work shows how families cope with divorce
Ida Lee Wootten
psychology department's national prominence can be traced, in
large measure, to E. Mavis Hetherington's love of rhododendrons.
While living in Wisconsin with her husband John, Hetherington
told him that she wanted their next faculty jobs to be "a
rhododendron move," to a climate mild enough to grow one
of the avid gardener's favorites.
don't think it's any accident that developmental psychologists
are often interested in gardening. The two things are very
similar. You plant a seed. You nurture it, and you watch
it grow and develop into a mature plant. Itıs like studying
E. Mavis Hetherington
James J. Page Professor Emeritus of Psychology
making their "rhododendron move" to Charlottesville
so that he could become a professor in U.Va.'s Law School in 1970,
she joined the University's psychology department. While a psychology
professor at the University of Wisconsin, Mavis Hetherington had
become well-known for her pioneering studies on gender and single-parent
households. Her interests in family and child research helped
spur the U.Va. department's growth and stature in clinical, community
and developmental psychology. Especially while chair from 1980
to 1984, Hetherington pushed department faculty to publish and
secure grants for research.
When Hetherington retired as the James M. Page Professor of Psychology
last year after 29 years at U.Va., the department, although relatively
small with only 36 faculty, was listed number 16 in the "U.S.
News and World Report" ranking, with developmental psychology
ranked fourth and clinical psychology ranked 12th.
recognize Hetherington's legacy, the psychology department and
the Center for Children, Families and the Law are sponsoring a
conference honoring her on March 27. (See box below.) Her colleagues,
friends and former students from across the United States will
attend the event in Alumni Hall. The department is also establishing
the E. Mavis Hetherington Graduate Fellowship to support students
studying family issues.
set in motion a rise in quality of the psychology department that
began the moment she walked into Gilmer Hall," said Richard
McCarty, a U.Va. psychology professor and former chair, currently
on leave while serving as the Executive Director for Science at
the American Psychological Association. "She served as a
magnet to attract other distinguished developmental psychologists
over the years, and the entire department was pulled up by its
boot straps in an attempt to equal the eminence of the developmental
psychology area she built."
findings of E. Mavis Hetherington's longitudinal studies
tracking a total of 1,400 families include:
percent of children do well after living through divorce.
25 percent of children experience major problems or emotional
difficulties. This compares to 10 percent of children in
non-divorced families who experience major behavioral or
academic problems. Those experiencing difficulties often
exhibit anti-social behavior, trouble in school and problems
in social relationships.
though they often face economic hardship, many women are
enhanced after divorce. They develop competencies they probably
would not have if they had stayed in conflictual, unhappy
marriages. Two years after divorce, women are less depressed
than those who remain in conflictual, unhappy marriages.
Some women look like "super women" -- they achieve
success at work while being good mothers and active in church,
philanthropic and community activities.
on the other hand, are usually not enhanced by living alone
after divorce. Men do better in terms of economic, social
and psychological well-being in a marriage, even in an unhappy
marriage, than when they are single.
"This, to some extent, explains the rapid and high
rate of remarriage in men," Hetherington said.
are rarely enhanced by divorce. However, some girls, like
their mothers, become exceptionally confident and competent
are more likely to maintain contact with their sons than
their daughters after divorce.
by more than a two-to-one ratio compared to men, initiate
divorce. About one quarter of men report that they were
surprised when their wives wanted a divorce; they were not
aware that their marriage was in serious trouble.
a divorced mother fights with her son, her negative mood
lasts far longer than when she fights with a daughter. Mothers
find raising a son alone more stressful than raising a daughter
women have casual sex after divorce, depression and declines
in self-esteem often occur. One-night stands sometimes trigger
suicide attempts in divorced women.
contrast, men immediately after divorce enjoy the ³sexual
smorgasbord" arrangement. However, by about a year
after divorce, men get tired of casual relationships and
want a more committed, intimate relationship.
four longitudinal studies, Hetherington followed more than 1,400
families. The longest was a 20-year Virginia study of divorce
that began in 1972. It involved 450 families in which children
were followed from when they were four, the age at which their
parents divorced, until they were 24. In all the studies, researchers
made comparisons among non-divorced, divorced and step families.
What distinguished the studies is that researchers did not just
complete interviews or subject participants to tests. Instead,
they went into people's homes to videotape their everyday experiences.
Participants also recorded their moods and activities every half-hour
such detailed observations, Hetherington wrote more than 200 papers
and authored or edited 13 books shedding light on relationships
with spouses, non-custodial parents, siblings, grandparents, teachers
and peers. (See "Living through divorce.")
biggest surprise of Hetherington's research, in her opinion, is
that most children, instead of being damaged by divorce, eventually
are able to cope with their new situations. About 75 percent of
children in divorced homes do well. "That's not to underplay
that most children are distressed when their parents go through
a divorce. Even at age 24, the grown-up children of divorce still
describe divorce as the most traumatic experience of their lives.
But they aren't permanently damaged; they are resilient."
has been the preeminent psychologist working on family interactions,"
said Eleanor Maccoby, a Stanford University psychology professor
who will speak at the conference. "She has provided the data
and the details on how children change over the years. She's had
the courage to take on the whole family and compare all the relationships
within the family. In the old days, we thought of parenting as
a top-down phenomenon. Mavis's work has made us aware that interactions
between parents and children represent a two-way street."
work has brought considerable recognition, from both professional
and lay audiences. Hetherington served as editor of the highly
respected Child Development journal and was president of numerous
professional organizations. She has been recognized with distinguished
scientist awards from nine national associations, including the
American Psychological Society. She has been featured on National
Public Radio and numerous network and cable television shows and
quoted in hundreds of articles. Hetherington's excellence in teaching
was recognized in 1987 when she became the first woman to receive
the University's highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award.
you ask the sprightly redhead what has given her the most satisfaction
in her career, Hetherington's eyes twinkle and she answers emphatically,
"Working with graduate students and undergraduates on research.
It's wonderful to see bright young people become scientists or
clinicians as their interest in the family and excitement about
family dynamics grows.
don't think it's any accident that developmental psychologists
are often interested in gardening," Hetherington reflects
with a grin. "The two things are very similar. You plant
a seed. You nurture it, and you watch it grow and develop into
a mature plant. It's like studying a child."
of her flair for speaking, Hetherington made about 40 professional
presentations annually -- always without notes. In over 30 years
of teaching, she never used notes in her courses. Instead, perhaps
relying on her early training as an actress in repertoire theatre,
Hetherington enthralled students by engaging them in dialogue
-- even in her large "Introduction to Psychology" and
child development courses that had 350 students. "One reason
I don't use notes is I think it's very important to have eye contact.
People in my audiences and classes say they feel as if I'm talking
directly to them. I want it to feel like a personal conversation,"
said the diminutive professor, who stands barely five feet tall.
While an undergrad at Wisconsin, Thomas Oltmanns was so fascinated
by Hetherington's lectures that he decided to become a psychologist.
Now a psychology professor at U.Va., he remembers clearly his
impressions of her -- as she taught in Wisconsin and when he met
her for the first time at U.Va. "The 'Introduction to Psychology'
class was very large -- easily 500 students. Each day at the beginning
of class, Mavis would stride down the center aisle and climb the
stairs to the stage where she lectured. Her presence commanded
everyone's attention, from the moment she entered at the back
of the room. In 1986 when I was offered a position in U.Va.'s
psychology department, I saw a woman with brilliant, lively eyes
who said to me, 'Welcome to the department. I'm Mavis Hetherington.'
My first instinct was, No, you're not!' With her towering intellectual
strength, I had thought she must be six feet tall."
"Mavis Hetherington is the scientist-teacher model,"
said Robert Emery, a U.Va. psychology professor and director of
the Center for Children, Families and the Law, who is one of the
principal organizers of the conference.
73, Hetherington continues working with graduate students as they
analyze and write about new findings from the longitudinal studies.
She continues to share those findings by accepting speaking engagements
and is writing a new book, which describes different styles of
coping with divorce and remarriage and the resiliency of children
following their parents' marital transitions. Tentatively called
Intimate Pathways After Divorce, it is intended for a lay audience
and addresses the diverse paths people take through life. On March
27 conference organizers will recognize with gratitude the path
that brought Hetherington and her love for rhododendrons to U.Va.
conference to honor Mavis Hetherington
acknowledge E. Mavis Hetherington's groundbreaking work
on divorce and remarriage and to recognize her legacy in
developmental psychology, U.Va.ıs psychology department
and the Center for Children, Families and the Law will hold
a symposium in her honor on March 27. The event, which will
bring together Hetheringtonıs colleagues, friends and former
students from across the nation, will be held from 9 a.m.
to 5:30 p.m. in Alumni Hall.
all-star cast of family psychologists will deliver talks
reflecting how the seeds planted by Hetherington's pioneering
work have blossomed into new areas of study. Each speaker
will also offer personal observations about Hetherington.
³Mavis Hetherington has been a prominent leader in the department,
the University and developmental psychology," said
Robert E. Emery, psychology professor and director of the
Center for Children, Families and the Law. "The symposium
is a tribute to her professional stature, charismatic personal
presence and gifted speaking abilities."
27 Alumni Hall
9 a.m. Gerald Patterson, founder of the Oregon Social Learning
Center "When It Works, It's Time to Fix It" Patterson
is well-known for his studies on how coercive family processes
contribute to child behavior problems. The Oregon Social
Learning Center is a non-profit, independent research site
dedicated to finding ways to help children and parents cope
with everyday problems.
a.m. Eleanor E. Maccoby, professor of developmental psychology,
Stanford University "Perspectives on Gender Development"
Maccoby is well-known for her work on parent-child interactions,
gender differences in development, and family structures.
p.m. Ross D. Parke, Presidential Chair and director of the
Center for Family Studies, University of Waterloo ³Ahead
of the Curve: the Social Development of E. Mavis Hetherington²
Parkeıs work focuses on the development of social behavior
in young children.
2:45 p.m. Philip Cowan, director of the Institute of Human
Development, University of California-Berkeley Carolyn Pape
Cowan, adjunct professor in psychology at UC-Berkeley "The
Role of Parents' Marriage in Their Childrenıs Adaptation:
Implications for Intervention" The Cowans are involved
in two longitudinal studies of the family. One is studying
partners who become parents for the first time, tracking
the families from late pregnancy until the children complete
the first year of elementary school. The second study is
following 100 families from their first childıs pre-kindergarten
year through the end of first grade.
p.m. John M. Gottman, psychology professor, University of
Washington "Predicting When a Couple Will Divorce"
Gottman, who specializes in childrenıs emotional development,
children's friendships and family interaction, will discuss
the results from his 14-year longitudinal study that is
providing clues about when couples choose to end the marriage.
He will also describe his theory explaining early and later
the symposium is open to the public, those interested in
attending should reserve a space by contacting deKoven Fernandez,
administrator director of U.Va.'s Center for Children, Families
and the Law, at 924-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.