta-analysis on 67 studies dated between 1990 and 1999, he took into consideration that increasing gap between well-being of children from divorced and intact families. The researcher acknowledged that children of divorce in the 1990s were as impaired in their academic achievement, conduct, psychological and emotional adjustment, self-concept, and social relations as children in the earlier periods. As Amato (2001) has noted, “divorce was associated with greater conduct problems among boys than girls” (p. 366), although in regard to other factors children of both gender were affected. Conceptualization of divorce as a stressor for children was supported by Reifman, Villa, Amans, Rethinam, and Telesca (2001) in their meta-analysis of 35 articles published between 1990 and 1999. This group of researchers reported about “slightly worse outcomes for children of divorce” (p. 29) in the 1990s than in the 1980s. Reifman et al. (2001) stated that “with divorce becoming a little less common in the 1990s, it may have taken a somewhat bigger toll on children” (p. 31). As these three meta-analytical studies demonstrated, researchers should be more elaborate when the correlation between children’s age and nature of the effects of marital dissolution on children’s well-being were investigated.
Does Children’s Age Matter?
As Cohen and Ronen (1999) acknowledged, there were two ways to conceptualize parental divorce in regard to children’s well-being in terms of reactions and adjustment depending on the children’s development. One approach believes that the youngest children are the most affected because of their uncompleted psychological and cognitive development and immature coping strategies. Subsequently, in regard to children’s adjustments, the proponents of such viewpoint agree that
… there is no parallel between the reactions of a child to grief and those of the adult, since the child has natural fears of separation, a low level of tolerance, and tends to escape from reality; only in adolescence is he capable of understanding the concept of irreversibility and finality. … (Cohen & Ronen, 1999, p. 53)
Four studies from the current sample (Cohen & Ronen, 1999; Ram, Finzi, & Cohen, 2002; Rogers, 2004; and Ehrenberg, Stewart, Roche, Pringle, & Bush, 2006) provide theoretical and empirical support for this perspective. Cohen and Ronen (1999) investigated how six children aged 4-6 reacted to parental divorce judging from their family pictures. The original research instrument proved to be useful when the researchers penetrated into the emotional state of very young children at the pre-operational-concrete developmental stage (Piaget, 1924). Judging from the drawings, the participants of the study could not cope with complex feelings associated with parental divorce. Their inability to verbally express feelings produced deficits in the emotional sphere: self-directed anger, denial and fantasy. In the cognitive sphere of preschoolers, divorce caused “irrational and dichotomic beliefs, linked to the fear of being abandoned by his/her parents” (Cohen & Ronen, 1999, p. 51). The researchers mentioned manifestations of children’s stress at the behavioral level in the form of physical symptoms. Overall, as Cohen and Ronen (1999) concluded, the reactions of very young children to parental divorce were specific. Children’s adjustment periods in regard to the phenomenon reminded somehow of adults’ stages of adjustment (denial, acceptance, and adaptation). Cohen and Ronen (1999) observed that very young children could be aware of the state of crisis similarly to their parents, although then they tried to escape by regressing to an earlier stage when family structure seemed to be normal and intact. Sooner or later children were able to emerge from the crisis and renew resilience.
Ram, Finzi, and Cohen (2002) argued that children “react to difficult life situations according to their developmental stage, which determines their cognitive understanding of the event, their emotional state and the nature of their relationships” (pp. 44-5). Being the proponents of the attachment theory (discussed below), the researchers stressed that “[i]nfants and toddlers going through the experience of parental divorce constitute an age group with special needs” (Ram, Finzi, & Cohen, 2002, p. 52). Their arguments will be discussed in the section concerning father-children relationships.
Rogers (2004) stated that divorce was “a stressful experience for children at any age,” although children younger than 6 years old were “particularly at risk for developmental disruptions and maladaptive behaviors” (p. 136) in result of divorce. Researchers explain the phenomenon by the fact that “the age of the child influences how children express their struggles” (p. 138). The variable of age can intermingle with the proven existence of the so-called “crisis period” that lasts generally two years after divorce. Rogers (2004) referred to 11 studies that examined the effects of divorce on children of different age groups to conclude that “divorce prior to age 6 may, indeed, be more detrimental that at other ages” (p. 140). The conclusion is evidently based on the responses of those individuals who survived their parents’ divorce in childhood. Data on the point is controversial. Rogers (2004) warned about the so-named “sleeper influence” (p. 140). An individual may force himself or herself to forget about the stressful events from the past but bitterness and negative feelings intensify over time. Therefore, Rogers’ account suggested that additional research should be done to investigate how divorce affected children of various ages.
Having interrogated 3,198 Canadian adolescents in grades 6 through 12, Ehrenberg et al. (2006) acknowledged difference in children’s coping strategies in regard to parental divorce depending on children’s age. For example, middle adolescents confessed that “feeling flooded, overwhelmed, or immobilized with negative feelings about a family break-up would stand in the way of help” (Ehrenberg et al., 2006). Similarly to younger children, middle adolescent respondents considered “negative reactions from peers [to be] a barrier to help-seeking,” whereas older adolescents restrained themselves from seeking for assistance because of “negative views of their help-seeking options, such as patronizing or controlling counselors” (Ehrenberg et al., 2006).
The study conducted by Ehrenberg et al. (2006), however, supported also the alternative viewpoint (described by Cohen & Ronen, 1999) of a child adjusting to divorce in a similar to an adult fashion. The proponents of the approach argue that this can happen when a child reaches “cognitive and emotional maturity, which enables him/her to form, albeit partially, concepts of time, environmental thinking and reality testing” (Cohen & Ronen, 1999, p. 52). Under this approach, children’s adaptation is guided by two main processes: disorganization and reorganization. Ehrenberg et al. (2006) observed that “the majority of children and adolescents in divorcing families achieve positive health outcomes in the long term” (p. 70) through various coping strategies including assistance from adult counselors, support from immediate and extended family, and peer support.
A somehow intermediate position between the first (children’s reactions and adjustment to divorce is unique) and the second (children’s reactions and adjustment to divorce are similar to the ones of adults) approaches was occupied by Shulman, Scharf, Lumer, and Maurer (2001). Utilizing the attachment and social constructionism theories, the researchers processed data from the interviews of young adults aged 19 to 29 years (n = 51, 30 females and 21 males of Israeli origin). Respondents were asked about their conceptualizations of parental divorce, which had happened in the past, and about their romantic relationships, which occurred at the period of the study. Shulman et al. (2001) took into consideration gender and age of the child during divorce, the intensity of parental conflict during the divorce and in subsequent years, as well as the quality of individuals’ relationships with parents.) The researchers observed that “young adults’ perception of parental divorce is multifaceted and consists of feelings, recollections, and current state of mind” (Shulman et al., 2001, p. 14). Young adults were mostly able to develop an integrative perception of the divorce that referred to the “degree to which the subject is aware of the complexity of the divorce, is able to understand it from mother’s, father’s, and children’s perspective, and has a coherent view of the divorce” (Shulman et al., 2001, p. 8). However, females in particular were sensitive to parental break-up and supposed that the past stress influenced their romantic attitudes and behavioral patterns. Similar results were obtained in regard to those individuals who were younger than 12 years old on the moment of divorce.
To summarize, researchers agree on the fact that divorce is a dynamic process affecting all stakeholders over time. Nature and severity of children’s reactions as well as their coping strategies is also proven to vary in regard to their age and gender. The specifics of divorce outcomes for children will be overviewed in the next section.
Children of Divorce: Outcomes
The current literature review identified eight theoretical frameworks that guide research on consequences of divorce for parents and children: the ecological perspective (Lengua, Wolchik, & Braver, 1995; Rettig & Leichtentritt, 2001), the parental absence/loss perspective (Amato & Keith, 1991; Hilton & Desrochers, 2002), the economic disadvantage/distress perspective (Amato & Keith, 1991; Hilton & Desrochers, 2002), the family/inter-parental conflict perspective (Amato & Keith, 1991; Hilton & Desrochers, 2002), the life stress or cumulative stress perspective (Rogers, 2004; Hilton & Desrochers, 2002), the parental adjustment perspective (Hilton & Desrochers, 2002), the attachment theory (Ram, Finzi, & Cohen, 2002; Rogers, 2004), and the cognitive theory (Rogers, 2004).
From the parental absence/loss perspective, the primary causes for children’s disruption after parental divorce are socialization deficits that are normally neutralized in two-parent families or in families where a parent and another adult are present. Empirical research (23 studies meta-analyzed by Amato & Keith, 1991, and 5 studies mentioned in Hilton & Desrochers, 2002) supported this theory. First, those studies demonstrated that “child functioning in divorced families is generally more similar to that of bereaved families (in which one of the parents has died) than that of intact two-parent families” (Hilton & Desrochers, 2002, p. 15). However, Amato and Keith (1991) added: “… children of divorce have lower levels of well-being than do children who experience parental death. This indicates that there must be an additional mechanism operating in divorced families that lowers the well-being of children other than parent loss” (p. 37). Second, the parental absence/loss theory predicts that children’s well-being is stable and even improving when the custodian parent remarry or allow frequent contacts with the non-custodian parent. Amato and Keith (1991) acknowledged that “parental remarriage does not ‘solve’ problems that may have been generated by an absent parent” (p. 37). The frequency of children’s contacts with non-custodial parent does not always eliminate problems in children’s behavior. Overall, empirical evidence supporting two of three hypotheses associated with the parental absence/loss theory is controversial. The economic disadvantage/distress perspective explains children’s deficits upon divorce by the impaired economic conditions of single parents. Amato and Keith (1991) denied the explanation of economic hardships in divorced families as the only explanation for children’s impaired well-being. The researchers argued that children’s gender should be taken into account when applying this perspective onto empirical investigations. Hilton and Desrochers (2002) acknowledged the utility of the economic disadvantage/distress when economic problems were conceptualized more carefully: “Economic strain, which captures a subjective assessment of economic well being, as well as the objective reality of money and non-money sources of income, is considered to be a more accurate indicator of economic distress than earned money income” (p. 16). The researchers approved this theoretical framework in regard to single-parent families. The family/inter-parental conflict perspective focuses on interparental conflict as a main stressor for all stakeholders. Hilton and Desrochers (2002) acknowledged that the theory received strong support in the literature but hypothesized that “conflict is not the only factor involved in post-divorce child well being” (p. 19). Amato and Keith (1991) found that most studies of their sample supported the theory in terms that children from high-conflict intact families demonstrated deficits similar to the ones of children from divorced families. Additionally, children’s deficits caused by divorce situations with high level of interparental conflict faded over time, as it was proved the within-subjects longitudinal studies.
As Rogers (2004) observed, the life stress or cumulative stress perspective was based on the concept of “a threshold of stress that can be exceeded by a single event that is stressful, or a series of events that are less stressful within a shorter period of time, without allowing for time between the events to recover” (p. 138). Although Hilton and Desrochers (2002) pointed at some limitations of this theory, they also acknowledged that “a series of stressful events can have a cumulative effect on the well being of children is conceptually appealing and shows promise in understanding the consequences of divorce for children” (p. 20). Rogers (2004) referred separately to the attachment theory whose proponents utilized the three-stage “acute distress syndrome” model (consisting of the upset/protest stage followed by the apathy/depression/despair stage and by the loss of interest/detachment stage) to conceptualize the complexity of young children’s reactions to parental divorce. The cognitive theory that was also mentioned by Rogers (2004) distinguished between children’s attitudes and coping strategies in response to parental divorce depending on children’s age and, subsequently, on their cognitive abilities.
It is time to describe three original synthetic models designed by Lengua, Wolchik, & Braver (1995), Hilton and Desrochers (2002), and Pruett, Tamra, Insabella, and Little (2003) to describe children’s reactions to parental divorce that was treated as a complex and dynamic process. To explain different patterns of children’s adjustment to divorce, Lengua, Wolchik, and Braver (1995) utilized the ecological theory relying on the hypothesis that “an individual’s development is influenced by interactions with other individuals or conditions” (p. 27). In other words, the interaction of individuals was conceptualized as context-based. By “contexts” the researchers meant “nested structures, or levels, which vary in the degree of ‘proximity’ to, or participation by, the individual” (Lengua, Wolchik, & Braver, 1995, p. 27). Using the concept of an individual’s “development-in-context” (after Bronfrenbrenner, 1979) and Kurdek’s three-level ecological model, Lengua, Wolchik, and Braver (1995) designed a multi-context framework consisting of the “ontogenic system,” the “microsystem,” and the “exosystem” levels. The “ontogenic system” included “characteristics of the child and the child’s competencies for dealing with divorce stressors”; the “microsystem was comprised of “settings in which the developing child is present and interacting with others”; and the “exosystem” consisted of “factors that indirectly affect the child’s development by influencing the settings containing the child” (i.e., financial conditions and the adjustment of the residential parent) (Lengua, Wolchik, & Braver, 1995, p. 27). Upon a longitudinal study of parents’ (N = 59) and children’s (under the age of 15) reports about the consequences of divorce, Lengua, Wolchik, and Braver (1995) asserted that children’s reactions varied depending on their “coping abilities, cognitive abilities, competencies in important life domains, and personality characteristics such as temperament” (Lengua, Wolchik, & Braver, 1995, p. 44) (ontogenic system factors). Among microsystem level factors affecting children’s well-being after parental divorce the researchers named: “children’s school environment and the quality of children’s relationships with close peers” (ibid.). The exosystem factors identified were “difficulties or pressures related to the residential parent’s career or work environment, and the changes in the residential parent’s dating and social life” (Lengua, Wolchik, & Braver, 1995, pp. 44-5).
Hilton and Desrochers (2002) utilized personal interviews and standardized questionnaires to gather data from 30 custodial mothers, 30 custodial fathers, and 30 married parents with children 6 to 10 years of age to predict children’s behavior problems after parental divorce. The researchers analyzed the data obtained within “a family stress path model” that included the factors of family structure, parent gender, economic resources, co-parental conflict, parent’s ability to cope with parental roles, parental control, and quality of parenting. Among those factors, marital status of the parent and parental control directly affected children’s problematic behaviors, whereas sex of parent, economic strain, co-parental conflict, and coping with roles influenced children indirectly. The researchers concluded:
… single parenting is challenging not only because of factors associated with single parenting (e.g., economic strain, inter-parental conflict, and multiple role demands), but also because the contributions of another responsible adult are lacking. It appears that one parent, regardless of sex, economic status, and role-coping skills, has difficulty doing the job of two parents. When economic and other coping resources are in short supply, these difficulties are compounded. (Hilton & Desrochers, 2002, pp. 32-3)
Hilton and Desrochers’ study is valuable since it proposes a multi-perspective treatment of divorce and its effects on children. Some of the factors utilized by Hilton and Desrochers (2002) in “a family stress path model” are present also in the model proposed by Pruett et al. (2003) who used structural equation modeling to identify possible predictors of child post-divorce adjustment in a longitudinal sample of 161 families (102 fathers and 110 mothers) with children of 0–6 years old at the time of parental separation. In Pruett et al.’s opinion, there are three major predictors of children disruption in response to divorce: parental conflict, parent-child relationships, and gatekeeping. Poor mother-father relationships both before and after divorce are likely to cause “internalizing and externalizing behavior problems” (Pruett et al., 2003, p. 170) in children such as self-blame, shame, stress, fearfulness, poorer interpersonal skills, insecure attachments, and generalized insecurities. This, in turn, is associated with impaired parent-child relationships with the outcomes analogous to the ones of parental conflict. The researchers described also a very interesting phenomenon of gatekeeping that meant “facilitative and inhibitory functions exercised by one or both parents that determine who will have access to their children, and the nature of that access” (Pruett et al., 2003, p. 171). Pruett et al. (2003) observed that mothers and fathers used different strategies both to cope with the consequences of divorce and to communicate with their children. The parent-children relationships will be discussed in the rest part of the current literature review with primary focus on father-children interactions.
Earlier researchers (Biller, 1970; Biller & Bahm, 1971; and Blanchard & Biller, 1971) stressed that the factor of paternal presence/absence significantly affected children development in terms of sex-role behavior. As Hawkins, Amato, and King (2006) summarized, the proponents of gender identification theories (reviewed also by Breivik & Olweus, 2006, under the name of “individualistic” perspective of gender; and by Van Houtte & Jacobs, 2004) argued that “gender is a fundamental dimension of social organization that provides a structured set of opportunities and constraints within which individuals make choices” (p. 126). Biller (1970) overviewed an extensive body of earlier empirical research that utilized projective tests, fantasy play, toy and game preferences, and observer ratings of a child’s behavior to assess fathers’ influence on children aged 3 to 14 years. Relying on previous studies, Biller (1970) acknowledged that “the primary effects of father absence are manifested in terms of deficits and/or abnormalities in the boy’s sex-role development” (p. 181), although he distinguished those effects in regard to the developmental stage at which a child was separated from a father. The scholar argued that additional variables such as “length and age of onset of father absence and sex of child” (Biller, 1970, p. 193) as well as the reason for father absenteeism, children physical constitution, and absence/presence of male surrogate role models should be considered when measuring the effect of father absence on children development. Despite acknowledged limitations of previous studies, Biller (1970) noted that the father’s absence was associated with children’s impaired social behavior manifested through poor impulse and aggression control, the search for immediate gratification against the backstage of decreased trust in adult males in the earlier years of lives, cognitive deficits and aberrations as relating to sex-role development. Utilizing several questionnaire instruments, Biller and Bahm (1971) measured the concept of “masculinity” in the sample of junior high school boys (n=40), ten of whom had lost fathers before they were 5 years old, another ten were devoid of father presence in a later period, and another twenty lived with their fathers. The researchers observed “an interference with masculine identification” (Biller & Bahm, 1971, pp. 180-1) in those boys who were devoid of paternal care in the earlier ages. In other words, those children demonstrated an exaggeratedly aggressive and masculine type of behavior. Biller and Bahm (1971), however, noted that the pattern was encouraged by children’s mothers. The findings suggest that mothers were likely to stick to the traditional gendered view on parenthood. Blanchard and Biller (1971) investigated academic performance of third-grade boys (n=44) to report that although father-absent males lacked serious detainment in cognitive development, they varied from their father-present contemporaries in the degree of motivation and actualization of intellectual potential. In other words, fathers seemed to serve as “models of perseverance and achievement motivation” (Blanchard & Biller, 1971, p. 304) to their sons.
Lamb (1979) with his “unashamedly partisan” (p. 938) treatment of the father’s role in child development overviewed the conceptualizations of fatherhood diachronically, thus, in the past, present, and future. He denied the same-sex identification theory that treated child-father relationship as the one when children necessarily replicated the behavior model of the same-sex parent. Lamb (1979) himself preferred the more progressive complementary role theory that treated father not merely as a gender icon for his children but rather as a personality interacting with another personality of a child regardless of the latter’s sex. The scholar proposed treating father as
… a major socializing agent in the child’s life. He not only models and teaches sex roles, he also models and teaches other values and mores. The father’s performance as a transmitter and enforcer of societal rules and expectations surely has implications for more aspects of development than does his role as the male parent. (Lamb, 1979, p. 941)
Liebman and Abell (2000) also criticized the earlier conceptualizations of father as a “second object’” (p. 93). They argued that “[t]he profound and pervasive effect of the child’s experience of being lovingly cared for by his father extends far into adulthood” (Liebman & Abell, 2000, p. 96). Whereas a gender normative principle of viewing fathers as prominent actors in parent-children relationships has been easily defeated by empirical studies, the alternative hypothesis about microstructural nature of parenthood (reviewed by Hawkins, Amato, & King, 2006, and Breivik & Olweus, 2006) managed to survive into the most recent studies. The perspective holds that “parent residential status is the primary factor shaping parental involvement, largely because of disparate opportunities for interaction” (Hawkins, Amato, & King, 2006). As some progressive researchers have proved, this perspective also fails to reveal all complexity and value of father-children relationship. Paternal impact on children of both sexes cannot be measured quantitatively since “it is the quality (not simply the quantity) of [child-father] experiences that makes them salient” (Lamb, 1979, p. 938). The hypothesis about the quality of father-children relationships being more predictive of children’s well-being than the quantity of contacts is validated by research on different types of post-divorce custodial arrangements.
Father-Children Interactions in a Post-Divorce Period as a Protective Factor
Bauserman (2002) conducted a meta-analysis of 33 studies depicting children’s well-being in joint custody and sole-custody settings to conclude that the joint custody settings might remediate somehow children’s deficits that had been caused by parental divorce. The researcher explained the phenomenon by father-children stable interactions:
… closeness to the father and authoritative parenting by the father were positively associated with behavioral adjustment, emotional adjustment, and school achievement. Joint-custody children showed better adjustment in parental relations and spent significant amounts of time with the father, allowing more opportunity for authoritative parenting. (Bauserman, 2002, p. 98)
In the cases of joint custody, researchers observed a complex correlation between the variables of interparental relationships, mother’s satisfaction, and father-children contact:
Conflict was highest at middle levels of visitation and lower when father contact was very high (as in joint physical custody) or very low. Mother satisfaction was higher at the most and least frequent levels of visitation, and highest with high levels of paternal contact and low levels of conflict. Conflict did not moderate or mediate the relationship between father contact and mother satisfaction. (Bauserman, 2002, p. 98)
Overall, although the conditions of joint custody implied higher levels of children’s well-being, the custodial arrangement did not predict better adjustment of children to parental divorce because too many factors were involved. Thus, children’s reactions depended on personal characteristics of their parents and a number of external factors that affected interparental relationships.
Breivik and Olweus (2006) compared the levels of children’s well-being and interpersonal relationships in different family settings relying on the questionnaire data from 2,550 Norwegian students on grades 7-9 whose parents had divorced about two years before the time of the study. The researchers indicated that children raised in single-father families were at greater risks for behavior and socializing problems as well as substance use. As Breivik and Olweus (2006) acknowledged, “part of this risk could stem from poorer parental resources among average single fathers,” or from “more uninvolved parenting style” (p. 117). The scholars also admitted that the situation when an adolescent shifted custodial arrangements might also decrease his or her internalizing and externalizing behaviors. On the other hand, empirical data have not proved that the single-father family caused children more harm than the single-mother or any other type of divorced family. The researchers argued that sole-father custody could positively affect children’s well-being due to “better economic resources or a closer and more involved relationship with their non-custodian parent” (Breivik & Olweus, 2006, p. 118). In brief, this study showed that although there were some risk factors that could affect children’s well-being in the father-custody settings, this type of post-divorce family arrangement was not a predictor of children’s maladjustment or misbehaving. Breivik and Olweus (2006) supported Bauserman (2002) in regarding joint custody as the best post-divorce arrangement in terms of children’s benefits. Suleman and Meyers (1999) seemed to be of the same opinion upon comparing the levels of father-child involvement varying on the environments of joint and sole custody (n custodial mothers = 186 and n custodial fathers = 31, all having a child between the ages of 5 and 18 years old). Additionally, the researchers utilized data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) on 13,017 adults aged 19 years and older living in the United States in 1987-1988. The researchers stated that “[f]athers with joint custody report greater closeness with and greater influence on their children than noncustodial fathers” (Suleman & Meyers, 1999, p. 33). Their analysis revealed the gendered principle of parent-children interaction: whereas boys were better adjusted to post-divorce conditions when they frequently contacted their fathers (either in sole-father custody or joint custody conditions), girls demonstrated better outcomes when living with mothers.
Van Houtte and Jacobs (2004), in their turn, denied the individualistic gender perspective on father-children relationship. They interrogated Belgian third-year students (n boys = 313 and n girls = 400), aged 14 and 15 years, about their experiences of living with either of divorced parents (n boys living with mother = 272; n girls living with mother = 350; n boys living with father = 41; n girls living with father = 50). Adolescents’ well being was measured in regard to the concepts of self-esteem, locus of control, and hopelessness. Two of three factors were found independent of parent’s gender, whereas adolescents residing with fathers reported higher levels of hopelessness. However, Van Houtte and Jacobs (2004) argued that children’s reports were explained by some external variables:
Depressive feelings can be the result of having too much responsibility, giving the impression that one is left to fend for oneself … Another possibility relates to the proceedings of the divorce. A father getting custody is still rather rare, because of the social expectation that mother takes care of the children. One possible reason why the father gets or asks for custody is that something is wrong with the mother. … So one can assume that children in father-families grow up in less favorable circumstances than children in mother-families. (Van Houtte & Jacobs, 2004, p. 159)
Contrastingly to the abovesaid research, the by Ram, Finzi, and Cohen (2002) accepted that fathers experienced greater problems associated with parenthood than mothers did. These deficits can be partly explained within the attachment theory framework that has already been mentioned as guiding the study. The researchers focused on the early years of a child’s life to explain difference in mother-children and father-children interactions by children’s developmental specifics. They argued that “frequent visitations of the non-custodial father as well as a conflict-free relationship between the two divorcee parents” (Ram, Finzi, & Cohen, 2002, p. 47) positively affected a child’s well-being, especially when an infant reached the 18th month of his life and became aware of gender differences. Interparental relationships precondition father-children relationships when a child is 36 months and is able to “integrate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ representations of the parents” (Ram, Finzi, & Cohen, 2002, p. 48). Overall, Ram, Finzi, and Cohen (2002) stressed the importance of three factors that might affect father-children relationships after marital dissolution: “the psychological maturity of both parents,” “the existence and the degree of parental conflict,” and “the special challenges imposed on the non-custodial parent … vis-à-vis his parental abilities” (p. 49). As the researchers stated, fathers were especially sensitive to children’s reactions in the earlier periods:
Special challenges are imposed on the father’s parental flexibility and his ability to cope with problematic or non-gratifying situations (e.g., an infant who cries, can not separate from his/her mother, or rejects his/her father). Thus, it is likely that a father with narcissistic characteristics will be less attentive to the child’s needs … The infant cannot provide this father with the gratification he requires; and the father may then reject the child, reduce his visits, and leave the child to cope with a difficult loss experience. (Ram, Finzi, & Cohen, 2002, p. 50)
The tensions may be resolved when a father keeps on visiting a child on a regular schedule, maintains cooperative relationships with his ex-wife, and attempts to acquire new skills and attitudes that would help him to react adequately to children’s developmental needs and aspirations.
Similarly to Bauserman (2002), Bokker (2006) admitted the importance of parents’ personal traits and behaviors that might affect father-children interactions. The researcher listed seven factors that influenced the quality of paternal participation in a child’s life: (1) father role confusion, (2) parental status, (3) the legal system, (4) the former spouse, (5) the relationship between the former spouse and the divorced father, (6) the divorced father, and (7) the male gender issues affecting divorce adjustment (as sum of emotional competency factors, emotional distress symptomatology, and mental health concerns). Bokker’s overview (2006) of the literature revealed that it was the divorced father who was primarily responsible for creating stable and qualitative relationships with his ex-spouse and children. Performing the task, the father should rely on his innate and acquired skills and competencies to positively affect his children’s well-being since “[t]here are no social guidelines for noncustodial parenting, nor any for co-parenting relationships for divorced parents” (Bokker, 2006, p. 159). Paternal involvement with the child is proven to be influenced by the father-s relationships with the ex-wife and mother of the children. There is a danger of the so-called Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) that is “a special case of post divorce conflict in which one parent appears to go to great lengths, at times making fictitious allegations of physical and/or sexual abuse, to turn a child against the other parent” (Waldron & Joanis, 1996, as cited in Bokker, 2006, p. 162). Relying on the previous studies, Bokker (2006) argued that the earlier the father would succeed in maintaining strong and regular relationships with the children, the higher levels of comfort and satisfaction the children would enjoy. Another factor contributing to the levels of children’s well-being as affected by paternal influence appeared to be the father’s marital status:
Children rely on residential fathers in times of stress more than they do on noncustodial fathers … The relationship quality between divorced fathers and their children is higher for divorced custodial fathers compared to divorced noncustodial fathers … Interestingly, Stewart and colleagues (1986) discovered that not only was the relational quality better between custodial fathers and their children compared with that of noncustodial fathers but that it was also better than that between married fathers and their children. (Bokker, 2006, p. 161)
Therefore, father-children relationships could be a protective factor for offsprings only in case when fathers established cooperative relationships with their ex-wives, were mentally healthy and were able to control their negative emotions, and developed the skills that were necessary to communicate with children taking into account fathers’ new marital status.
Kissman (2001) also underlined the value of fathers’ responsible attitudes to building cooperative and qualitative relationships with children when the researcher described an intervention program that involved 85 divorced families residing in an impoverished metropolitan area. The project was designed as a series of training sessions in better organization of father/child activities. Besides, it was attempted to improve social conditions for families with children in regard to parents’ job placement and life resources. As Kissman (2001) stated, the intervention relied on the concept “that noncustodial father involvement occurs within the context of family interactions, especially parental collaboration in childrearing” (p. 137). The research acknowledged that one of possible risks for father-children relationships could be fathers’ inability “to understand their children or figure out what their children needed and that their families did not function well” (Kissman, 2001, p. 138). Fathers were encouraged to develop what the researcher called empathy toward the children’s needs through the non-authoritative child-centered techniques. The participants were also invited to overcome psychological barriers such as “the guilt and self-blame associated with their absence from their children’s lives in the past” (Kissman, 2001, p. 139). Educational videos helped the male adults to learn problem-solving and anger-management skills of cooperative parenting that aimed to “place their children’s needs above long-standing issues of contentions” (Kissman, 2001, p. 140). Fathers were also trained to stand against the chaotic environment that produced devastating effects on their own personal integrity and the well-being of their children. Overall, the researcher approved the value of stable and qualitative father-children relationships that were influenced by both internal and external factors. Therefore, children’s well-being was proven to be improved by fathers if they increased their self-esteem by education and training, attempted to understand child development and to become more responsible parents, if they were employed and tried to create stable economic conditions for their offsprings.
Emphasis on resources linked Kissman’s study to the one of Rettig and Leichtentritt (2001) who investigated father-children interactions during mutual activities three years after divorce. It was assumed that those activities indicated more or less stable father-children relationships and served as protective factors for children of divorce. The study involved 123 unmarried fathers without physical custody of their children, whose oldest child was 11-19 years of age. In their theoretical framework, Rettig and Leichtentritt (2001) conceptualized paternal interactions with children similarly to Lengua, Wolchik, and Braver (1995) so far as they utilized the concept of resources. To be specific, Rettig and Leichtentritt (2001) argued that “perceived economic and social-psychological well-being … were indicators of the personal resources that provide capacities for giving resources to others, particularly in parenting interactions with former spouse, and therefore result in positive parenting outcomes” (p. 10). The researchers found that economic resources indirectly affected children’s well-being:
… non-custodial fathers’ economic well-being, although influencing resource-exchanges with former spouse, do not directly predict father’s involvement in activities or quality of relationships with their adolescent children. It would probably be more accurate to suggest that economic resources of non-custodial fathers are prerequisites in their relationship with adolescent children while the mothers are mediating factors in those relationships. (Rettig & Leichtentritt, 2001, p. 19)
The study proved that taken by itself, “involvement in activities does not guarantee that a high quality of relationships exists between fathers and their adolescent children” (Rettig & Leichtentritt, 2001, p. 19). Father-children mutual activities were signs of more deep processes involving fathers’ relationships with the external environment and their success in overcoming their own internalizing deficits.
Stone (2006) investigated the sample of the fathers ranging in age from 21 to 51 who had been married for an average of approximately 10 years each and who had at least a two-year experience of marital dissolution. The researcher observed that the best predictors for stable and effective father-child relationships were the high level of parent-role clarity perceived by the father, his high assessment of self-parenting abilities, and his perception that the parenting abilities of the mother were low. Stone (2006) reflected over the findings:
… it is may be difficult for fathers to establish a positive relationship with their child if they do not have a clear sense of how to enact their role. … fathers who believe that they can parent effectively are more likely to feel confident in their interactions with their children, thus leading to more opportunities to develop a quality relationship with their child. … a father’s parenting involvement will be heightened if he perceives that his children are being parented in a poor manner. (p. 24)
It is clear that Stone (2006) preferred to concentrate on fathers’ internal resources as they were perceived by the fathers themselves.
The left two studies (Van Schaick & Stolberg, 2001; Spruijt, de Goede, and Vandervalk, 2004) investigated children’s perceptions of father-offspring relationships which added more representativeness to the current literature review. Van Schaick and Stolberg (2001) questioned males (n = 113) and females (n = 295) aged from 18 to 34 years on how their relationships with fathers (attending to parent’s marital status, paternal involvement, intimacy, insecurity, commitment, and trust) affected their intimate relationships. The construct of paternal involvement included the level of father’s engagement, availability, and responsibility in the father-child relationship. Van Schaick and Stolberg (2001) observed that the degree of paternal involvement and parent’s marital status mattered for children regardless of gender. Equally for males and females, father serves a care provider, a companion, and a protector. Van Schaick and Stolberg (2001) emphasized:
It is logical that children who are lacking an important care provider, companion and protector are at risk for developing less secure, trusting, intimate, and committed relationships in young adulthood. Paternal involvement facilitates the development of a meaningful father-child relationship. Parent-child relationships often serve as the basis for developing peer relationships and subsequent intimate relationships in adulthood. Hence, the inability to develop a meaningful relationship with the father as a result of his absence can be a hindrance in the development of future intimate relationships. (p. 116)
Thus, Van Schaick and Stolberg (2001) arrived at the findings similar to Shulman (2001) who also evidenced that stable father-children post-divorce relationships predicted less frustration in face of intimate relationships of offsprings in adulthood. Spruijt, de Goede, and Vandervalk (2004) enriched the research framework considering children’s better adjustment to post-divorce traumas when having qualitative relationships with fathers by the data obtained from 164 Dutch young people (65 boys and 99 girls) who had survived parental divorce. Spruijt, de Goede, and Vandervalk (2004) acknowledged one more time that father-children’s “contact is essential on the condition that the parents (learn to) control their conflicts,” and “if the parents learned to communicate better with one another and realized that long-term conflicts damage their children” (p. 88).
To summarize, father-children relationships proved to be effective for children’s adjustment to divorce and post-divorce recovering from psychological and developmental trauma. The role of father has been recently extended beyond the restricted frameworks of breadwinners. Research have proved that fathers are capable of building empathic and cooperative relationship with their offsprings. A multi-factor framework based on several existing theories on parenthood, divorce, and post-divorce children’s adjustment may become a promising ground to start further investigation of father-children interactions as protective mechanisms for a child in his or her coping strategies, adjustment, and development.
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 This included three patterns of parental behavior that increased the level of children’s comfort: “[v]ery little yelling at each other,” “rarely any conflict around the children,” and the condition when “divorce situation was not centered on financial stress before the divorce” (Portes, Smith, & Brown, 2000, p. 101).
 This implied “a positive parental relationship … before and after the divorce” (Portes, Smith, & Brown, 2000, p. 102).
 The paradigm included “the extent to which children discuss issues with peers and adults, are involved in outside activities, and also the parents’ own involvement in the latter” (Portes, Smith, & Brown, 2000, p. 102).
 At the disorganization stage, “the child expresses feelings of despair and anger, and blames the object that has left. Later in this stage, the anger is directed against the child himself in an attempt to see himself as responsible for the loss” (Cohen & Ronen, 1999, p. 52). At the reorganization stage, “there is acceptance by using reality testing to create new relationships and reorganize as part of the stages of ‘normal’ mourning” (Cohen & Ronen, 1999, p. 52).
 Bauserman (2002) distinguished the systems of “intact family,” “joint physical custody,” “joint legal custody,” and “sole custody.” He defined joint custody as “an arrangement that involves shared legal and/or physical custody of children following divorce of their parents” (Bauserman, 2002, p. 91). “Joint physical custody” means that “children [are] spending equal or substantial amounts of time with both parents,” whereas “joint legal custody” denoted children’s “primary residence [that is] often remaining with one parent” (Bauserman, 2002, p. 91).
 Van Houtte and Jacobs (2004) defined it as “how an individual experiences his/her own identity” (p. 151).
 Van Houtte and Jacobs (2004) defined it as “the extent to which an individual takes personal responsibility for what happens in his/her life” (p. 151).
 Van Houtte and Jacobs (2004) defined it as “the existence of feelings of overall sadness” (p. 151).
 Van Schaick and Stolberg (2001) described it as “the direct contact the father has with his child” (p. 100).
 Van Schaick and Stolberg (2001) described it as “the potential for interaction by being accessible to the child” (p. 100).
 Van Schaick and Stolberg (2001) described it as “the tasks the father conducts to insure that his child is properly cared for” (p. 100).
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