Handbook of Parenting - Vol. 3

By Marc H. Bornstein | Go to book overview
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3
Coparenting in Diverse
Family Systems
James McHale
Inna Khazan
Clark University
Pauline Erera
University of Washington
Tamir Rotman
Wendy DeCourcey
Melanie McConnell
Clark University

When a four-year-old is taller than her mother, maybe she is sitting on the shoulders of her father.

—Minuchin and Fishman (1981, p. 148)


INTRODUCTION

The majority of children throughout the world grow up in family systems in which there is more than one significant parenting figure guiding the child's socialization. Until recently, however, most empirical research investigating family socialization climates did not fully embrace this reality. Virtually all of psychology's guiding theories of child development depict such development as unfolding within the context of dyadic parent–child relationship systems. During the 1980s, important progress was made by developmental scientists in contextualizing such dyadic relationships within nuclear twoparent families; intensive focus was given to understanding how marital relationships affect children both directly (e.g., through direct exposure to marital violence or destructive marital conflict) and indirectly (by compromising or intensifying dyadic parent–child relationships). However, continuing on through the mid-1990s, still missing from this breaking wave of “family systems” research were studiesthatfocusedonthefullfamilygroupasaunit. Overthepastseveralyears, thatcircumstancehas begun to change. Yet to fully capture the diversity of today's families we need to acknowledge that the parenting figures in the full family group may include step-parents, grandparents, aunts or other extended family members, previous (ex-) spouses, and same-sex partners.

Anyone who has ever grown up with more than one parenting figure can describe ways in which the dynamics of their relationships with each of these people individually are transformed when their family is considered as a full interacting group. One defining feature of family units containing two

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