Building Bridges

Background (continued)

What variables predict satisfying process and outcome?
Which children are most likely, after their parents divorce, to function well and to become well-functioning adults? There are no simple single-variable answers here, but it is becoming increasingly clear that wholesome parenting in the post-divorce family is what really matters. The variables which affect children's well-being and functioning during and after divorce do so in a multi-factorial and interactive way, through their effects on the quality of the parenting which the child receives. Children are harmed when their parenting is disrupted, and they are protected and helped when the events in their lives interact in ways that contribute to the quality of the parenting they experience4.

The child's temperament is important, of course. Children who are resilient, easygoing, and mellow from birth (24, 25) are almost always easier to parent. In addition, they are more likely to deal effectively with the losses resulting from divorce, more likely to adjust to the changes in family structure and functioning, and more likely to get needed social support from peers and adults.

The "goodness of fit" between the child's temperament and that of each parent is important as well. Children do better when the parenting plan crafted as part of the divorce agreement has them spend more time with the parent who has a compatible personal style, rather than with the one who finds the child's style unacceptable and demands repeatedly that the child make efforts to change. Pressure to change temperament characteristics, like pressure to change other genetically loaded behavioral characteristics, usually leads to their magnification. A child with a high-activity-level temperament, for example, is likely to develop problems spending much time with a parent who is continually irritated by the activity and who continually demands that the child "calm down" and "stop being so disruptive". In contrast, the child is likely to function better spending more time with a parent who views this style with joy and who happily supports such activities as sports, dance, and vigorous play and recreation (26).

4. Which statement best summarizes the post-divorce effects of a child's temperament?

a. Some children can easily adjust to changes, and get social support from others.
b. It is usually easier to parent a resilient, easygoing, mellow child.
c. Parenting is usually easier when temperaments are compatible.
d. All of the above can affect the child's post-divorce adjustment.

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