A complex balance of psychological forces governed the relationship between parents and children in the failing marriages. We soon learned that the parent-child relationship did not mirror the unhappy marital ties and that the stresses of the marriage did not necessarily spill over into parents' relationships with the children. In fact, it became evident that parenting can remain relatively unencumbered by marital unhappiness or, put more technically, parenting can be maintained as a relatively conflict-free sphere of behavior within a very deprived and unhappy marriage-though, of course, not always. We were interested, in this connection, to discover that men who readily resorted to violence in response to their wives did not necessarily beat, or even spank, their children. Parenting, in fact, could become a means of offsetting marital unhappiness by cultivating a special relationship with one or more of the children. .
In a significant number of conflict-ridden households the parents were loving and supportive of the children's physical and emotional development. The quality of father-child relationships ranged from good enough to exceptionally good for at least one-fifth of the children. Similarly, the mother-child relationship was good enough or exceptionally good for one-third of the group. One-quarter of the children had two committed parents. Three-quarters of the children had a mother who was physically available to them when they needed her presence. One-half of the children had a physically available father. Furthermore, whereas only a tiny fraction (5 percent) of the married couples were able to communicate well with each other, at least one-quarter of the fathers and one-third of the mothers were able to communicate very well with their children. .
Adults who disagreed strongly with each other on a great many issues were able to cooperate in the care of the children. Child-rearing issues were not a source of disagreement for over one-third of the parents.