Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Coparenting and Father Involvement in Married and Unmarried Coresident Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Coparenting and Father Involvement in Married and Unmarried Coresident Couples

Article excerpt

Children can benefit from involved fathers and cooperative parents, a benefit which may be particularly important to the growing population of children born to unmarried parents. This study observes father involvement and coparenting in 5,407 married and unmarried cohabiting couples with a 2-year-old child in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B). A link was found between cooperative coparenting and father involvement for all couples. Compared with married couples, couples who married in response to the pregnancy and couples who remained unmarried showed higher levels of father involvement and more cooperative coparenting, indicating a potentially greater child focus.

Key Words: cohabiting parents, dyadic/couple data, father-child relations, parenting and parenthood.

Increasing numbers of children are being bom to unmarried parents, with nonmarital childbearing in 2005 representing 36.8% of U.S. births, or more than 1.5 million births, an increase of 12% over 2002 (Hamilton, Martin, & Ventura, 2006). It is estimated that 80% of unmarried parents are romantically involved with each otìier at the time of die baby's birth, and about half are cohabiting, a proportion that appears to be rising (Bumpass & Lu, 2000; McLanahan et al., 2003). The unmarried fathers have an opportunity to be positively involved, thus benefiting their children (Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000). Fathers may be more involved when they have a cooperative coparenting relationship with the child's mother (Abidin & Brunner, 1995; Beitel & Parke, 1998; McBride & Rane, 1998), and cooperative coparenting also enhances me well-being of children (Abidin & Brunner, 1995; McHale, 1995). These effects have been found in married couples, but they have not yet been explored in unmarried cohabiting couples. It is thus necessary to expand our knowledge of the complex interrelationships among family members in this emerging family form.

Coparenting represents the nexus of the mother-father relationship and die parentchild relationship, and as such, it is an ideal locus for prevention and intervention efforts (Feinberg, 2002). Indeed, several recent initiatives seeking to improve at-risk fatiiers' involvement with their children emphasize coparenting, or team parenting (e.g., Hanks & Smith, 2005; Strengthening Fragile Families Training Institute, 2006).

This study examines the association of coparenting with father involvement in the context of the couple's relationship. Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study -Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), the analysis focuses on coresident parents with a shared 2-year-old child. The focus is on the association of three aspects of coparenting (i.e., support, responsibility, and dissonance), with tiiree core aspects of father involvement (i.e., engagement, accessibility, and responsibility). This analysis distinguishes among parents who were married before the pregnancy, those who married in response to the pregnancy, and those who remained unmarried. It examines both father and mother reports, thus allowing for a comprehensive analysis of relationship processes.

Union Formation

Unmarried parenthood may represent a distinct process of union formation. Stanley, Kline, and Markman (2005) described the difference between sliding and deciding in relationships. "Deciding" couples make the decision about commitment to a partner before constraints such as a shared child are imposed. By contrast, for "sliding" couples, the constraints are imposed before they have made any intentional choices about the long-term relationship. This distinction follows research by Manning and Smock (2005), who found that cohabiting couples often described moving in together as an unconscious, unintentional process. It also echoes the work of Surra and Hughes (1997), who distinguished between relationship-driven and event-driven reasons for marriage.

The different pathways of union formation may be reflected in the couples' enactment of their family roles. …

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