Adult children in complex families: How do relationships affect relationships?

Maaike Hornstra*, Matthijs Kalmijn, Katya Ivanova

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
122 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Objective
We examined how adult (step)parent–child closeness is associated to the quality of other ties in the family network (i.e., parent–child dyads, parent–parent dyads).

Background
Although stepfamily scholars often assume that there are associations between all dyads within a family unit, more research needs to examine this premise empirically.

Method
We used survey data on adult children and their relationships with mothers, fathers, stepfathers, and stepmothers (N = 1,022). Two methods—non-recursive structural equation modeling (SEM), and cross-lagged SEM—were applied to consider the bidirectionality between ties.

Results
Those who are close to their biological parent are often also close to the new partner/stepparent, which is interpreted as a household effect. Moreover, the tie between the divorced parents is strongly associated to father–child closeness but less to mother–child closeness. We also found that mother–stepmother closeness and stepmother–child closeness are correlated, as are father–stepfather closeness and stepfather–child closeness. Our findings suggested weak substitution between father–child and stepfather–child closeness (a small but significant negative association). Gender differences are visible, as ties between biological mothers and adult children seemed more independent of the family system than other parent–child ties.

Conclusions
Shifts in one (step)family dyad seem to create a spillover effect, also affecting other family dyads.

Implications
For family practitioners or counselors, it is more efficient to consider the embeddedness of parent–child closeness within the family system than to focus on one constituent member or dyad of the system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2039-2061
JournalFamily Relations
Volume72
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords

  • CAUGHT
  • CLOSENESS
  • DIVORCE
  • FATHERS
  • INVOLVEMENT
  • MOTHERS
  • PARENTS
  • SEM modeling
  • STEPFAMILIES
  • STEPFATHERS
  • STEPPARENTS
  • divorce
  • family relations
  • parent-child relations
  • stepfamilies

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