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Family Structure, Interparental Conflict and Parenting as Correlates of Children's Relationship Expectations

  • Leanne McGregor (a1), Melanie J Zimmer-Gembeck (a1) and Peter Creed (a1)


Multiple theories and models (e.g., attachment theory, rejection sensitivity) suggest that relationship expectations, such as views of others as trustworthy, reliable and supportive, are important outcomes of relationship experiences. We used a new measure to assess children's (N = 837, age 9 to 13 years) optimistic and pessimistic relationship expectations of their family relationships separate from their expectations of peers/others. Our aim was to investigate whether family structure, interparental conflict and parenting dimensions were important correlates of these two aspects of children's relationship expectations. Six maternal and paternal dimensions of parenting were measured, including warmth, rejection, structure, chaos, autonomy support, and coercive behaviour. Children who reported witnessing more interparental conflict had more negative relationship expectations about their family and about others, but these associations were no longer significant when the parenting dimensions were considered. Family structure was not associated with children's relationship expectations of peers/others, but children who had experienced parental divorce had less positive family relationship expectations. Overall, many of the six parenting dimensions were associated with family expectations, but fewer were associated with expectations of peers/others. Further, the maternal parenting dimensions associated with children's relationship expectations differed from the paternal dimensions. These findings are important for understanding how children think about their relationships and may guide the development of interventions targeting children of divorce.


Corresponding author

ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE: Dr Leanne McGregor, School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University QLD 4111, Australia. E-mail:


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Journal of Relationships Research
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