Parenting as Mediator Between Post-divorce Family Structure
and Children’s Well-being
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract Divorce and its subsequent transitions can be
stressful for children and therefore, affect their well-being
in a negative manner. Effective parenting (with high sup-
port and high control) can, however, function as a protec-
tive factor. While previous studies have indicated that
effective parenting does indeed improve children’s well-
being after divorce, these studies tended to concentrate on
maternal family structures and transitions as well as
maternal parenting. With this study, we investigate the
mediating role of both maternal and paternal parenting
between various family structures after divorce (including
the custodial arrangement as well as the repartnering of
both parents) and children’s well-being. Therefore, we
analyzed 618 parent–child dyads from the multi-actor
dataset ‘‘Divorce in Flanders—DiF’’ using a mediated
structural equation model. Results revealed that both
maternal and paternal parenting can mediate between
family structure after divorce and children’s well-being.
Depending on the type of post divorce family constellation,
parenting can be considered as a risk or a protective factor,
for both maternal and paternal parenting.
Keywords Children’s well-being Divorce Family
structure Maternal and paternal parenting
According to Amato’s divorce-stress-adjustment perspec-
tive, divorce and the subsequent transitions are stressful for
children, possibly having a negative impact on their well-
being (Amato 2000). Whether this stress actually does have
a negative impact depends heavily on various mediators
and moderators, one of the most important of which is
effective parenting. Previous studies have indicated that
effective parenting (characterized by high levels of support
and control) can improve the well-being of children after a
parental divorce (Amato 2000,2005; Lansford 2009).
Although most of these studies concentrated on maternal
parenting (e.g., Lengua et al. 2000; Wood et al. 2004),
scholars have recently begun to investigate the role of
paternal parenting as well (Bastaits et al. 2014; King and
Sobolewski 2006). Nevertheless, studies on parenting and
children in various post-divorce family structures tended to
concentrate on either the repartnering of one of the parents
(e.g., Hetherington 2006; Gibson-Davis 2008) or on the
custodial arrangement (e.g., Campana et al. 2008; Lee
2002). Moreover, many studies of family structure and
transitions focused on the structure and transitions of the
mother, leaving the father out of the picture (as observed
by Bjarnason et al. 2012; Langton and Berger 2011). To
understand the impact of family structure on children’s
well-being, research on parenting of both mothers and
fathers as a mediator is important.
Studies on parenting often draw upon the renowned and
widely used theory of parenting styles developed by
Baumrind (1991,2013). This theory has several advantages
over other parenting theories (e.g., attachment theory).
First, it is not linked to the gender of the parent. Second, its
focus is not restricted to parental support, but extends to
include parental control (contrary to attachment theory or
Centre for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (CELLO),
University of Antwerp, Sint-Jacobstraat 2, 2000 Antwerp,
J Child Fam Stud
other perspectives). Third, although it stems from research
concentrating on intact families, it is frequently applied in
research on divorced families (Bronte-Tinkew et al. 2010;
Ozen 2004; Stewart 2003).
Baumrind’s theory of parenting styles is based on par-
ent–child interaction (Baumrind 2013). According to this
theory, children develop by interacting with their parents,
and the socialization of children runs through this inter-
action. Through training, education, and imitation of their
parents, children learn the essential values, habits, and
skills that they need in order to function. The optimal
development of children requires both support and control
from parents. Support refers to the emotional warmth (love
and affection) that parents give to their children, as well as
their supportive acts with respect to the individual needs
and plans of their children (Baumrind 2013). With regard
to control, Baumrind identiﬁes ‘‘confrontive control’’ as
optimal for the development of children. Confrontive
control is goal-oriented, and it involves setting boundaries
and limits for children in order to help their optimal
development. Parenting should thus not be deﬁned along a
continuum with support and control at opposite ends.
Instead, it should be deﬁned as consisting of two different
dimensions: support and control (in particular, confrontive
control). In order to be effective in child development,
parenting should include both of these dimensions.
Establishing whether parenting mediates between family
structures and the well-being of children requires the
identiﬁcation of three relationships: (1) between parenting
and children’s well-being, (2) between family structure and
parenting and (3) between family structure and children’s
well-being. First, the relationship between parenting and
children’s well-being is established by Baumrind and cor-
roborated in previous studies: parenting with high levels of
support and control effectively improved children’s well-
being (Baumrind 2013). Based on studies of parenting and
the substance use of adolescents in various family struc-
tures, she concluded that authoritative upbringing with high
levels of support and control was a sufﬁcient (albeit not a
necessary) condition for raising well-adjusted children
(Baumrind 1991). Similarly, results reported by Bastaits
et al. (2014) indicated that the well-being of children was
promoted when parents avoided a non-involved parenting
style and, especially, when they raised their children in an
authoritative manner. In contrast, Verhoeven et al. (2010)
reported that both maternal and paternal control were
positively related to higher levels of externalized problem
Second, a relationship between parenting and family
structure can be identiﬁed, given the essential role of
contact in parenting. According to parental resource, par-
ents can provide both money and time to their children
theory (Thomson et al. 1994). If parents have money, they
can provide their children with a certain lifestyle; if parents
have time, they have the opportunity to support and control
their children. After a divorce, parents work out custodial
arrangements to divide the time that each will spend with
their children. The resulting reduction in contact can lead
to a decrease in parental support and control.
Previous studies have revealed that residential parents (in
most cases, mothers) provided more support and control
than do non-residential parents (in most cases, fathers)
(Bastaits et al. 2012; Hetherington and Stanley-Hagen 1999;
Vandoorne et al. 2000). Research has also indicated that
parents with joint custody were more involved than non-
residential parents were, and that their parental involvement
and parenting styles more closely resembled those of resi-
dential parents (Bastaits et al. 2013; Campana et al. 2008).
Moreover, the time that parents and children spend together
after a divorce may decline due to the presence of a new
partner in the household. If a divorced parent repartners, he
or she must divide time between the new partner and the
child, possibly leading to role conﬂict and a subsequent
decrease in support and control (Adamson and Pasley 2006;
Thomson et al. 2001). However, this loss of time does not
automatically result in a loss of support or control. New
partners bring along resources of their own, and they may
take up part of the parenting, possibly even having a positive
effect on the parental support and control of the divorced
parent (Hetherington 2006). Previous studies have reported
mixed results in this respect. Some results indicated that
repartnered parents were less controlling and, in some cases,
less supportive (Henderson and Taylor 1999; Thomson et al.
2001), while others suggest that parental support increased
when a new partner was present (Vandoorne et al. 2000).
Third, previous research indicated the existence of a
relationship between family structure and children’s well-
being, although it focused largely on negative indicators of
subjective well-being among children (e.g., Brown 2006;
Langton and Berger 2011). Nevertheless, the absence of
problem behavior and depression does not necessarily
equate to happiness, success, and growth (Ben-Arieh
2000). We should therefore look beyond negative indica-
tors (e.g. deviant behavior or psychological problems) and
concentrate on positive indicators of subjective well-being,
such as self-esteem and satisfaction with life, in line with
other studies (Ben-Arieh and Frønes 2011; Huebner et al.
1998). Self-esteem reﬂects the affective component of
subjective well-being, and life satisfaction reﬂects to the
cognitive component (Diener and Diener 1995; Huebner
et al. 1998). Self-esteem refers to a person’s feelings of
self-worth and self-acceptance (Rosenberg 1965). Satis-
faction with life refers to an overall evaluation of a per-
son’s life (Diener and Diener 1995). Children were able to
distinguish between these two indicators, as demonstrated
in a study involving children in secondary school (Huebner
J Child Fam Stud
et al. 1998). Both self-esteem and life satisfaction can be
affected by family structure and parenting, due to the
nature of these factors.
Consisting of the level of satisfaction with and accep-
tance of one’s self and one’s behavior, self-esteem is
constructed in childhood and adolescence, in close rela-
tionships with signiﬁcant others, especially parents. In
early sociology, this is described by Cooley (1902) as the
‘‘looking-glass self’’: the appreciation of one’s self is
shaped through reﬂected appraisals of signiﬁcant others
(like parents) within a context of social interaction.
Because parents provide the ﬁrst socialization of children,
their parenting and the ways in which they interact with
their children will largely shape their children’s self-es-
teem. Previous research has established that parenting is
closely related to children’s self-esteem. Chan and Koo
(2011) reported that children in various family structures
had signiﬁcantly higher levels of self-esteem when their
parents had an authoritative parenting style, as character-
ized by high levels of both support and control. Focusing
on possible gender differences between mothers and
fathers, Milevsky et al. (2007) observed a positive associ-
ation between maternal authoritative parenting with high
levels of support and control and higher self-esteem in
children. A similar ﬁnding was reported in relation to
paternal authoritative parenting.
Disruptions in this pattern of initial socialization (e.g.,
parental divorce and the ensuing family transitions) might
also affect the self-esteem of children, given their potential
to inﬂuence parenting. Previous research has indicated that
children who did not live with both parents in the same
household had lower self-esteem than did children living in
intact families (Langton and Berger 2011; Robson 2010).
As indicated by Chan and Koo (2011), parenting partially
explained the link between family structure and children’s
self-esteem. It is important to note, however, that joint
physical custody was not included as a category of family
structure in those studies. In an overview of the literature,
Sodermans and Matthijs (2014) indicated that joint physi-
cal custody can inﬂuence child adjustment in two ways.
First, children beneﬁt from the continuity of parental
involvement and resources. Second, because the adjust-
ment of children depends on stability, living in alternating
households might increase stress levels for children. Nev-
ertheless, the outcomes of joint physical custody for chil-
dren might depend on the differentiating factors (e.g.,
family structure), as well as on the indicator of child
adjustment. Proceeding from parental resource theory, we
expect that joint custody is beneﬁcial to the self-esteem of
children, as it ensures the continuity of parental resources
A similar pattern to that of children’s self-esteem has
been observed with regard to children’s satisfaction with
life. Given that life satisfaction refers to an overall evalu-
ation of the lives of children, it is logical that it is affected
by individuals who are close to them (e.g., parents). The
family systems perspective regards families as complex,
multilateral, and integrated systems, with family members
being necessarily interdependent and the actions of one
family member affecting other family members (Cox and
Paley 1997; Minuchin 1974). Living arrangements and the
actions of parents should thus necessarily inﬂuence the
ways in which children perceive and evaluate their lives.
Evidence from different studies indicated that an authori-
tative parent (as characterized by high levels of both par-
ental support and control) affected children’s life
satisfaction in a positive manner (Milevsky et al. 2007;
Suldo and Huebner 2004).
Family structures in which children grow up should also
affect their satisfaction with life. Bjarnason et al. (2012)
compared the life satisfaction of children in various types
of families (i.e., single-mother, residential-mother and
stepfather, single-father, residential-father and stepmother,
and joint physical custody) to that of children in intact
families. They reported that children from intact families
had signiﬁcantly higher life satisfaction than did children in
all other types of families, with the exception of children in
joint physical custody arrangements. According to Bjar-
nason et al. (2012), the latter result might be explained by
the fact that children beneﬁt when separated parents share
the emotional and other tasks of child-rearing, as the full
burden of parenting does not fall upon one parent. These
results provided evidence to support parental resource
theory. Levin and Currie (2010) also reported lower levels
of life satisfaction for children living in single-parent or
stepfamilies than for children in intact families. This result
was particularly strong for boys. In a later study, Levin
et al. (2012) identiﬁed parental gender differences, with
children in single-father families having lower life satis-
faction, as compared to children in single-mother or step-
families and to children living with both parents.
Moreover, previous studies on life satisfaction and family
structure have demonstrated that indicators of the parent–
child relationship (e.g. parent–child communication)
played a signiﬁcant role in determining the impact of
family structure on the life satisfaction of children (Bjar-
nason et al. 2012; Levin and Currie 2010).
Still, the speciﬁc role of both paternal and maternal
parenting has yet to be investigated within different family
structures, at least to our knowledge. Thus, the overall goal
of this study is to understand the role of parenting in
explaining the relationship between family structure and
children’s subjective well-being. Analyzing dyadic data
from the ‘Divorce in Flanders’ study, we answer the fol-
lowing research questions: (1) Does maternal parenting
mediates between family structure and children’s well-
J Child Fam Stud
being? & (2) Does paternal parenting mediates between
family structure and children’s well-being?. Therefore, we
address intact families as well as various divorced families,
taking into account the possible repartnering of both par-
ents and custodial arrangements. Based on the parenting
model of Baumrind (1991,2013), we hypothesize that the
parenting of both mothers and fathers can function as an
important mediator between family structure and children’s
Our analyses are based on data from 618 parent–child
dyads participating in the ‘Divorce in Flanders—DiF’
study (Mortelmans et al. 2011). The DiF study is a multi-
actor study providing information on parents, children
10 years of age or older, grandparents, and stepparents. For
our subsample of 618 parent–child dyads, we selected
children between the ages of 10 and 18 years (following
the example of McLeod et al. 2007). These children had
contact with both their parents. For these 618 parent–child
dyads, 224 parents had been continuously married, and 394
parents had been divorced. Children (50.48 % girls) were
on average 14.19 years old (SD =2.54). Mothers were on
average 42.77 years old (SD =4.13), fathers 44.39 years
(SD =4.24). 13.30 % of the mothers completed at most
lower secondary education, 41.67 % of the mothers com-
pleted higher secondary education and 45.03 % of the
mothers completed higher education. 18.23 % of the
fathers completed at most lower secondary education,
46.13 % of the fathers completed higher secondary edu-
cation and 35.65 % of the fathers completed higher
For the DiF dataset, both continuously married (1/3) and
divorced partners (2/3) were contacted as primary respon-
dents, based on their addresses, which were selected at
random from the National Register. Requirements for pri-
mary respondents were as follows: having been married
between 1971 and 2008 and divorced only once. The
response rate for these primary respondents was 42.2 %
(N =6470; Pasteels et al. 2011). This is in line with other
European multi-actor studies (Arra
´nz Becker et al. 2012;
Dykstra et al. 2005). The primary respondents provided
contact information for the secondary respondents: one
child (in the case of multiple children, this child was
selected at random), one maternal grandparent, one pater-
nal grandparent, and all possible stepparents. Data were
collected between October 2009 and December 2010.
Parents and children were interviewed using a computer-
assisted personal interview (CAPI), while grandparents and
stepparents completed written questionnaires. As stated
above, we selected a subsample of parents and children.
Information regarding the family structure and the back-
ground characteristics of parents and children was provided
by the parent, while information regarding the parenting of
the mothers and fathers and regarding the children’s well-
being was reported by the child.
The DiF dataset is particularly suitable for this study for
several reasons. First, given its multi-actor approach, it
includes information on both parents and children. Second,
because married parents were questioned in the survey as
well, the data allow continuous comparisons between
married families and various family constellations after
divorce. Third, Belgium is amongst the front runners in the
rising European divorce rates (Eurostat 2012). Moreover, it
has exhibited a speciﬁc legal preference for joint physical
custody since 2006 (Sodermans et al. 2013). Taken toge-
ther, these features imply that Belgium has both a large
number of divorced parents and a signiﬁcant number of
children in joint physical custody arrangements.
Family structure was operationalized into six mutually
exclusive categories, based on two criteria. First, infor-
mation regarding the presence of a partner in the house-
holds of both the mother and the father was used. If
divorced, the parents reported whether they were living
with a new partner and whether the other parent was living
with a new partner. Second, information on custodial
arrangements was retrieved from the double custody cal-
endar. On this calendar, participating parents indicated all
of the nights in a month that their child spent in their
household and all of the nights in a month their child had
spent in the household of their former partner. In line with
other research regarding custodial arrangements, children
who had stayed with their mothers for more than 66 % of
the nights and with their fathers for less than 33 % of the
nights were deﬁned as children with residential mothers
(Melli 1999; Smyth and Moloney 2008). Children who had
stayed with their fathers for more than 66 % of the nights
and with their mothers for less than 33 % of the nights
were deﬁned as children with residential fathers. Children
who had stayed with their mothers between 33 and 66 % of
the nights and with their fathers between 33 and 66 % of
the nights were deﬁned as children in joint physical cus-
tody arrangements. Combining information on the presence
of a new partner in the household with information on
J Child Fam Stud
custodial arrangements resulted in six different categories
of family structure: still-married parents (n =224), resi-
dential single mothers (n =116), residential mothers liv-
ing with new partners (n =109), parents with joint custody
(n =138), residential single fathers (n =13), and resi-
dential fathers living with new partners (n =16).
To measure parental support and parental control, we used
two subscales from the Parenting Style Inventory II (Dar-
ling and Toyokawa 1997). Information from children was
gathered using items asking about each parent separately.
Each subscale consisted of ﬁve items rated along a ﬁve-
point Likert scale (1 =strongly disagree; 5 =strongly
agree). Conﬁrmatory factor analysis of the subscale of
support revealed a single factor with sufﬁciently high
loadings on the latent factor for both mothers and fathers
(factor loadings for mothers ranged from 0.47 to 0.83;
factor loadings for fathers ranged from 0.41 to 0.81).
Sample items include, ‘‘I can count on my mother/father to
help me out if I have a problem,’’ and ‘‘My mother/father
and I do things that are fun together.’’ Various ﬁt indices
indicated a good ﬁt after twice freeing the covariance
between similarly worded items in the latent construct for
mothers and fathers (RMSEA =0.06; CFI =0.95;
SRMR =0.04), and the composite reliability score was
0.80 for both mothers and fathers. Conﬁrmatory factor
analysis of the subscale of control revealed a single factor
for three out of ﬁve items, with sufﬁciently high loadings
on the latent factor for both mothers and father (factor
loadings for mothers ranged from 0.46 to 0.94; factor
loadings for fathers ranged from 0.60 to 0.93). Sample
items for the subscale of control include, ‘‘If I don’t behave
myself, my mother/father will punish me,’’ and ‘‘My
mother/father points out ways that I could do better.’’ The
model exhibited a good ﬁt after freeing the covariance
between a similarly worded item in the latent construct for
mothers and fathers (RMSEA =0.05; CFI =0.98; SRMR
=0.03), and the composite reliability scores were 0.70 for
mothers and 0.76 for fathers.
We measured the well-being of children according to two
positive indicators. First, we used the Rosenberg (1965)
Self-Esteem Scale to measure the children’s self-esteem.
This scale contains 10 items, which children rated along a
ﬁve-point Likert scale (1 =strongly disagree; 5 =
strongly agree). Conﬁrmatory factor analysis consistent
with the procedure detailed by Marsh (1996) revealed a
single factor, with factor loadings ranging from 0.45 to
0.73. To improve the model ﬁt, an error covariance was
freed between two very similarly worded items in Dutch.
This led to an adequate ﬁt (RMSEA =0.08; CFI =0.90;
SRMR =0.05). The composite reliability score was 0.81.
Second, we measured the life satisfaction of children
according to one indicator (‘‘All things considered, how
satisﬁed or dissatisﬁed are you with life as a whole
nowadays?’’). Children rated this item along an eleven-
point Likert scale (0 =extremely dissatisﬁed; 11 =ex-
tremely satisﬁed). This measure is based on Cantril’s
(1965) classic measure of life satisfaction (adapted for
younger children), and it is similar to measures of life
satisfaction used in other studies (e.g., Bjarnason et al.
2012; Levin and Currie 2010; Levin et al. 2012).
Our analyses were controlled for background characteris-
tics of the child, the mother, and the father. Child charac-
teristics were age and gender. Maternal and paternal
characteristics were age and educational level.
As stated above, we analyzed a dyadic subsample of par-
ents and children. For this type of subsample, raw data are
restructured dyadically, with each data line containing
information on both the child and the parent. This
restructuring is based on the dyadic data-organization
technique used by Kenny et al. (2006). The dyadic struc-
ture of our data allowed us to estimate actor effects (e.g.,
the indirect effect of the maternal family structure on
children’s well-being through maternal parenting) and
partner effects (e.g., the indirect effect of the maternal
family structure on children’s well-being through paternal
Both direct and indirect effects were estimated using a
mediated structural equation model. Because a preliminary
test indicated that our subsample deviated from the nor-
mality assumption, all models were estimated using MLR
estimation, which is suitable for non-normal data (Brown
2006). Missing data on the dependent variables were
treated with full-information maximum likelihood (FIML).
Missing values exceeded 8 % for speciﬁc independent
variables (e.g., the presence of a new partner in the
household of the divorced parent). Multi-actor data proved
highly useful in cases where information was missing, as it
allowed missing information from one parent to be imputed
from information provided by the other parent. This sub-
stantially reduced the extent of missing data (from 10.4 to
0.5 % for information on the new partner of the mother;
from 13.9 to 2.5 % for information on the new partner of
the father). For all other independent variables, missing
data were treated with list wise deletion.
J Child Fam Stud
Mediated structural equation models allowed us to test
both direct and indirect effects. We estimated the direct
effects of the family structure on maternal and paternal
parenting, as well as on the children’s well-being, together
with the indirect effects (using MODEL INDIRECT
command in Mplus) of family structure through parenting
on children’s well-being. All estimated effects were con-
trolled for various background characteristics of mothers,
fathers, and children. Statistical analyses were performed
in Mplus 6 (Muthe
´n and Muthe
´n2010). Each model gen-
erates standardized coefﬁcients.
The measurement model for all latent constructs is pre-
sented in Fig. 1. For all parenting indicators (maternal
support and control, and paternal support and control) and
for children’s self-esteem, paths between the indicators and
their latent constructs were sufﬁciently high (C0.42). The
measurement model also exhibited an adequate model ﬁt
(RMSEA =0.04; CFI =0.92; SRMR =0.05). Correla-
tions between latent constructs revealed that both maternal
and paternal support are signiﬁcantly and positively related
to children’s self-esteem. Moreover, maternal support was
signiﬁcantly and positively related to paternal support, and
the same was true for maternal and paternal control.
For a mediated model, it is necessary to identify rela-
tionships between independent, mediating and dependent
variables. Family structure should therefore be linked to
parenting and to children’s well-being (either directly or
indirectly for the latter). Moreover, parenting and children’s
well-being should also be related to each other. Given the
multitude of these relationships, we report only the signiﬁ-
cant relationships. First, we investigated whether the impact
of parenting on children’s well-being and the mediating role
of parenting differed for various family structures after a
divorce, as compared to those of never-divorced parents
(reference category). Overall, the model indicated an ade-
quate ﬁt (RMSEA =0.04; CFI =0.88; SRMR =0.05).
As indicated in Fig. 2, family structure and parenting
were linked. We found that children living with residential
mothers experienced lower levels of paternal control than
did children with continuously married parents. Moreover,
if the residential mother was single, the child also experi-
enced a lower level of maternal control than did children
with continuously married parents. Living with a residen-
tial father proved to be positively related to paternal sup-
port but negatively related to maternal support, regardless
of whether the residential father was single or living with a
new partner. Children living in joint physical custody
arrangements reported lower levels of maternal control
than did children with continuously married parents.
With regard to the relationship between parenting and
children’s well-being, we noted that maternal support
enhanced both the self-esteem and the life satisfaction of
children. The same was true for paternal support. For
maternal and paternal control, no signiﬁcant relationship
with children’s well-being could be identiﬁed. When esti-
mating the model with maternal and paternal control
excluded, results did not differ, although the ﬁt indices did
indicate a better ﬁt (RMSEA =0.04; CFI =0.91;
With regard to the impact of family structure on chil-
dren’s well-being, no signiﬁcant direct effects could be
noted, although various indirect effects were present.
According to the results, parenting did indeed mediate
between family structure and children’s well-being. In
relation to maternal support, the results revealed that living
with a residential father (whether single or repartnered) had
a signiﬁcant indirect effect on children’s self-esteem and
life satisfaction, through maternal support. In other words,
children living in residential-father families experienced
less maternal support, which indirectly led to lower levels
of self-esteem and life satisfaction.
Several indirect effects emerged for paternal support.
First, family structure had a negative indirect effect on
children’s self-esteem and life satisfaction, through paternal
support, for children living with residential single mothers.
These children experienced less paternal support, indicating
that living with residential single mothers affected their
well-being negatively. Second, family structure had a posi-
tive indirect effect on children’s self-esteem and life satis-
faction, through paternal support, for children living with
residential fathers (whether single or repartnered). Children
living with residential fathers experienced higher levels of
paternal support, which affected their well-being in posi-
tively, although the size of the indirect effects indicate that
this result was outweighed by the reduction in support from
the non-residential mother. No signiﬁcant indirect effects
were identiﬁed for either maternal or paternal control.
Overall, we can conclude from these ﬁndings that divorced
families generally experienced a decline in support on the
part of the non-residential parent, as compared to intact
families. The only exceptions were for families with
repartnered residential mothers.
Second, we estimated a mediated structural equation
model examining only post-divorce family structures,
taking single-mother families as the reference category.
The overall model (presented in Fig. 3) showed a good ﬁt
(RMSEA =0.04; CFI =0.92; SRMR =0.05). The
results of this model revealed a close link between par-
enting and post-divorce family structure. For children liv-
ing with residential fathers, in joint physical custody
arrangements, or with repartnered residential mothers,
fathers showed more support than was the case for children
J Child Fam Stud
living with single residential mothers. With regard to
maternal parenting, we found that children living with
repartnered residential mothers experienced less maternal
control than did children living with single residential
mothers. Concerning the link between parenting and chil-
dren’s well-being, we found that having a supportive
mother and/or a supportive father led to higher self-esteem
for children. With regard to children’s satisfaction with
life, our results indicated that higher levels of control on
the part of fathers lead to lower levels of life satisfaction.
The results revealed no direct or indirect effects for the
impact of family structure on children’s well-being in
terms of life satisfaction, indicating that children in dif-
ferent post-divorce family structures do not differ with
regard to life satisfaction. The results did reveal indirect
effects with regard to children’s self-esteem. For all post-
divorce family structures (with the exception of single-
mother families), family structure had a positive indirect
effect on children’s self-esteem through paternal support,
as compared to single-mother families. This indicates that
children growing up in family structures other than post-
divorce single-mother families have more supportive
fathers, which enhances their self-esteem. No mediating
effects were found for maternal parenting. Overall, we can
conclude that maternal support is important to the well-
being of children in divorced families and that its impact
does not function as a mediator, whereas paternal support is
also important for children’s well-being, and it does
function as a mediator in divorced families.
Parenting has been identiﬁed as an important protective
factor for the well-being of children after parental divorce
(Amato 2000; Lansford 2009). It might also mediate
Fig. 1 Measurement model for latent constructs
J Child Fam Stud
between the family structure and children’s well-being.
Although previous studies have concentrated on parenting
as a protective factor, they focus only on various parts of
the variation within the family structure after divorce.
Whereas some scholars investigated the impact of parental
repartnering, others concentrated on custodial arrange-
ments. Moreover, maternal parenting has received far more
attention than paternal parenting has. In this study, we
attempted to overcome these shortcomings by investigating
the mediating role of maternal and paternal parenting, in
comparing the impact of intact and post-divorce family
structures on children’s well-being, while taking into
account both custodial arrangements and maternal and
paternal repartnering after divorce. The study is based on a
single, residential mother
residential mother with
single, residential father
residenal father with
control mothe r
Indirect eﬀects N=599
single, residential mother-------------------paternal support----->self-esteem child: -0.06
χ²(585)=1155.114 RMSEA=0.040 CFI=0.881 SRMR=0.048
single, residential mother-------------------paternal support---->life sasfacon child: -0.05** *p<0.05**p<0.01 ***p<0.001
single, residential father---------------------maternal support---->self-esteem child: -0.05
single, residential father---------------------paternal support----->self-esteem child: 0.02
single, residential father---------------------maternal support---->life sasfacon child: -0.05
single, residential father---------------------paternal support---->life sasfacon child: 0.02
residential father with new partner ------maternal support---->self-esteem child: -0.05*
residential father with new partner -----paternal support----->self-esteem child: 0.02**
residential father with new partner-------------------maternal support---->life sasfacon child: -0.05
residential father with new partner-------------------paternal support---->life sasfacon child: 0.02
Fig. 2 Mediated structural equation model (showing only signiﬁcant results)
Fig. 3 Mediated structural equation model for post-divorce families only (showing only signiﬁcant results)
J Child Fam Stud
dyadic approach, drawing on data from a subsample of the
multi-actor DiF dataset.
According to our results, parenting did indeed mediate
between family structures and children’s well-being.
Compared to intact families, residential single-mother
families were negatively related to paternal support, which
led both directly and indirectly to lower levels of self-
esteem and life satisfaction for children. Families with
residential fathers (whether single or repartnered) were
positively related to paternal support, which subsequently
had a positive impact on the self-esteem and life satisfac-
tion of children. Moreover, in comparison to intact fami-
lies, maternal support was lower in residential-father
families, thus leading to lower self-esteem and life satis-
faction for children. In line with our hypothesis, our results
thus indicated that both maternal and paternal parenting are
important mediators in explaining the association between
family structure and children’s well-being. Overall, par-
ental support (provided by both mothers and fathers)
increased the well-being of children. Support from the non-
residential parent decreased after a divorce (except in the
case of families with repartnered residential mothers),
which had a negative impact on children’s well-being.
When investigating only the differences between vari-
ous types of post-divorce families, our results indicated that
support from the father was particularly related to post-
divorce family structure. Compared to single-mother fam-
ilies, fathers demonstrated signiﬁcantly higher levels of
support in all other family types. This result could be
explained by two mechanisms: residential fathers and joint-
custody fathers see their children more often than non-
residential fathers do, and this provides them with more
opportunities to support their children, as argued by par-
ental resource theory (Thomson et al. 1994). For non-res-
idential fathers whose children are living with the new
partners of their mothers, it could be that competition with
the new parental ﬁgure in the child’s life and household
stimulates the parental involvement of non-residential
fathers, with the rivalry possibly increasing paternal
In contrast, we found no differences in maternal support
between the various post-divorce family structures. All of
the divorced mothers in our subsample demonstrated rel-
atively similar levels of support. Nevertheless, maternal
support remained important to children’s well-being after
divorce. With regard to maternal control, we did ﬁnd that
mothers living with new partners were less controlling than
single mothers were, which could be explained by possible
role conﬂict and the division of time between the children
and the new partners (Adamson and Pasley 2006). Overall,
both maternal and paternal support increased the self-es-
teem of children, although only paternal control decreased
their satisfaction with life. With regard to the mediating
role of parenting, only paternal support was found to be an
important mediating factor for children’s self-esteem, as
living in family structures other than single-mother fami-
lies increased paternal support, which in return increased
Neither of the mediated models revealed evidence of a
mediating function for parental control in relation to chil-
dren’s self-esteem and life satisfaction. This might be due
to the fact that the models addressed only positive indica-
tors of children’s well-being, based on the ﬁndings of other
studies on parenting and negative indicators of children’s
well-being, which revealed a relationship between parental
control and those indicators of children’s well-being. In
conclusion, the inclusion of both the custodial arrangement
and the repartnering of both partners in our family-struc-
ture indicator revealed variation in the possible mecha-
nisms at play with regard to parenting and children’s well-
being. According to our results, loss of time spent with the
child was related to lower levels of parental support and
control. The presence of a new partner made the parenting
of divorced parents in repartnered families comparable to
that of continuously married parents, even increasing the
involvement of non-residential fathers. Moreover, our
analysis revealed that parental support (especially of the
residential parent) was an important mediator between
family structure and the well-being of children.
As formulated by Amato (2000), the divorce-stress-ad-
justment perspective emphasizes the protective role that
parenting can play in the well-being of children after a
parental divorce. In this regard, Amato refers to the par-
enting of the residential parent (usually the mother). Our
results conﬁrmed that the parenting of the residential parent
is a protective factor. In addition to Amato’s model,
however, our ﬁndings revealed that the parenting of the
non-residential parent can function as either a risk factor or
a protective factor for children’s well-being, depending
upon the post-divorce family structure. This study thus
provided clear evidence of the importance of expanding the
focus of research beyond the parenting of the residential
parent (usually the mother) to include the parenting of the
non-residential parent (usually the father) as well when
investigating the role of parenting as a protective or risk
factor. Our ﬁndings also demonstrated the importance of
considering variations in family structure. Future research
should therefore address the complexity in family structure.
Overall, the results of this study are highly consistent with
recent insights that deﬁne families according to their
actions rather than according to their location (Morgan
Despite the contributions of this study, the results should
be viewed with caution in light of their limitations. First,
due to the small numbers in some categories of family
structure (i.e., residential-father families), we did not
J Child Fam Stud
distinguish between divorced parents who had remarried
and those who were cohabiting with new partners. We can
nevertheless assume that actual living situations are more
important with regard to parenting and the well-being of
children than are legal situations (cf. custodial arrange-
ments), given that alterations in actual family structures
can lead to alterations in family functioning and family
roles (Cavanagh 2008). Moreover, the small number of
residential-father families in our subsample requires a
careful interpretation of the results for these family types.
Second, our analyses and results are based on cross-sec-
tional data, and they provide only a snapshot of the medi-
ating role that parenting played at a certain point in time.
Future research should study the mediating role of parenting
from a longitudinal viewpoint, in order to investigate whe-
ther this mediating role changes over time. Longitudinal
data on family transitions, parenting, and children’s well-
being would allow future researchers to investigate whether
the mediating role of parenting changes in response to
family transitions, whether the length of time since a family
transition plays a role, and whether parenting continues to
affect the well-being of children as they grow older.
A third limitation of our study has to do with the speciﬁc
DiF sample, which does not include parents who were
never married. In Western European countries, the number
of parents who cohabited and possibly separated after
cohabitation without ever having been married is increas-
ing. Future research should therefore investigate the
mediating role of parenting for post-separation family
structures and children’s well-being.
Despite these limitations, this study contributes to the
existing literature by incorporating both the custodial
arrangement and the repartnering of both parents in post-
divorce family structures, as well as by taking a dyadic
approach that includes both maternal and paternal parent-
ing as mediating factors. In this respect, it extends the
divorce-stress-adjustment perspective developed by Amato
(2000), which originally speciﬁed a mediating role only for
the parenting of the custodial parent (usually the mother).
The results revealed that the parenting of the residential
parent played a protective role for the self-esteem and life
satisfaction of children and that the parenting of the non-
residential parent could serve as either a risk or protective
factor for these indicators of children’s well-being,
depending upon the post-divorce family structure. When
investigating the well-being of children, therefore, it is
important to consider the parenting of both parents, even
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