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Typologies Of Coparenting, Coparenting And Children's Adjustment, Factors Contributing To Supportive Or Antagonistic Coparenting Partnerships

The term coparenting refers to the support that adults provide for one another in the raising of children for whom they share responsibility (McHale 1995). Joint parenting of children has been the norm in families cross-nationally since the earliest human societies, with children's grandmothers or other female family members (rather than fathers) most often the ones sharing everyday parenting responsibilities with children's biological mothers. Surprisingly, most of what is known about coparenting is due to studies of shared parenting in nuclear family systems headed by a mother/wife and father/husband. Perhaps more surprisingly, it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s when clinically oriented family researchers first began grappling with the correlates and consequences of shared parenting in divorced families that a field of coparenting studies even came to exist at all. Early work on coparenting in families of divorce was followed about a decade later by initial reports of interadult parenting dynamics in families that had not undergone the divorce process (Belsky, Crnic, and Gable 1995; McHale 1995)—and from this point on the field of empirical coparenting studies has taken firm root.

According to the family theorist and therapist Salvador Minuchin, effectively functioning coparenting partnerships are those which assure that children are receiving adequate care, control, and nurturance, as defined by prevailing cultural mores. Effective functioning in the family's executive subsystem (Minuchin 1974) also provides children with a sense of predictability, stability, and security in the family (McHale 1997). To provide such predictability and stability, however, it is important that coparenting partners support one another and be "on the same page" with respect to family rules, practices, and discipline. Rebecca Cohen and Sidney Weissman (1984) maintain that supportive coparenting partnerships are only made possible when parenting adults acknowledge, respect, and value the roles and tasks of the partner.

Unfortunately, many parents who may parent alone successfully find it difficult to coordinate successfully with coparenting partners (McHale 1997). Gayla Margolin and her colleagues capture this distinction in noting that "a parent may display excellent child management skills and a high level of emotional responsiveness to a child but still be disparaging of the other partner to the child" (Margolin, Gordis, and John 2001, p. 5, emphasis added). This distinction between parenting and coparenting practices is an important one; equally important is a similar distinction between marital and coparenting relations (Belsky, Crnic, and Gable 1995; McHale 1995). Coparenting relationships exist even when marital relationships dissolve (Cowan and McHale 1996), and coparenting relations often involve blood or fictive kin who are not married partners at all. Supporting these important conceptual distinctions, studies substantiate that coparenting processes explain variability in children's behavior not accounted for by marital or parenting indicators (Belsky, Putnam, and Crnic 1996; McHale, Johnson, and Sinclair 1999; McHale and Rasmussen 1998; McHale, Rao, and Krasnow 2000a).

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & Parenthood