Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Interparental Incongruence in Differential Treatment of Adolescent Siblings: Links with Marital Quality

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Interparental Incongruence in Differential Treatment of Adolescent Siblings: Links with Marital Quality

Article excerpt

This study examined longitudinal links between incongruence in mothers' versus fathers' differential treatment of adolescent-age siblings and parents' marital quality. Multilevel models including 200 families, over four waves, spaced across 6 years tested whether youth perceptions of incongruence in differential intimacy and conflict predicted trajectories of mothers' and fathers' reports of marital conflict and satisfaction and vice versa. Analyses showed that changes in interparental incongruence covaried longitudinally with changes in marital quality and that these linkages became stronger over time. These results extend previous cross-sectional research with younger children and are consistent with theories regarding family alliances and coparenting. Discussion focuses on the reciprocal relations between incongruence in parenting and marital quality as an important aspect of family systems.

Key Words: adolescence, family systems, marital quality, parental differential treatment, siblings.

The significance of the nonshared environment for individual differences in development (Dunn & Plomin, 1990) has directed attention to parents' differential treatment of siblings, and a body of work has linked differential treatment to youth adjustment and both sibling and parent-offspring relationships (e.g., Brody, Stoneman, & McCoy, 1992; Dünn, Stocker, & Plomin, 1990). Most studies of differential treatment have focused on mothers or examined mothers' and fathers' differential treatment as independent dynamics, but some work suggests that within-family patterns of mothers' and fathers' differential treatment may have important implications for youth (Crouler, McHale, & Tucker, 1999; McHale, Crouter, McGuire, & Updegraff, 1995; Veiling, 1997; Veiling & Elins, 1998). Grounded in a family systems framework, the current study advanced research in this area by examining the longitudinal associations between congruence and incongruence in mother-offspring versus father-offspring relationships and both parents' perceptions of marital quality.

Incongruence in Parental Differential Treatment: A Family-Level Construct

According to a family systems framework, fami lies can best be understood as complex integrated units that include individuals with different needs and perspectives (Cox & Paley, 1997; Minuchin, 1985). One tenet of family systems theory is that processes operating at a family level cannot be reduced to individual or even dyadic phenomena (Minuchin; O'Connor, Hetherington, & Reiss, 1998). Rather than making inferences about family functioning based on information about a single individual or dyad in a family, family systems researchers are faced with the challenge of operationalizing and studying family-level constructs. A second principle of family systems theory is that families are composed of subsystems (e.g., marital, parent-child, sibling) that are interrelated (Cox & Paley; Minuchin; O'Connor et al.); understanding of one subsystem is incomplete if processes operating in other subsystems are not considered. Finally, as systems, families self-stabilize and self-organize in response to external and internal forces (Cox & Paley; Minuchin). Consequently, transition points may provide insight into systemic family processes. Together these tenets suggest that, rather than focusing only on between-family differences, it is essential to study within-family phenomena, both in terms of distinct experiences of family members and change within families over time, in order to understand how families operate. Unfortunately, as a result of limited research designs and statistical methods, few studies have done this.

The construct of interparental patterns of differential treatment incorporates information about multiple family subsystems: mother-child relationships with two different offspring, father-child relationships with two offspring, and marital dynamics. …

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