Predicting Spouses' Perceptions of Their Parenting Alliance

By Hughes, Farrah M.; Gordon, Kristina Coop et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Predicting Spouses' Perceptions of Their Parenting Alliance


Hughes, Farrah M., Gordon, Kristina Coop, Gaertner, Lowell, Journal of Marriage and Family


This study used marital- and individual-level variables to predict spouses' perceived parenting alliance. One hundred married couples completed measures of parenting alliance, marital consensus, marital power, and depression. Analyses revealed that marital consensus was a significant predictor of parenting alliance for both parents, and that depression also was a significant predictor for wives. Analyses using both spouses' data indicated that wives' perceptions of consensus and depression significantly predicted both spouses' parenting alliance, suggesting that wives are the barometer of the marital relationship (Floyd & Markman, 1983) and of the parenting relationship as well. Implications for research are discussed.

Key Words: coparenting, depression, marital conflict, marital efficacy, marital power, parenting alliance.

Cohen and Weissman (1984) defined the parenting alliance as the "capacity of a spouse to acknowledge, respect, and value the parenting roles and tasks of the partner" (p. 35). The parenting alliance is a self-object relationship, as defined by Kohut, by which parents maintain their self-esteem and psychological integrity in the face of parenting tasks and challenges (Weissman & Cohen, 1985). It is within this relationship of trust, value, and respect that one parent performs psychologically affirming and sustaining functions for the other. The development and maintenance of the parenting alliance are considered to be as important in parenting as the sharing and carrying out of child-care tasks (Weissman & Cohen), which are better termed coparenting behaviors. The parenting alliance is an internalized, affectively laden relationship that likely underlies partners' abilities to effectively carry out instrumental child-care responsibilities, and thus is likely to function as one of the determinants of actual parenting behaviors.

The parenting alliance predicts various aspects of family functioning and helps married couples and families cope with a range of difficulties (Weissman & Cohen, 1985). Aspects of a strong parenting alliance have been associated with lower levels of parenting stress (Abidin & Brunner, 1995), increased investment and involvement in parenting (McBride & Rane, 1998), children's positive adjustment and increased social competence (Abidin & Brunner), and boys' adaptive psychological functioning and decreased behavior problems (Bearss & Eyberg, 1998; Jouriles etal, 1991). Although parenting alliance is clearly an important variable to consider when understanding parent and child functioning, little attention has been paid to understanding its development (Sanders, Nicholson, & Floyd, 1997). Existing literature provides some indication that individual and marital variables-such as parental depression, marital consensus, and marital power dynamics-are likely to weaken the parenting alliance. Consequently, this study examines the relative abilities of marital consensus, marital efficacy, and depression to predict the strength of spouses' perceived parenting alliance.

MARITAL CONSENSUS

Spouses in marriages with high levels of disagreement are likely to have difficulty communicating successfully about parenting issues, and their ability to parent effectively most likely fluctuates with the level of disagreement in the household (Fauber, Forehand, Thomas, & Wierson, 1990). It also has been suggested that spouses who use aversive control strategies with each other might use similar strategies with their children (Floyd & Zmich, 1991; Krishnakumar & Buehler, 2000). Further, studies have shown that parents tend to behave negatively toward their children following conflictual marital exchanges, indicating a spillover effect (e.g., Belsky, Youngblade, Rovine, & Volling, 1991). Thus, it is likely to be more difficult for parents in marriages characterized by aversive exchanges to maintain their respect and value for each other as parents, and accordingly to develop and maintain a strong parenting alliance. …

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