Academic journal article Fathering

Marital Satisfaction and Father Involvement during the Transition to Parenthood

Academic journal article Fathering

Marital Satisfaction and Father Involvement during the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt

Studies on the relationship between fathers' marital satisfaction and Involvement with their children have yielded conflicting results. As a partial test of a theoretical model of responsible fathering (Doherty, Kouneski, & Erickson, 1998), this study re-examined this relationship by using measures of both quantity and quality of father involvement and by exploring moderator effects and linear versus curvilinear relationships between the variables. Data were from a longitudinal study of 165 couples collected during the second trimester of pregnancy, and 6 and 12 months postpartum. Bivariate correlations, hierarchical multiple regression, and curve estimation were used to analyze the data. Results showed that fathers' marital satisfaction and involvement are positively related, that mothers' employment status and fathers' attitudes toward father involvement are important moderators, and that the statistical relationships are linear.

Keywords: father involvement, fathering attitudes, marital satisfaction, moderator effects, mothers' employment, curvilinearity

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Research on fathers' involvement with children has exploded over the past two decades. Many factors determine fathers' involvement, including child's, mother's, and father's individual characteristics, couples' marital quality, and contextual factors. These factors have been considered in theoretical models (Belsky, 1984; Doherty, Kouneski, & Erickson, 1998) and also examined in empirical studies (McBride & Mills, 1993; Volling & Belsky, 1991).

Based on theoretical models of contextual influences on father-child relationships (e.g., Belsky, 1984; Doherty et al., 1998), many studies have examined how marital satisfaction is related to father involvement. Mixed findings have been reported. While some studies have found the relationship between marital satisfaction and father involvement to be positive (Belsky, Rovine, & Fish, 1989; Blair, Wenk, & Hardesty, 1994; King, 2003; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2000), others have found it to be negative (Goth-Owens, Stollak, Messe, Peshkess, & Watts, 1982; Nangle, Kelley, Fals-Stewart, & Levant, 2003). Still others have found no relationship Between marital satisfaction and father involvement (Aldous, Mulligan, & Bjarnason, 1998; McBride & Mills, 1993; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network). Furthermore, one study (i.e., NICHD Early Child Care Research Network) measured different aspects of father involvement and reported mixed findings in terms of how each aspect related to marital satisfaction. Such inconsistent findings have left the research community puzzled.

The transition to parenthood has long been viewed as an important period of life transition. It results in systemic changes within the family and generates unique challenges to new parents. The majority of studies on changes over this period of time report a modest decline in couples' overall marital satisfaction (Belsky, Lang, & Rovine, 1985; Belsky & Pensky, 1988; Cowan et al., 1985; Cox, Paley, Burchinal, & Payne, 1999; Levy-Shift, 1994). Furthermore, the transition to parenthood is associated with the traditionalizing of sex roles for many couples (La Rossa & La Rossa, 1981 ; McHale & Huston, 1985). From a family systems perspective, one may anticipate that for many expectant parents, changes in marital quality and household division of labor during the transition to parenthood would influence how fathers are involved with children.

The purpose of this study is to better understand the relationship between marital satisfaction and father involvement during the transition to parenthood by adding two new pieces to the puzzle, specifically, potential moderators of the relationship between marital satisfaction and paternal involvement, and the possibility that the relationship between marital satisfaction and father involvement is curvilinear. …

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