The Impact of Mothers’ Post-Divorce Dating Breakups on Children’s Problem Behaviors
Many parents have concerns about the implications of dating (and subsequent breakups) on their children’s wellbeing. Yet, little is known about the ways in which mothers’ post-divorce dating breakups influence children’s development. According to family systems theory, the effect dating breakups have on children’s behavior may be more dependent on the rapport children have with mothers’ dating partners than the event of a breakup itself. The goal of this study is to examine the effect of mothers’ post-divorce dating breakups on children’s adjustment, specifically internalizing and externalizing behaviors, while also testing children’s rapport with dating partners as a moderator. The current study used longitudinal, multi-method and multi-informant data of mothers who dated following divorce (N = 270) and children who were aware of their mothers’ dating relationships (N = 170). Using hierarchical linear modeling techniques, results indicated no main effect of breakup on children’s problem behaviors. However, children’s rapport with mothers’ dating partners significantly moderated the effects of breakups on children’s internalizing behaviors. Children who reported high levels of rapport with dating partners exhibited more internalizing behaviors at breakup compared to children who reported low levels of rapport with dating partners. Additionally, in families where children were aware of their mothers’ dating relationships and mothers experienced breakups (n = 88), rapport moderated the effects of breakup for both internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Thus, transitions out of dating relationships appear stressful for children when they established positive relationships with mothers’ dating partners. Further implications for post-divorce adjustment are discussed.
KeywordsPost-divorce dating Children’s problem behaviors Family transitions Repartnering Family systems theory
This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, R01 HD41463-01A1. We would also like to acknowledge Holly Reidelbach for all of her hard work with collecting data for this study.
M.R.L.: conducted the analyses and wrote the paper. J.S.D.: collaborated with the design and writing of the study. E.R.A.: conducted data collection and assisted with study analyses. S.M.G.: assisted with data collection.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Review Board at the University of Texas - Austin and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in the study, and parental consent was collected for children who participated in this study.
- Anderson, E. R., Greene, S. M., Hetherington, E. M., & Clingempeel, W. G. (1999). The dynamics of parental remarriage: Adolescent, parent, and sibling influences. In E. M. Hetherington & E. M. Hetherington (Eds.), Coping with divorce, single parenting, and remarriage: A risk and resiliency perspective (pp. 295–319). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
- Bowen, M. (1991). Alcoholism as viewed through family systems theory and family psychotherapy. Family Dynamics of Addiction Quarterly, 1, 94–102.Google Scholar
- Broderick, C. B. (1993). Understanding family process: Basics of family systems theory. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
- Hetherington, E., & Kelly, J. (2002). For better or for worse: Divorce reconsidered. New York, NY US: W. W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
- Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
- Reed, J. (2007). Anatomy of a breakup: How and why do unmarried couples with children break up? In P. England & K. Edin (Eds.), Unmarried couples with children (pp. 133–156). New York, US: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
- Rosenblatt, P. C. (1994). Metaphors of family systems theory: Toward new constructions. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Skew, A., Evans, A., & Gray, E. (2009). Repartnering in the United Kingdom and Australia. Journal of Comparative family Studies, 40, 563–585.Google Scholar
- Sprecher, S., & Felmlee, D. (2000). Romantic partners’ perceptions of social network attributes with the passage of time and relationship transitions. Personal Relationships, 7, 325–340. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2000.tb00020.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Zill, N. (1985). Behavior problems scales developed from the 1981 Child Health Supplement to the National Health Interview Survey. Washington, DC: Child Trends.Google Scholar