A new study has challenged the common notion that divorce has a negative effect on parenting skills, by finding that there are actually more similarities than differences in parenting practices between divorced and married parents.
The study, conducted by University of Alberta sociology professor Lisa Strohschein, is based on data from the 1994 and 1996 cycles of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NSLCY) to compare changes in parenting practices between 208 households that divorced between the first and follow up interview and 4796 households that remained intact.
Strohschein used three measures of parenting behaviour - nurturing, consistent, and punitive parenting - to tap into the different ways that divorce is believed to disrupt parenting practices.
The findings revealed that there are no differences between divorced and stably married parents for any parenting behaviour either before or after a divorce has occurred.
"My findings that parenting practices are unrelated to divorce appear to fly in the face of accepted wisdom. Undoubtedly, some parents will be overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of parenting in the post-divorce period, but the expectation that all parents will be negatively affected by divorce is unfounded," Strohschein said.
"This study is important because governments in both Canada and the US have allocated considerable resources over the past decade to provide parenting seminars on a mandatory or voluntary basis to parents who legally divorce. Although these programs do assist parents and children in adjusting to divorce, it is equally clear that not all parents will be well served by such programs. For those who work directly with families during the divorce process, this means making greater effort to build on the existing strengths of parents.
"Researchers need to shed much more light on the predictors of parenting behaviour in the post-divorce period so that this knowledge can be used to design programs that effectively target the real needs of divorced parents," she added.
The study is published in the journal Family Relations.