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The Impact of Mothers’ Post-Divorce Dating Breakups on Children’s Problem Behaviors

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

Author Contributions

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.

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Correspondence to Michael R. Langlais.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

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

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in the study, and parental consent was collected for children who participated in this study.

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Langlais, M.R., DeAnda, J.S., Anderson, E.R. et al. The Impact of Mothers’ Post-Divorce Dating Breakups on Children’s Problem Behaviors. J Child Fam Stud 27, 2643–2655 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1095-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1095-3

Keywords

  • Post-divorce dating
  • Children’s problem behaviors
  • Family transitions
  • Repartnering
  • Family systems theory