The study, published in the latest issue
of the journal Family Relations and undertaken by
researchers at the University of Alberta, pulls data
from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and
Youth, the most comprehensive analysis of Canadian
It gauged the responses to a range of
questions related to three kinds of parenting behaviour
-- nurturing parenting, consistent parenting and
punitive parenting -- at two time points, and found
"there are more similarities than differences in
parenting practices between divorced and married
In fact, the study found that education and income
have a much greater effect on parenting practices than
Lisa Strohschein, a sociologist and lead researcher
of the study, said the findings "overturn this idea that
divorce is necessarily harmful to the children ? and
that divorce is necessarily the same for all."
The study is called "Challenging the Presumption of
Diminished Capacity to Parent: Does Divorce Really
Change Parenting Practices?" and it argues that such
generalized assumptions "are intuitive only to those
inclined to view divorce as unavoidably destructive or
who infer that people with failed marriages must also
lack the qualities required of a good parent."
Prof. Strohschein says these kinds of assumptions
"downplay the real strengths that parents have," and
this latest research proves that.
The three lines of questioning were meant to tap into
the different ways divorce could be expected to affect
more stable parenting behaviour: questions on nurturing
parenting would capture whether there was any decline in
emotional engagement or time spent with children;
questions about consistent parenting would assess
whether the distraction of divorce eroded established
discipline patterns; and questions around punitive
parenting would assess the extent to which divorce might
lower the parent's tolerance of children misbehaving.
The parents -- divorcing and continuously married --
were asked multiple questions, their responses measured,
and then were asked again two years later, and the
"Comparing parenting behaviour at each time point
between the two groups of parents reveals no differences
in parenting behaviour for parents who divorce relative
to parents who remain married," Prof. Strohschein
concludes in the study.
She concedes that the finding "appears to fly in the
face of accepted wisdom," but says such research should
compel family researchers "to recognize the diversity of
parenting behaviour in the period following divorce."
While undoubtedly those who lose income and are
forced to move out of the family home as a result of
divorce will almost certainly experience this
"diminished capacity to parent," she says, there are
many more divorcing couples whose parenting will be
hardly altered by the ordeal.
"This study reveals that researchers still have much
to learn about the divorce process and the factors that
predict variations in parenting behaviour in the
post-divorce period," said Prof. Strohschein, whose
research has focused on children's mental health.