Examining mechanisms underlying the effect of family disruption in childhood on parenting provided to offspring in adulthood

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Family disruption, or the separation of children from caregivers, has been well-established in prior literature as a risk factor for child maladjustment; however, little is known about how family disruption

Family disruption, or the separation of children from caregivers, has been well-established in prior literature as a risk factor for child maladjustment; however, little is known about how family disruption impacts youth into adulthood, particularly how it influences children’s later parenting of their own offspring. The present study examined whether cumulative family disruption (i.e., parental hospitalization, death, incarceration, divorce) in childhood exerts effects on children’s parenting of their own offspring in adulthood, beyond other demographic characteristics and risk factors. Further, several potential mechanisms were hypothesized to underlie the association between family disruption in the first and second generation (G1-G2) family and later parenting provided from second-generation (G2) adults to third-generation (G3) children. Mediators included conflict and disorganization in the G1-G2 family and dysregulation in the G2 child.

Participants (N = 236 in models that included multiple G2 siblings; N = 110 in models without siblings) were drawn from a larger sample of at-risk (i.e., alcoholic) and comparison families followed longitudinally for over 30 years and across three generations. Four mediation models were estimated to examine effects of two separate G1-G2 family disruption components (deviance-related and health-related disruption) on parenting of G3, mediated by family conflict, family disorganization, and G2 dysregulation. Results indicated that health-related disruption impairs consistency of parenting provided to G3 offspring through conflict in the G1-G2 family. A direct effect of health-related disruption was also seen on parental monitoring. There were no direct or mediated effects of deviance-related disruption on parenting. Implications and future directions will be discussed.