Assessments of Parenting Quality and Experiences Across the Life Course

Elaine Wethington, Claire M. Kamp Dush

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


In this chapter we applied the life course perspective to address two questions which have largely been absent in the parenting literature, but which are directly derived from the growing literature on parent-adult child relationships: 1) How does parental assessment of the quality of relationships with children vary by parenting life stage? 2) Do marital transitions (e.g. divorce, cohabitation, separation) and subsequent changes in family structure play a role in parental assessments of relationship quality with their children beyond the childhood years? We examined parental reports of parenting success, parenting problems, parenting ambivalence, and parent-child relationship quality in relationship to marital history and life course stage in a national sample of 2,498 parents. Several major conclusions emerged from these analyses. First, marital history was related to reports of parenting and parent-child relationship quality. Remarried, divorced, never married, and cohabiting parents reported somewhat less positive perceptions of their parenting and parent-child relationships. Second, consistent with theories on parental ambivalence across the life course, ambivalence was most relevant to relationships with adult children. Our findings, however, suggest that it may be very fruitful to apply the ambivalence perspective to studies of parents and children in their "emerging adulthood" as well as parent-child relations in the later stages of life. Third, measurement strategies for studying parenting require more development. We found suggestive evidence that questions currently used to assess parenting quality are interpreted differently by parents of different life stages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-152
Number of pages30
JournalAdvances in Life Course Research
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The collection of the data was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development, Orville Gilbert Brim, Director. The preparation of this paper was supported by the National Institute on Aging through the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging (1 2P30 AG022845, K. A. Pillemer, P.I.) and by the Evolving Family Theme Project, Institute for the Social Sciences.


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