Children are influenced by how mom and dad perceive each other as co-parents

The researchers found that, in a sample of low-income couples, children had better outcomes when both parents viewed their co-parenting relationship as highly positive and worse when both parents viewed their relationship as poor. However, child outcomes differed when couples viewed their co-parenting relationship as moderately good, but mothers and fathers viewed each other differently as co-parents, said the study’s lead author, Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, professor of psychology at Ohio State. State University, and Chairman of the Board of the Council on the Contemporary Family.

The best outcomes for children were when both parents viewed their co-parenting relationship positively.
The best outcomes for children were when both parents viewed their co-parenting relationship positively.

“The best outcomes for children were when both parents viewed their co-parenting relationship positively. But children were almost as well adjusted when relationship quality was moderate and mothers were less positive about co-parenting than fathers,” Schoppe-Sullivan said. When fathers were less positive about co-parenting, child outcomes suffered, the study showed.

The study was recently published online in the journal Child Development. Previous studies have shown that parents with better co-parenting relationships are more effective because parents and their children are better adjusted – for example, they have fewer behavioral problems and better social relationships with others. But most previous research was conducted in middle-class white families and relied only on mothers’ perspectives on co-parenting relationships.

Participants in this new study were 2,915 low-income couples from seven US states who participated in the Supporting Healthy Marriages program. All couples had children under 5 years of age. Participants were asked about their co-parenting relationship with their partner – in other words, how they relate to each other as parents. “Co-parents with high-quality relationships provide each other with emotional support and back up each other’s parenting decisions,” Schoppe-Sullivan said.

Eighteen months after couples reported on their co-parenting relationship, they were asked to report on their child’s social competence and behavioral adjustment. Based on reports from mothers and fathers about their co-parenting relationships, the researchers identified four co-parenting groups. The largest – 43% of the sample – were parents who both viewed their co-parenting relationship as highly positive.

The next largest group (32%) were parents who both viewed their relationship moderately positively, but mothers were less positive about fathers’ co-parenting. “Their children were almost as well-adjusted as parents who were both positive about their co-parenting relationship,” Schoppe-Sullivan said. The fact that these two groups made up the majority of the sample was an important finding, Schoppe-Sullivan said.

“Low-income couples often face a variety of challenges that can make parenting more difficult than for middle-class couples, so it’s encouraging that three-quarters of them had co-parenting relationships that led to better outcomes for their children,” she said. The next largest group (16%) was those who reported a moderate-quality co-parenting relationship, but fathers were less positive than mothers. A fourth group (9%) consisted of couples reporting low quality co-parenting relationships with mothers particularly critical of fathers.

There were children in these two groups who were less well adjusted than children in the other groups. The study raises the question of why children are less well adjusted when fathers are less positive than mothers about their co-parenting relationship. The study’s data can’t answer that conclusively, Schoppe-Sullivan said. But the study showed that psychologically disturbed fathers were more likely to be in the “Father Less Positive” group than the other groups.

Victimized fathers may lead mothers to push them away from parenting duties, which may lead fathers to develop more psychological problems and be less happy about their co-parenting role. “This can lead to conflict between parents, more disagreement over parenting decisions, and less positive attachment between fathers and their children,” Schoppe-Sullivan said. “May play a role in their children’s poor adjustment.”

When moms are less positive than dads, it can make moms feel like parents aren’t contributing enough to parenting, she said. While it is normal for mothers to feel this way, it may not cause as much conflict between parents when fathers are less positive, so children may be relatively well-adjusted.

Overall, the results suggest that practitioners working with parents may want to pay particular attention when fathers are less positive than mothers about their co-parenting relationship, she said. The study’s co-authors, all from Ohio State, are: Jingyi Yang, a doctoral student in psychology; Junyoung Yang, doctoral student, and Minjung Kim, assistant professor, both in educational studies; and Yiran Zhang, doctoral student, and Susan Yoon, associate professor, both in social work.

This story is published from the Wire Agency feed without modification to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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