Study: Equal Division of Parental Responsibilities May Make for Less Happy Families
While splitting child caregiving duties down the middle may seem like the fairest route a couple can take, a new study published in the January 2011 issue of Developmental Psychology suggests such a division could very well increase parental conflict.
According to Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, co-author of the study and associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University, research shows that the stronger, more successful co-parenting relationships occur when a mother is the primary caregiver and a father spends more time playing with their child—rather than sharing in reponsibilites like preparing meals or giving baths.
Researchers found that “in general, when fathers indicated they played more with their child at the beginning of the study, the couple showed more supportive co-parenting one year later. However, when fathers said they participated more in caregiving, the couples showed lower levels of supportive co-parenting one year later.”
The findings go on to suggest that couples are more successful when they, simply put, have their own turf. Those attempting to perform the same caregiving tasks in a household are more likely to become competitve and at odds with each other, while those with assigned, non-shared roles (mother as gate-keeper and primary caregiver and father as main activity provider) feel more in control, relaxed and willing to collaborate as a team.
“I don’t think this means that for every family, a father being involved in caregiving is a bad thing. But it is not the recipe for all couples,” Schoppe-Sullivan said. “You can certainly have a solid co-parenting relationship without sharing caregiving responsibilities equally.”
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