Academic journal article Family Relations

Childcare Task Division and Shared Parenting Attitudes in Dual-Earner Families with Young Children

Academic journal article Family Relations

Childcare Task Division and Shared Parenting Attitudes in Dual-Earner Families with Young Children

Article excerpt

Childcare Task Division and Shared Parenting Attitudes in Dual-Earner Families With Young Children*

Fifty-eight dual-earner couples with young children (116 parents) completed interviews and self-report measures to evaluate shared parenting (SP), marital satisfaction, and division of child-care tasks. As expected, psychological and relational SP dimensions predicted marital satisfaction, parental competence, and closeness to their children, but division of child-care tasks did not. The findings were interpreted to highlight how family practitioners may educate and support stressed dual-earner couples regarding these relational aspects of shared parenting.

Understanding how working mothers and fathers share in the parenting of their children is important because the intense demands of juggling paid work and family responsibilities place dual-earner couples at risk for parenting role conflicts and stress. Certainly, parenting role stress has been found to impact negatively on psychological well-being and marital quality (e.g., Lavee, Sharlin, & Katz, 1996). Not surprisingly, an increasing number of working parents are seeking professional help to cope with the stress and role strains associated with their demanding lifestyles (Sperry, 1993). These findings suggest that it is important to identify elements within the family system that may reduce the amount of stress on working parents and exert a beneficial influence on the psychological well-being of dual-earner families.

The division of child-care tasks is one important element of the working family system that has already received considerable attention from researchers and practitioners (for review, see Crouter & Manke, 1997). Nonetheless, a model that would incorporate the more psychological and relational dynamics involved in cooperating and sharing parenting responsibilities has not yet emerged from the dual-earner family literature and is the emphasis of our investigation.

Developing a Psychological Model of Shared Parenting: Findings from Dual-Earner Family Studies

According to Ehrensaft (1987), "shared parenting is a conscious decision to share both the daily tasks of raising the children and the economic support of the family" (p. 5). This definition of shared parenting stresses the importance of equality in the parents' division of family responsibilities. For inclusion in a pioneer study conducted by Ehrensaft, both parents had to identify themselves as primary caregivers and to split the division of child-care tasks no less than 65% to 35%. Interestingly, Ehrensaft found that this definition of shared parenting described the parenting arrangements of only a very small proportion of the dual-earner family population.

A similar definition of shared parenting was used in a study by Fish, New, and Van Cleave (1992). They identified couples who reported sharing responsibilities at ratios between 40% and 60%. These couples were compared with more "traditional" families in which mothers took primary responsibility for raising the children and completed more than 60% of child-related work. Fish et al. found that although partners in the shared parenting group thought they equally shared child-care tasks, in actuality wives took significantly more responsibility than did their husbands. The results of Fish et al.'s study suggest that Ehrensaft's (1987) definition of shared parenting does not entirely capture how the responsibilities of parenting are typically shared by dual-earner couples. It may be that shared parenting in intact families relates more fundamentally to flexibility in completing parenting tasks, feeling supported as a parent, and sharing similar goals regarding the raising of children rather than actual division of child-care-related labor.

Researchers attribute the considerable diversity in how couples manage parenting and household chores to factors such as individual perceptions of equitable division of family work, employment situations, and social norms (Crouter & Manke, 1997; Gilbert, 1994). …

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