Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Identity and Reflected-Appraisals: Measurement and Gender Dynamics

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Identity and Reflected-Appraisals: Measurement and Gender Dynamics

Article excerpt

A new theoretical model for parental identity, reflected-appraisals, and behavior was proposed. Parental identity and behavior in married parents were then investigated as a function of partner's and perceived reflected-appraisals, taking into account gender context effects. Sixty-four married couples completed the Caregiving and Breadwinning Identity and Reflected-Appraisal Inventory (CBIRAI), developed for this study to assess parental caregiving and breadwinning identity and reflected-appraisals, as well as caregiving and breadwinning behavior measures. The model was confirmed for fathers and partially confirmed for mothers. Specifically, caregiving identity and behavior in fathers, and breadwinning identity in mothers were functions of perceived reflected-appraisals. Limitations and implications are discussed.

Key Words: breadwinning, fathers, identity, mothers, parenting, reflected-appraisals.

Recent research on fatherhood has focused particularly on paternal identity as a factor influencing paternal behavior (Bruce & Fox, 1999; Ihinger-- Tallmann, Pasley, & Buehler, 1993; Marsiglio, 1995; Minton & Pasley, 1996). This article expands this line of research by developing and testing a new model for the interrelationships between parental identity, parental behavior, partner's reflected-appraisals, and perceived reflected-appraisals, which is applicable to mothers as well as fathers.

"Parental identity" is defined here as the degree to which an individual sees specific parenting domains as important to himself/herself (e.g., how important it is to a mother to be a caregiver to her child). "Partner's reflected-appraisals" is the perception or evaluation of an individual by his or her spouse (e.g., how a wife perceives or evaluates her husband). "Perceived reflected-appraisals" is how the self perceives their spouse's reflected-appraisals (e.g., how a husband perceives his wife's evaluation of him, which may or may not be an accurate perception).

The new conceptual model is derived specifically from Burke and Reitzes' (1991) model for identity processes, and incorporates recent socialpsychological findings on the relative importance of partner's reflected-appraisals compared to perceived reflected-appraisals. Further, our model examines the influence of perceived reflected-appraisals in contexts that are either gender congruent or gender incongruent (i.e., "on-gender" or "cross-gender"). Perhaps most important, the model is formulated to apply to both fathers and mothers. In essence, the proposed model predicts differential linkages, depending on the gender-congruence of the particular parental behavior, from perceived reflected-appraisals to identity, and from both perceived reflected-appraisals and identity to behavior. These predictions are tested for two parental domains, caregiving and breadwinning. For example, our model posits that perceived reflected-appraisals will predict caregiving in fathers as a cross-gender role, but not caregiving in mothers as an on-gender role.

By furthering the development of identity theory as applied to fathering, this study contributes to the advancement of theory in fatherhood research called for by Doherty, Kouneski, and Erickson (1998). In addition, by developing a model applying to both fathers and mothers, this study also contributes to research on parenting from a gender-comparative perspective.


Prior quantitative research concerning the link between parental identity and behavior has focused primarily on fathers. Literature using the concept of "maternal identity" generally uses it in a psychodynamic rather than symbolic interactionist sense (e.g., Rubin, 1984). Ihinger-Tallman et al. (1993) proposed and tested what they termed a "theory of father involvement postdivorce," whose central element is father parenting role identity. The authors drew upon the work of both Stryker and Serpe (1982), concerning identity salience (the relative rank of an identity in an identity hierarchy), and Burke and Reitzes (1991), which had a particular focus on commitment to identity in a role (forces causing an individual to seek congruence between an identity and reflected-appraisals from others). …

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