Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Attunement between Parents and Professional Caregivers: A Comparison of Childrearing Attitudes in Different Child-Care Settings

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Attunement between Parents and Professional Caregivers: A Comparison of Childrearing Attitudes in Different Child-Care Settings

Article excerpt

In a survey of a national sample (n = 568 children) of parents and nonparental caregivers from four types of child care-day care, after-school care, family day care, and babysitter care-we studied the attunement of childrearing attitudes between parents and nonparental caregivers and perceptions of their relationships to one another and to the child from an ecological systems perspective. Parents within the same family were rather consistent in their childrearing attitudes and beliefs, but we found some discontinuities between parents and professional caregivers in their childrearing attitudes and perceptions of the quality of the child-caregiver relationship. Lack of attunement in authoritarian control and support was associated with a lower degree of child well-being. Better communication between parents and caregivers was associated with greater attunement and with a higher degree of child well-being.

Key Words: after-school care, babysitting, child care, childrearing attitudes, day care center, ecological systems.

In many Western industrialized countries parents share their childrearing responsibilities with professional caregivers. Childrearing is not the exclusive domain of mothers. During the past few decades, the participation of mothers in the labor market has been steadily growing. At the same time, fathers became more involved in childrearing, and an increasing number of children were spending time in day care centers, family day care, after-school care, or with babysitters. Some months after birth, many children start to interact with several caregivers on a regular basis. Children become embedded in a network of parental and nonparental caregivers (Belsky & Eggebeen, 1991; Lamb, Sternberg, Hwang, & Broberg, 1992). From a cross-cultural perspective the involvement of three or more caregivers in raising young children is not a new or even a rare phenomenon. In many African cultures, for example, sharing the responsibilities of child care among several adults and older siblings is common (Nsamenang, 1992). How is the input of different caregivers coordinated? How similar or dissimilar are the childrearing attitudes of the caregivers? Does the similarity vary with the type of care that the child receives? In previous studies, some researchers concluded that parents and professional caregivers were in major agreement about child-care issues (Nelson & Garduque, 1991), whereas other researchers found that parents and caregivers in day care centers differed in their perceptions of the child's behavior (Feagans & Manlove, 1994). In the study presented here, we compare the attitudes and perceptions of mothers, fathers, and professional caregivers in three domains: childrearing, the quality of the relationship between child and caregiver, and the relationship between parental and professional caregivers. Our main focus is the attunement of caregivers to each other. To what extent do parents and professional caregivers share beliefs about the quality of the child-caregiver relationship and perceptions of the communication among the caregivers?

The theoretical framework of our study is derived from the ecological systems model, which directs attention to the interaction between the developing child and the multiple social contexts in which development takes place (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Peters & Kontos, 1987). Although the model also includes the wider socioeconomic and cultural contexts (exosystems and macrosystems) as relevant for the study of childrearing and child development, we focus in particular on the microsystem-the immediate environment in which the child is a recurring, participating member, such as the family and the professional care setting. In Peters and Kontos' adaptation of the ecological systems model, two issues are crucial on the microsystem level. First, the consistency between caregivers within the same microsystem is important (e.g., the consistency of childrearing attitudes and beliefs between the parents within the same family). …

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