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Section 6 (Web #20)
The purpose of this study was to test a theoretical model of the psychological well-being of fathers following divorce. The theory postulated that father postdivorce well-being was related to father role clarity, role satisfaction, age, income, education level, custody arrangement, encouragement from others, time since divorce, and involvement in an intimate relationship following divorce. Participants were 94 fathers from a midwestern city who completed self-administered questionnaires. Data were assessed using path analytic techniques. Involvement in an intimate relationship was found to have the greatest influence on father postdivorce well-being. Role satisfaction had direct effects on father postdivorce well-being and was important as a mediating variable for 4 constructs within the model. The findings suggest that father well-being following divorce is a complex phenomenon, influenced by all of the model variables except income, education level, and time since divorce. Implications for preventive intervention strategies, based on risk factors identified in this study, and suggestions for further research are discussed.
Children often experience significant distress related to the divorce of their parents (e.g., Amato, 1994; Guidubaldi & Cleminshaw, 1985; Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1978). Studies have demonstrated that mothers may also experience a wide range of negative reactions as a result of marital breakup (e.g., Kitson & Roach, 1989; Lorenz et al., 1997). Children and mothers have traditionally been the focus of research on well-being following divorce, whereas only limited attention has been paid to the distressing issues that fathers face following a divorce (Dudley, 1991). As Kruk (1994) noted, "there is a considerable body of literature concerning the impact of divorce on mothers and children; fathers' views and interpretations of the events surrounding divorce represent a significant lacuna in the research" (p. 18). One early longitudinal study that did investigate the effects of divorce on fathers was that of Hetherington, Cox, and Cox (1976). The authors identified three primary problem areas: (a) practical problems of daily living; (b) interpersonal problems in the areas of social life and intimate relationships, and in relating to the children and former spouse; and (c) problems related to self-concept and identity. Their findings supported the contention that divorced fathers often experience their own form of stress and pain. More recent studies (e.g., Hughes, 1989; Kitson, 1992; Umberson & Williams, 1993) have suggested that nonresidential fathers may be at particular risk for long-term adjustment problems.
Determining the factors that affect fathers' emotional distress following divorce is important because higher levels of father postdivorce emotional well-being may contribute to fathers maintaining contact with their children following divorce. Friedman (1982), for example, found a relationship between reduced feelings of guilt in nonresidential fathers and fathers' ability to develop and maintain positive relationships with their children. Similar findings related to father well-being and maintenance of child contact have been reported by Dudley (1991) and Kruk (1994). Maintaining contact with children is of special concern because father-child contact has been associated with the ongoing payment of child support so vital to the overall well-being of children (Seltzer, Schaeffer, & Charng, 1989). Father involvement also potentially affects overall child postdivorce adjustment (Furstenberg & Cherlin, 1991). Although various studies have helped researchers and practitioners to understand the determinants that increase or decrease postdivorce father-child involvement, those studies have yielded only limited information about the factors that affect father well-being. The studies have also failed to provide an integrated theoretical model to describe the interconnections between variables related to the adjustment process.
My purpose in the present study was to develop and explore a model of the well-being of postdivorce fathers. Because only limited theoretical development exists in this research base, my effort to construct a cogent model of father postdivorce well-being has relied partially on research-based variables and partially on nonresearch-tested factors.
Constructing a Model of Father Postdivorce Well-Being
When role clarity is lacking, there can be a resultant boundary ambiguity that, when applied to the study of the family, leads to a situation in which "family members are uncertain in their perception about who is in or out of the family or who is performing what roles and tasks within the family system" (Boss, 1980, p. 456). Researchers have asserted that the noncustodial parent role is ambiguous and that society does not have normative guidelines that might clarify this ambiguity (McKenry, Price, Fine, & Serovich, 1992). In this study, I hypothesized that role ambiguity and the resultant lack of role clarity can lead to an increase in the various forms of psychological distress that may affect father postdivorce well-being. I also hypothesized that role clarity increases the level of role satisfaction that a father experiences.
Role clarity is related in important ways to role satisfaction; this is evidenced by the difficulty that an individual has feeling satisfied with a role that is ambiguous. In general, when individuals are satisfied with a given role, they are more likely to enact that role (Burr, 1973), and they are less likely to experience role-related psychological stress. The documented association between parental stress and lower role satisfaction (Koeske & Koeske, 1990) suggests that role satisfaction may be a pivotal component of postdivorce father well-being. Therefore, I hypothesized that fathers who are more satisfied with their postdivorce fathering role exhibit lower levels of psychological distress.
Custody arrangements have also been shown to affect fathers' well-being after divorce. Stewart, Schwebel, and Fine (1986) studied the effect of custodial arrangement on the psychological well-being of divorced fathers. Through the use of a comparison design, those authors investigated two distinct postdivorce father arrangements: divorced men with custody of their children and divorced men without custody. Results indicated that custodial fathers scored significantly higher than noncustodial fathers in such areas as self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. The authors concluded that increased parent-child cohesiveness helps custodial fathers adjust to challenges in the first few years of postdivorce life. Shapiro and Lambert (1998) found that the effect of divorce on father psychological well-being was moderated by the residence of the children. Minton and Pasley (1996) found that noncustodial fathers also reported lower levels of parental role satisfaction. I hypothesized that fathers who have sole custody of their children exhibit lower levels of postdivorce psychological distress and higher levels of role satisfaction than fathers who are involved in mother sole-custody situations.
Another factor relevant to father postdivorce well-being is the ability of fathers to establish a new intimate relationship following the divorce (Tschann, Johnston, & Wallerstein, 1989). Johnson (1977) suggested that men have a more difficult time living a single lifestyle because of the male socialization process, which de-emphasizes learning the tasks necessary for independent living. Entering into a new intimate relationship may also help resolve issues of attachment to the former spouse. Kitson (1992) suggested that those lingering attachments are a source of much of the psychological distress experienced after divorce. I hypothesized that fathers who are involved in a new intimate relationship demonstrate lower levels of postdivorce psychological distress. The resolution of those lingering attachments, facilitated by a new intimate relationship, may also allow divorced fathers to feel more satisfaction with their role as father. Therefore, I also hypothesized that fathers involved in a new intimate relationship experience higher levels of role satisfaction due to the attenuation of the emotional bonds to their former spouse.
The availability of social support and encouragement from others has been demonstrated to be helpful in circumventing various stressful events. It seems that social support can play an important role in buffering the deleterious effects of various negative life stressors (Beels, Gutwirth, Berkeley, & Struening, 1984). Members of informal networks can assist by giving direct guidance and advice to those undergoing stressful events (Pearson, 1990). Support has been found to be a critical factor in the adjustment of women (Hughes, Good, & Candell, 1993) and men (Tschann et al., 1989) to divorce. Although a new intimate relationship can be a source of encouragement for fathers, the new partner may not necessarily support the father's attempt to enact his father role. Therefore a separate variable (encouragement) measuring support for fathering was needed to understand fathers' postdivorce distress. I hypothesized that fathers with more support and encouragement for their role as father experience less psychological distress.
Socioeconomic status (SES) has been consistently connected to psychological stress factors in the general population. SES has been linked to such psychological issues as depression (Murphy, Oliveri, & Monson, 1991), hostility (Barefoot, Peterson, & Dahlstrom, 1991), locus of control (Steele, 1978), and overall levels of stress (Mirowsky & Ross, 1989). Tschann and colleagues (1989) found a relationship between SES and postdivorce psychological well-being for both men and women. In view of the reported relationship between SES and various psychological factors within the general and divorced population, I included SES as a variable that might affect father postdivorce psychological well-being. I hypothesized that lower levels of SES would be associated with increased levels of psychological distress.
Age has been linked to the level of psychological stress experienced by divorced individuals. Although researchers have hypothesized that older individuals who divorce have more difficulty adjusting (Lloyd & Zick, 1986), Gove and Shin (1989) found an inverse relationship between age and experiencing difficulties adjusting to divorce; they found that younger, not older, individuals had greater difficulty coping with divorce. Therefore, I hypothesized that age would be inversely related to psychological distress. Time since divorce has also been linked to psychological well-being (e.g., Booth & Amato, 1991; Lorenz et al., 1997), with the passage of time being associated with lower levels of distress. Accordingly, I hypothesized that time since divorce would be inversely related to psychological distress, with fathers that have been divorced a longer period of time reporting lower levels of psychological distress.
Custody arrangement had a small but significant direct effect on father psychological well-being (p < .10) as well as indirect effects on well-being through its connection with role satisfaction (p < .05). Fathers with sole custody experienced lower levels of psychological distress. In addition, fathers with sole custody reported higher levels of role satisfaction. Role clarity (p < .05) resulted in both a direct and an indirect effect on father psychological well-being through its connection with role satisfaction. The variable time since divorce was not a significant contributor to either father psychological well-being or role satisfaction. Neither of the two indicators of SES (income and education) contributed significantly to the model.
According to Stone, what variable had the highest direct effect on father psychological well-being postdivorce? To select and enter your answer, go to the Test.
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