Academic journal article Family Relations

Correlates of Coparenting during Infancy*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Correlates of Coparenting during Infancy*

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This study examined family characteristics associated with the coparenting behavior of 60 parents with an 11- to 15-month-old infant (30 boys, 30 girls) during a structured triadic play session. Mothers reported on family demographics, social support, and child temperament. Both parents reported on their self-esteem and childrearing beliefs. Fathers displayed more supportive coparenting behavior than mothers. Mothers' intrusive coparenting behavior differed based on the number of children, parent's employment status, and child gender. Social support, parental self-esteem, and child temperament were significant correlates of individual coparenting behavior. Results are discussed in terms of their implications for family theory and family practice.

Key Words: coparenting, family relations, parenting infants and toddlers, parent-infant, parent-child relationships.

Theoretical and clinical work has highlighted the importance of coparenting in the structure of the family (see McHale et al., 2003, for a recent review). "Coparenting" has been defined as how mother and father support or undermine one another in their mutual parenting roles (Maccoby, Depner, & Mnookin, 1990). Significant components of the coparenting process include levels of involvement by the two parents, joint problem solving on childrearing tasks, and the conveyance of unity between parents to children (Gable, Belsky, & Crnic, 1995; McHale, 1995). Coparenting is generally viewed as having two primary dimensions: (a) supportiveness denotes parents' efforts to assist and complement each other's parenting efforts, whereas (b) intrusiveness characterizes parents' efforts to oppose or undermine each other's interactions with the children (McHale et al.). Early research on coparenting focused on postdivorce relationships and how divorced parents could effectively work together while in different households (Maccoby et al.). More recent empirical work has emphasized the relevance of coparenting processes in nondivorced families (McHale, Kuersten, Lauretti, & Rasmussen, 2000).

From a family systems theory perspective (Minuchin, 1985; von Bertalanffy, 1968), the coparenting relationship represents a unique subsystem within the family in which the quality of the marital relationship interfaces with how mothers and fathers coordinate their efforts to deal with issues related to childrearing. Specifically, coparenting is viewed as an extension of the marital relationship that involves transactions with a third individual, namely the child (Minuchin). In this way, coparenting represents a point of intersection between two family subsystems, the marital and parent-child relationships. Currently, the predominate model of connections among family relationships identifies coparenting as the component of marriage that provides a proximal link to parenting experiences and accounts for the effects of general marital quality on these experiences (McHale et al., 2003). Thus, there is a conceptual distinction between parent's individual behavior with their children, the quality of the marital relationship, and parents' mutual support and involvement with the child. Increasing empirical evidence supports the theoretical distinction between coparenting and other relationship subsystems within the family (Gable et al., 1995; McHale, 1995). For example, Floyd and his colleagues (Floyd, Costigan, & Gilliom, 1998; Floyd & Zmich, 1991) have found that the coparenting relationship is related to the quality of the marital relationship but that both relationship subsystems contribute to the quality of parent-child relationships in different ways. Likewise, McHale et al. (2000) found that mothers' and fathers' level of involvement and use of limit setting with their child differed across dyadic parent-child interactions and triadic mother-father-child coparenting contexts. Together this evidence suggests that coparenting processes represent a unique relationship milieu for mother, father, and child. …

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