The researchers then observed the couple for 20 minutes while they assisted their child in completing two tasks: drawing a picture of their family together and building a house out of a toy building set.
These tasks are a bit difficult for preschoolers and required the guidance of both parents, which gave the researchers the opportunity to detect how much the parents supported each other or undermined each other in their co-parenting, Schoppe-Sullivan said.
The researchers looked for signs of supportive co-parenting, such as couples encouraging and cooperating with each other as they helped their child. Researchers also looked for evidence of couples criticizing each other's parenting or trying to "outdo" each other in their efforts to work with the child.
One year later, the couples returned to the laboratory and participated in a similar observed activity with their child.
The results showed 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 gender of the children seemed to play a role, Schoppe-Sullivan said. Fathers playing with sons reduced undermining behavior more than did fathers playing with daughters.
"Having fathers involved in play activity is good for co-parenting, but might be especially good for boys," she said. "But, fathers are more likely to get into conflicts with mothers when they are heavily involved in caregiving of boys."
The findings in the study held true even when the researchers compared dual and single-income families, and when they took into account a wide variety of other demographic factors that may have affected the results, such as fathers
|Contact: Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan|
Ohio State University