Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Longitudinal Influence of Coparenting Conflict on Parental Negativity and Adolescent Maladjustment

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Longitudinal Influence of Coparenting Conflict on Parental Negativity and Adolescent Maladjustment

Article excerpt

This study addresses two limitations of coparenting research: first, little research on coparenting has been conducted with families of adolescents, and second, there is little understanding regarding the child and family contexts in which coparenting is most salient. The longitudinal relation of coparenting conflict to parenting and adolescent maladjustment across 3 years was investigated among 516 2-parent, 2-adolescent families. Coparenting conflict predicted as much or more unique variance in parenting and adolescent adjustment as did marital quality and disagreement together. After controlling for stability, coparenting conflict predicted mothers' and fathers' negativity and adolescent antisocial behavior (but not depression). Importantly, the influence of coparenting conflict in all cases varied as a function of family type, adolescent gender, or initial level of antisocial behavior, or all. The implications of these results for family processes in different relational and developmental contexts are discussed.

Key Words: antisocial behavior, coparenting, depression, parenting.

The relationship between parents can be a powerful influence on many aspects of family life and child adjustment. Coparenting, the way that parents coordinate their parenting of a child, is a component of the interparental relationship that does not include the parents' romantic, financial, sexual, or other relations that are not directly associated with parenting (McHale, Lauretti, Talbot, & Pouquette, 2002). Research on coparenting has demonstrated to date that coparenting is more predictive of parenting and child outcomes than is general marital quality, that coparenting accounts for variance in parenting and child outcomes after controlling for individual parent characteristics, and that coparenting predicts marital quality but not vice versa (see reviews in Feinberg, 2002, 2003). Unfortunately, understanding these links in greater depth has been difficult because coparenting is a multidimensional construct including agreement on childrearing principles, division of child-care labor, and mutual support. Moreover, most of the literature that has accumulated on coparenting has focused on the early phase of family life with infants and children (e.g., Belsky, Putnam, & Crnic, 1996; Van Egeren, 2003). Thus, the importance of coparenting in families with adolescents is unclear.

This study focuses on one dimension of coparenting: disagreement and conflict over chddrearing issues, abbreviated here as conflict. This dimension can be viewed as a basis for otiier aspects of coparenting (McHale et al., 2002). We examined whether coparenting conflict in families of adolescents predicts parental negativity and adolescent antisocial behavior and depression and whether its importance varies across families.

Associations of Coparenting Conflict With Parenting and Child Outcomes

Understanding the relations among coparenting conflict, parenting, and adolescent maladjustment is part of an effort to broaden the integration of family systems research within developmental psychopathology (see special issue of Development ? Psychopathology, Vol. 16, 2004). In this article, we focus on the construct of parental negativity to represent parenting because researchers generally agree that negativity is among the first tier of important components of parenting behavior (Maccoby, 1992). Parental negativity has been associated with several domains of adolescent adjustment across a wide range of populations and groups (Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992). In addition, we use the constructs of antisocial behavior and depressive symptoms to represent adolescent maladjustment. These two constructs represent the two broad domains of child psychopathology, namely, internalizing and externalizing disorders.

Coparenting versus the marital relationship. Given the conceptual overlap between the marital relationship and the coparenting relationship, it is important to justify a focus on coparenting in theorizing and data collection and possibly as an intervention target (Feinberg, 2002). …

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