Mothers, Fathers, and Coparenting (page 2)
Having children can be a great joy, and most parents report that if they could start over, they would do it again (Cowan & Cowan, 1992). Raising children, however, does put a great strain on many marriages, and this is part of the marital relations subsystem. Although couples tend to think that having a baby will bring them closer together, the reality is that new forms of tension accompany the transition to parenthood (Cowan & Cowan, 1992). After the birth of a new baby, parents are on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Infants need attention all day and even through the night, and their feedings, crying, and illnesses can be very disruptive. Parents struggle to meet their own sleep needs and maintain their daily routines. As children mature, the nights return to normal, but then come the challenges of keeping up with school schedules, homework, extracurricular activities, and the children's time with friends. It may surprise you (or may not, if you have children) to learn that the vast majority of couples report a significant decline in marital satisfaction in the first year after the births of their first babies. One quarter of all divorces occur before the babies are 18 months old (Cowan & Cowan, 1992).
Another complication for new parents is that today most parents work outside the home. Married women with children ages 6 to 17 years are now as likely to work outside the home as are married men. Single women with children and married women with children under 6 years don't lag far behind. In recent decades more women have entered the workforce, while the percentage of men working has decreased slightly. The decrease for men is due mostly to the fact that the overall population is aging, so a larger percentage of men are now over the age of 65 and retired.
When children are born, couples tend to move toward more traditional gender roles, with new fathers spending less time on household chores and mothers spending more (Cowan & Cowan, 1992). At the same time, new fathers usually increase the number of hours they work outside the home. The result: Mothers must decrease their paid work time, quit altogether, or struggle to maintain their job while also providing most of the family care at home. An Australian study showed how large the discrepancy in time spent with children can be. On average, mothers spent 23 hours per week alone with children, whereas fathers spent only 2 hours! And mothers were available 55 hours per week for their children, but fathers were on hand only 35 hours (Russell & Russell, 1987). Another study showed that adolescents aged 14 to 18 spent twice as much time alone with their mothers as with their fathers (Montemayor & Brownlee, 1987). Other researchers have documented this predominance of mother involvement in U.S. families of African, Asian, Hispanic, and European descent, as well as in families in Great Britain, Australia, France, and Belgium (Hossain, Field, Malphus, Valle, & Pickens, 1995; Park & Buriel, 2006; Roopnarine, 2004).
The types of time children spend with mothers and fathers also differ. Fathers spend a greater percentage of their interaction time playing with children (Hossain et al., 1995). Mothers perform more child care chores like feeding, bathing, and dressing, and they are also more likely than fathers to transport children to day care and school, help children with homework, and supervise children's play. Because mothers spend more total time with children, however, they still end up playing with children more than fathers do. Fathers' play tends to be more physical and rough-and-tumble, and mothers' play tends to be more toy oriented and verbal (Parke & Buriel, 2006; Russell & Russell, 1987). Fathers' physical play is greatest when children are around 2 or 3 years of age, and it declines in frequency after that (MacDonald & Parke, 1986). Interestingly, male monkeys also engage in the rough-and-tumble style of play with their offspring, which suggests there may be a biological component for this type of play in human fathers (Parke & Suomi, 1981). Culture also plays a role, however: Physical play is not frequent, for example, among fathers in Sweden, traditional Israeli communities, China, Malaysia, India, or the Aka people of central Africa (Parke & Buriel, 2006; Roopnarine, 2004).
In addition to the amount and type of time spent by mothers and fathers, we also need to consider the quality of the parenting relationship between mothers and fathers. Coparenting refers to the manner in which mothers and fathers work together to parent their children. Coparenting can be positive when parents agree in their style of childrearing, when they are consistent with each other in setting and enforcing rules, and when they provide support to each other when interacting with their children. When the coparenting relationship becomes hostile or competitive, however, problems arise. Some parents argue with each other through their children, or they compete with each other to be seen as the "good" parent. These negative coparenting relationships have been associated with insecure attachments with infants and with increased levels of aggression and anxiety in children (Parke & Buriel, 2006). Some parents act as gatekeepers by limiting the amount of time or the type of contact the other parent can have with their children. As you can imagine, when parents are not on good terms with each other, the gatekeeping parent may make it difficult for the other parent to be involved. In one study of low-income Latino and African American fathers, it was conflict with the mother that served as the best predictor of lower involvement of the father with his children (Coley & Hernandez, 2006). Even when parents divorce, it is important that they work together to maintain positive coparenting relationships.
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