Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Coparenting and Relationship Quality Effects on Father Engagement: Variations by Residence, Romance

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Coparenting and Relationship Quality Effects on Father Engagement: Variations by Residence, Romance

Article excerpt

We focused on coparenting support, partner relationship quality, and father engagement in families with young children that did not change structurally over 4 years of participation in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study (N = 1,756). There was a significantly stronger and more robust positive association between fathers' perceived coparenting support at age 1 and father engagement at age 3 among nonresidential nonromantic parents compared with residential (married or cohabiting) and nonresidential romantic parents. There was a significantly stronger and positive association between relationship quality at age 1 and father engagement at age 3 among nonresidential nonromantic parents compared with residential parents. The findings emphasize the importance of considering both family structure and romantic involvement contexts of fathering when tracking father engagement over time.

Key Words: coparenting, family structure, father engagement, nonresidential father, romantic involvement.

Researchers have suggested that coparenting, defined as "the ways that parents work together in their roles as parents" (Feinberg, 2003, p. 1499), has a significant influence on parents' relationships with their children. The implication is that positive coparenting relationships may enhance the quality and quantity of parental involvement with their children, thereby positively influencing developmental outcomes in children. Feinberg (2002) has suggested that the effects of the coparenting relationship should be generalizable to any relationship between parental figures regardless of the family structure. Although studies have examined coparenting in different family structures (Amato & Keith, 1991; Carlson, McLanahan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2008), we are not aware of research that has compared the effects of coparenting across different structures. The present study addresses this gap by examining the effects of coparenting among four groups of parents who consistently remained in the same family structure and relational status category over time: married, cohabiting, nonresidential but romantically involved, and nonresidential nonromantically involved. The focus of this paper is on the effect of coparenting on fathers' engagement with children. These findings should be useful to responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage programs that have begun to address coparenting issues among their participants (Cowan, Cowan, Pruett, & Pruett, 2007).

Longitudinal studies are better suited to disentangle the associations between couple relationship variables and father engagement with children because the temporal aspect of these variables can be addressed (Williams, 2003). We therefore used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) study to conduct a cross-lagged longitudinal analysis of the associations between father engagement and coparenting when children were ages 1, 3, and 5 years. The present study focused on father engagement instead of paternal availability or responsibility because meta-analytic reviews of father involvement find stronger associations between indicators of engagement and child outcomes than between availability or responsibility and outcomes (Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000). Father engagement refers to direct, behaviorally observable interaction between father and child. Availability is defined as fathers' accessibility to the child but not interacting directly with the child. Responsibility refers to the managing, coordinating, and scheduling functions of parenthood.

THEORETICAL FOUNDATIONS

Researchers have suggested various ways in which the mother - father relationship influences parenting behavior (Brown, Schoppe-Sullivan, Mangelsdorf, & Neff, 2010; Erel & Burman, 1995). Recently, researchers have suggested that coparenting may have a stronger influence on parent -child relationships because it is more proximally related to parenting than is partner relationship quality (Feinberg, 2002; McHaIe, 2009). …

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