A new study found that how mothers and fathers see each other as co-parents plays a crucial role in how well-adjusted their children become. The study published in the journal Child Development revealed that when children saw their parents’ relationship as poor, it resulted in the worst outcomes for them.
"The best outcome for children was when both parents saw their co-parenting relationship as positive. But children were almost as well-adjusted when the relationship quality was moderate, and mothers were less positive about co-parenting relative to fathers," said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, lead author of the study, professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, and president of the board of the Council on Contemporary Families, in the press release.
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Previous studies have shown that children of parents with a better co-parenting relationship have fewer behavior problems and better social relationships with others, according to Science Daily. However, research has been limited to middle-class white families and relied only on mothers' perspectives.
In this study, the participants were 2,915 low-income couples in seven U.S. states who took part in the Supporting Healthy Marriages program. All couples had a child under the age of five. After 18 months of reporting on their co-parenting relationship, the parents were asked to report on their child's social competence and behavioral adjustment.
"Co-parents with high-quality relationships provide emotional support to one another and back up each other's parenting decisions," Schoppe-Sullivan said, as reported in Science Daily.
Based on the parents’ reports, the researchers identified four co-parenting groups. About 43% of the sample formed the largest group with the parents who both saw their co-parenting relationship as highly positive. The last group (9%) comprised couples who reported low-quality co-parenting relationships, and their children were less well-adjusted.
An important finding of the study was that children suffered when fathers had a less positive attitude about co-parenting. Psychologically distressed dads were more likely to be in the "less positive fathers" group, the study reveals.
They may make the mothers push them away from parenting duties, causing them to be less happy about their role and, in turn, impacting them psychologically.
"That may lead to more conflict between the parents, more disagreement on parenting decisions, and less positive engagement between fathers and their children," Schoppe-Sullivan said. When mothers are less positive than fathers, it might indicate that they feel that fathers are not contributing enough, she said