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Coparenting And Children's Adjustment

Numerous studies have linked coparenting indicators to children's socioemotional and academic adjustment. Supportive and harmonious coparenting relationships are tied to preschoolers' social (McHale, Johnson, and Sinclair 1999; McHale, Kuersten, and Lauretti 1996; Schoppe, Mangelsdorf, and Frosch 2001) and academic competence (McHale, Rao, and Krasnow 2000a). Among older children, supportive coparenting has also been linked to well-developed self-regulatory abilities (Abidin and Brunner 1995; Brody, Flor, and Neubaum 1998). By contrast, unsupportive or discordant coparenting has been associated with adjustment difficulties in children. For example, competitive and conflictual coparenting is linked with poor self-regulation and disinhibition among toddlers (Belsky, Putnam, and Crnic 1996), and with acting out and internalizing behavior among both preschoolers (McHale and Rasmussen 1998) and school-age boys (McConnell and Kerig 2002).

As has been true with most coparenting research, studies substantiating associations between coparenting and child adjustment have typically involved samples of predominantly Caucasian, middle-class families. To date, only limited data are available on coparenting in non-Anglo cultural or ethnic groups. Nonetheless, those few studies that have engaged African-American or Asian families have suggested similar patterns of linkage between quality of coparenting and children's well-being. For instance, Gene Brody's studies with rural, African-American families show that supportive, nonconflictual coparenting is associated with adolescents' self-regulation and, in turn, with their academic performance (Brody, Stoneman, and Flor 1995). Research on urban Chinese families suggests that mothers who report more collaborative coparenting rate their preschoolers as more successful academically, while conflictful coparenting is linked to problems with acting out and anxiety (McHale, Rao, and Krasnow 2000a). Among Japanese families, involvement in daily child-related activities by fathers has been linked to greater child empathy (Ogata and Miyashita 2000).

Notwithstanding these intriguing results, much remains to be learned about the relationship between coparenting and children's development in populations besides European-American ones. To advance this field, researchers will need to shed Western notions of mothers and fathers as the functional coparenting partners to include other caregivers such as grandparents, older children, and extended family members. The evidence is clear that such individuals play pivotal caregiving roles in families within Vietnamese (Kibria 1993), Asian-Indian and Malaysian (Roopnarine, Lu, and Ahmeduzzaman 1989), Native-American, Hispanic-American (Coll, Meyer, and Brillon 1995), and other cultures.

Some exemplary studies have already been conducted. For example, Brody's work illustrates that African-American mothers who receive parenting support from grandmothers are more likely to engage in no-nonsense parenting (control, restraint, and punishment combined with affection); such parenting, in turn, aids children's self-regulation, academic, and social competence (Brody, Stoneman, and Flor 1995). At the same time, however, mothers are less involved in children's schooling when grandmother-mother co-caregiving conflict is high. Benefits of intergenerational support are also suggested by research with British Hindu and Muslim families. In one study children living in extended family environments with a co-caregiving grandmother showed better adjustment than children living in nuclear families (Sonuga-Barke and Mistry 2000). However, the presence of extended family co-caregivers may promote child adjustment only to the extent that such family members support, rather than undermine, the children's parents.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodCoparenting - Typologies Of Coparenting, Coparenting And Children's Adjustment, Factors Contributing To Supportive Or Antagonistic Coparenting Partnerships