Thursday, March 6, 2014

Projects: Academic Research on Children and Custody

Thursday night again and my fingers are numb from banjo practice.  Triumphantly, I can muddle through the opening lick of Folsom Prison.

In other projects, did I tell you that I, an academic, decided a few weeks ago that I didn't want to read the amazon self-help offerings on children, custody and divorce but instead would help myself to the myriad academic databases at my disposal?

For instance: instead of The Good Divorce, I am reading Divorce and Custody: Forensic, Developmental and Clinical Perspectives.  My favorite piece so far might be an academic review of a self-help book: Kevin Shafer reviews Yours, Mine and Hours: Relationship Skills for Blended Families and rants "I am no fan of anecdotal evidence," writing the book off as being primarily a "marketable gimmick" where an actual study could have been of more use.  I pat myself on the back, for at my elbow I have a stack of actual studies, and I am, for now, shunning the marketable gimmicks.

The studies have words in them like "morbidity," which sounds bad.  They tell me in no uncertain terms that the rates for depression, acting out and other child problems are always higher in the children of divorce . . . but by 0.2% which is, apparently (me, I am no numbers gal) statistically significant,  though 0.2% higher risk of depression seems a lot less harrowing to me than the phrase "children of divorce suffer more psychological problems."

So, childhood will likely be 0.2% more prone to psychological difficulty?  OK.  Exhale.

The studies, or the ones I have read so far, also consistently admit that "positive, authoritative parenting" or parenting that is "loving but firm" can mitigate or offset negative effects of divorce.  Perhaps it's kind of like buying carbon offsets when you buy a plane ticket?  I'm doing this bad thing, can I compensate for it by doing X as well?  In this context, X is being even-tempered, loving and good at maintaining sensible structures and boundaries.  (Wait!  X is really really hard . . .)

Back to the academics:
Being too lax or all gifty-gus as a guilt-ridden parent?  That's a problem.  Crying all day?  Problem.  Losing your shit and becoming a dictatorial monster?  Problem.  [Note to self: someone should have told me about "positive, authoritative parenting" years ago, even before separation and divorce were on the table, because I did too much of all that bad stuff already].

Anyway.  Be perfect, and then it will all be better. No problem, right?

Also: conflict is bad.  Yelling in front of the kids stresses them out in ways that damage them.  Making mean faces?  Just as bad, as are rude hand gestures directed at the other parent or unkind caricatures of them (I'm extrapolating here; strictly speaking, the research simply says conflict is bad).  Also: dissing the other parent and/or causing the child to have split loyalties: bad.  [These seem pretty intuitive to me]

To my surprise, step-siblings are good.  WHAT?! Surely Cinderella and her nasty steps taught us all to fear the extra children a child might be exposed to in a step-family, and Austen's novels are crawling with orphans adopted into homes filled with mean boys and girls,  but, get this, step-siblings experience the positives of a sibling relationship and are spared some of the rivalry that comes along with their full siblings.  Huh.

I feel bad that this doesn't have footnotes.  Sorry.  Stopping here for now.

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