Expectant adolescent couples' relations and subsequent parenting behavior
A R T I C L E EXPECTANT ADOLESCENT COUPLES’ RELATIONS AND SUBSEQUENT PARENTING BEHAVIOR PAUL FLORSHEIM University of Utah ALLISON SMITH Northern Illinois UniversityABSTRACT: The goal of this study was to test the “spill over” hypothesis— that the quality of relationsbetween expectant couples would predict parenting behavior— among a sample of adolescent mothersand fathers. At Time 1, self-reported and observational relationship data were collected from 36 expectantadolescent couples. At follow-up, observational data were collected from both young mothers and fatherswho were asked to participate in a structured play activity with their 2-year-old children. Logistic andmultiple regression analyses were run to examine the correspondence between couples’ relationship qual-ity prior to the childbirth and subsequent relationship status (i.e., paternal disengagement or coparenting)and the quality of parenting behavior. Results generally supported the spill over hypothesis. More spe-ciﬁcally, ﬁndings indicated that the quality of the expectant mother’s behavior toward her partner pre-dicted his (paternal) behavior at follow-up. Couples who reported high positive relations at the prenatalassessment were more likely to remain involved in coparenting. Results underscore the relevance ofcouples’ relations to the development of positive parenting practices among atypical samples of mothersand fathers.RESUMEN: EL objetivo de este estudio fue el de probar la hipotesis “spill over” de que la calidad de las ´relaciones entre las parejas que esperan un hijo podrıa predecir la conducta de crianza, dentro de un grupo ´muestra de madres y padres adolescentes. En el momento inicial, se recogio informacion basada tanto en ´ ´la observacion de la relacion como en los propios reportes de las 36 parejas que espereban un hijo. Al ´ ´momento del seguimiento, la informacion de observacion fue adquirida tanto de las jovenes mamas como ´ ´ ´ ´de los jovenes papas, a quienes se les pidio que participaran en una actividad estructurada de juego con ´ ´ ´sus hijos de dos anos. Se hicieron analisis logısticos y de regresion multiple con el ﬁn de examinar la ˜ ´ ´ ´ ´correspondencia entre la calidad de la relacion de la pareja antes del nacimiento y la condicion de la ´ ´subsecuente relacion (el desentendimiento paterno o la crianza compartida), ası como la calidad de ´ ´la conducta de crianza. Los resultados generalmente apoyaron la hipotesis “spill over.” Mas especıﬁca- ´ ´ ´mente, los resultados indicaron que la calidad de la conducta de la madre embarazada hacia su parejapredijo la conducta paterna al momento del seguimiento. Aquellas parejas que reportaron unas relacionaesaltamente positivas al momento de la evaluacion prenatal, estuvieron mas propensas a permanecer in- ´ ´volucradas en el proceso de una crianza compartida. Dichos resultados subrayan la relevancia de lasrelaciones de las parejas en cuanto al desarrollo de practicas positivas de crianza entre madres y padres ´atıpicos. ´Direct correspondence to: Paul Florsheim, Department of Psychology, University of Utah, 380 South, 1530 East,Room 502, Salt Lake City, UT 84112; e-mail: Florsheim@psych.utah.edu.INFANT MENTAL HEALTH JOURNAL, Vol. 26(6), 533– 548 (2005) 2005 Michigan Association for Infant Mental HealthPublished online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/imhj.20076 533
534 ● P. Florsheim and A. Smith ´ ´RESUME: Le but de cette etude etait de tester l’hypothese de «debordement» selon laquelle la qualite des ´ ´ ` ´ ´relations chez le couple qui attend un bebe pourrait predire le comportement de parentage— chez un ´ ´ ´echantillon de meres et de peres adolescents. A Temps 1, des donnees reportees par le couple et des´ ` ` ´ ´donnees observationnelles sur la relation ont ete recueillies pour 36 couples adolescents attendant un ´ ´´enfant. Au suivi, les donnees observationnelles ont ete recueillies a la fois des jeunes meres et des jeunes ´ ´´ ` `peres, a qui l’on a demande de participer a une activite de jeu structuree avec leurs enfants de deux ans. ` ` ´ ` ´ ´Des analyses logistiques et de nombreuses analyses de regression ont ete faites aﬁn d’examiner la cor- ´ ´´respondence entre la qualite de la relation des couples avant la naissance et le statut de la relation a venir ´ `(desengagement paternel ou co-parentage) et la qualite du comportement de parentage. Dans l’ensemble, ´ ´les resultats soutiennent l’hypothese du debordement. Plus speciﬁquement, les resultats indiquent que la ´ ` ´ ´ ´qualite du comportement de la mere enceinte envers son partenaire predisait son comportement (paternel) ´ ` ´au suivi. Les couples qui ont fait etat de relations positives a l’evaluation prenatale avaient plus tendance ´ ` ´ ´a rester impliquesdans le co-parentage. Les resultats soulignent la pertinence des relations des couples` ´ ´pour le developpement de pratiques de parentage positives chez des echantillons atypiques de meres et ´ ´ `de peres. ` ¨ZUSAMMENFASSUNG: Das Ziel dieser Studie war es eine “Uberlaufshypothese” in einer Stichprobe vonjugendlichen Muttern und Vatern zu prufen, namlich, ob die Qualitat der Beziehung zwischen Paaren, ¨ ¨ ¨ ¨ ¨die ein Kind erwarten ihr elterliches Verhalten voraussagen kann. Zum Zeitpunkt 1 wurde selbst be-schriebenes und Beobachtungsmaterial zur Beziehung von 36 jugendlichen Paaren gesammelt. Bei derNachuntersuchung wurde Beobachtungsmaterial, sowohl von den jungen Vatern als auch Muttern er- ¨ ¨hoben, die gebeten wurden an einer strukturierten Spielaktivitat mit ihren zwei Jahre alten Kindern teil- ¨zunehmen. Logistische und multiple Regressionsanalysen wurden durchgefuhrt, um die Korrelation ¨zwischen der Beziehungsqualitat des Paars vor der Geburt und den nachfolgenden Beziehungsstatus ¨(elterliche Abwendung oder gemeinsame Elternschaft) und die Qualitat des elterlichen Verhaltens zu ¨ ¨untersuchen. Die Ergebnisse unterstutzten generell die Uberlaufhypothese. Speziﬁscher zeigten die Er- ¨gebnisse, dass die Qualitat des Verhaltens der erwartenden Mutter gegenuber ihrem Partner sein (vater- ¨ ¨ ¨ ¨liches) Verhalten bei der Nachuntersuchung vorhersagte. Bei Paaren, die sehr positive Beziehungen beider vorgeburtlichen Untersuchung berichteten war gemeinsame Elternschaft wahrscheinlicher. Die Er-gebnisse unterstreichen die Bedeutung der Paarbeziehung bei der Entwicklung von positiver Elternschaftbei einer atypischen Stichprobe von Muttern und Vatern. ¨ ¨ * * *
Adolescent Coparenting Couples ● 535 There has been a great deal of research examining the links between couples’ relationsand parental functioning (Cox, Paley, Payne, & Burchinal, 1999; Erel & Burman, 1995; Floyd,Gilliom, & Costigan, 1998; Krishmakumar & Buehler, 2000). Most of this research has indi-cated that the quality of the marital relationship (deﬁned in terms of relationship satisfaction,communication, and interpersonal processes) is closely associated with the quality of parenting(Belsky & Hsieh, 1998; Cox & Paley, 1997; Cummings & Wilson, 1999; Katz & Woodin,2002; Lindahl, Clements, & Markman, 1997; Stocker & Youngblade, 1999). When the asso-ciation between partnering and parenting has been examined longitudinally, the quality of acouple’s relationship has provided some important insights as to how each partner might func-tion as a parent (Cox & Paley, 1997; Frosch, Mangelsdorf, & McHale, 2000). Several research-ers have proposed that how positively or negatively partners engage with one another tends to“spill over” onto the parent – child relationship (Erel & Burman, 1995; Heinicke & Guthrie,1992; Katz & Gottman, 1996; Krishnakumar & Buehler, 2000). Conceptualizing the link be-tween the marital and parent – child relationship in terms of “spill over” is appealing becauseit is consistent with a number of theoretical perspectives on parenting including attachmenttheory, family systems theory, and developmental-contextualism (Belsky, Putman, & Crnic,1996; Cowan & Cowan, 2002; Cox & Paley, 1997; Erel & Burman, 1995; Grych, 2002; Lerner,Rothbaum, Boulos, & Castellino, 2002). An implicit assumption of these conceptualizations isthat couples work together to “create” a relational context for child rearing (Heinicke & Guthrie,1992). There also is research demonstrating some degree of consistency between how a husbandbehaves toward his wife and how he behaves toward his child, suggesting that the sorts ofinterpersonal skills needed to establish a positive relationship with a romantic partner areclosely related to the skills needed to become a competent parent (Katz & Gottman, 1996;Margolin, Gordis, & John, 2001; McHale, Keursten-Hogan, Lauretti, & Rasmussen, 2000).These skills include (but are not restricted to) the capacity to (a) focus on the needs of anotherperson for the sake of that person’s well-being, (b) remain warmly engaged even under stressfulconditions, and (c) maintain a balance between providing guidance and caring, and facilitatingautonomy (Edwards, 1995; Grossmann & Grossmann, 2000; Heinicke & Guthrie, 1992). Whilethis perspective is not inconsistent with the concept of spill over, it implies a greater emphasison the role of the individual’s skills within the relationship. These somewhat distinct explanations for the link between couples’ relations and parentalfunctioning are complementary rather than competing theories. It seems probable that bothindividual and relational effects are simultaneously operative within the same family system.It also seems likely that speciﬁc components of couples’ relations will be differentially asso-ciated with speciﬁc components of parent – child relations. Moreover, some components of thecouple’s relationship may be more relevant to the adjustment of particular groups of parents,such as divorced parents or adolescent parents. Among at-risk parents (who may be less inter-personally skilled), the distinction between global relationship factors and speciﬁc interpersonalskills may provide important information about how to effectively intervene to avoid negativeparenting outcomes. FOCUS ON ADOLESCENT PARENTSOne question that remains relatively unexplored by family researchers is how well our currentunderstanding of the link between marital relations and parenting generalizes to disadvantagedor nontraditional families (Cowan & McHale, 1996; Lindahl et al., 1997). Most of the researchon the association between couples’ relations and parenting behavior has focused on married,
536 ● P. Florsheim and A. Smithmiddle-class, White adults. More research is needed in nontraditional arrangements. For ex-ample, adolescent couples are at much greater risk for relationship difﬁculties, and their ro-mantic behavior may be less clearly linked to their parenting relationships because patterns ofinterpersonal processes are not yet ﬁrmly established. There is a good deal of evidence that adolescent parents are likely to experience difﬁcultiesmeeting the challenges of parenthood. Compared to adult mothers, adolescent mothers havebeen found to be (a) less patient and emotionally attentive with their children (Brooks-Gunn& Chase-Landsdale, 1995; Flanagan, Coll, Andreozzi, & Riggs, 1995; Stevens-Simon, Nelli-gan, & Kelly, 2001), (b) less verbally interactive and responsive (Barratt & Roach, 1995;Brooks-Gunn & Furstenberg, 1986), and (c) more likely to become hostile and/or overly re-strictive with their children (Berlin, Brady-Smith, & Brooks-Gunn, 2002; East, Matthews, &Felice, 1994; Osofsky, Hann, & Peebles, 1993). Compared to adolescent mothers, less is knownabout the parenting behavior of adolescent fathers, but there is some indication that they alsohave trouble meeting the challenges of parenthood (Lerman, 1993; Marsiglio & Cohan, 2000).Speciﬁcally, previous research has indicated that compared to adult fathers, adolescent fathersare at higher risk for becoming disengaged from their children (Furstenberg & Weiss, 2000;Johnson, 2001). Generally, these ﬁndings suggest that many adolescent parents have not acquired the in-terpersonal skills needed to negotiate a positive partnership or consistently attend to the emo-tional needs of a small child (Lamb & Elster, 1985; Moore & Florsheim, 2001). Moreover,many adolescent parents approach parenthood beset with a number of additional problemsincluding histories of delinquent behavior, academic failure, and depression (Deal & Holt,1998; Elster, Lamb, Peters, Kahn, & Tavare, 1987; Fagot, Pears, Capaldi, Crosby, & Leve,1998; Ketterlinus, Lamb, & Nitz, 1991; Lerman, 1993). There also is some evidence thatadolescent parents are less able to establish a secure relational context for raising children(Cutrona, Hessling, Bacon, & Russell, 1998; Larson, Hussey, Gillmore, & Gilchrist, 1996;Nitz, Ketterlinus, & Brandt, 1995). STUDY GOALSPrevious research on the association between couples’ relations and parenting is limited in twoimportant respects. First, most couples researchers have not included measures of a couple’ssubjective (self-reported) relationship and observation-based measures of the relationship inthe same set of analyses. Including both methods may be useful in differentiating the inﬂuenceof the relational “climate” from the more speciﬁc interpersonal behaviors noted during obser-vational analyses (Kanoy, Ulku-Steiner, Cox, & Burchinal, 2003). Interpersonal process vari-ables may be more directly linked to the skills of individual partners, which we regard asimportant components of the relational climate and potentially important targets for interven-tion. Second, much of the research on couples and parenting focuses on traditional familysystems, overlooking important subgroups of parents such as adolescent parents and separatedcouples. Related to this, the traditionally narrow focus on mothers as caregivers has contributedto a general lack of research on men as parents. In recent years, this has begun to change, andseveral family researchers have included fathers in their study designs examining links betweencouple’s relations, mothering, and fathering (e.g., Cox et al., 1999; Feldman, 2000; Katz &Gottman, 1996; Katz & Woodin, 2003; Van Egeren, 2003; von Klitzing, Simoni, Amseler, &Burgin, 1999). Nonetheless, most of what we know about fathers is not necessarily relevant toadolescent fathers, and nearly all research on adolescent parents focuses on adolescent mothers
Adolescent Coparenting Couples ● 537alone (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1998). As a step toward addressing these gaps in the literature,this study was designed to examine links between distinct components of couples’ relationsand subsequent parenting behavior among a sample of adolescent mothers and fathers. Researchers studying the development of parenting practices cannot avoid the question ofhow to differentiate positive (growth-promoting) parenting behavior from negative parentingbehavior. Research on the association between parenting behavior and child outcomes suggeststhat the deﬁnition of positive parenting depends on the developmental stage of the child aswell as the context of the parenting (Deater-Deckard & Dodge, 1996; Lerner et al., 2002). Inthis study, we take the position that for toddlers, positive parenting includes encouragement,nurturance, and moderate doses of structure when needed (Edwards, 1995). Conversely, neg-ative parenting includes high levels of intrusive, coercive control and/or inappropriate expres-sions of hostility. This deﬁnition of positive parenting is consistent with several closely relateddeﬁnitions articulated by previous theorists and researchers (Barber & Harmon, 2002; Baum-rind, 1993; Bowlby, 1980; Gershoff, 2002; Webster-Stratton, 1998). Interestingly, family re-searchers tend to deﬁne positive partnering and positive parenting in similar terms. That is,positively engaged couples achieve a workable balance between encouraging one another’sautonomy while providing large doses of care and support. By deﬁnition, negatively engaged(at-risk) couples are more interpersonally coercive or hostile. Note that for some high-risk families, the mere presence or absence of the father is onecomponent of parenting (Lin & McLanahan, 2001). Because disengagement is a relativelyfrequent outcome for adolescent fathers, we also were interested in whether relationship qualityand partner behavior would predict whether couples remained engaged in coparenting theirchild. In summary, this study was designed to test two hypotheses related to couples’ relationsand parental functioning. First, it was hypothesized that couples who perceived their relation-ship as generally positive would be more likely to make a positive adjustment to parenthood,deﬁned in terms of continued coparenting (or continued paternal engagement) and low levelsof hostile controlling parenting. Second, it was hypothesized that expectant mothers and fatherswho exhibited lower levels of hostile controlling behavior with their partners also would exhibitlower levels of hostile controlling behavior with their children. METHODParticipantsParticipants included a total of 36 expectant couples with no previous children (N 72).Expectant adolescent couples (i.e., both partners 19 years of age or younger) were recruitedthrough a clinic providing prenatal care to pregnant teens. The recruitment rate for expectantadolescent couples was approximately 70%. At the time of the interview, the mean age ofexpectant fathers was 17.7 years (SD 1.2), and the mean age of expectant mothers was 16.4years (SD 0.9). The average number of weeks pregnant was 14.0 (SD 8.9). None of thecouples reported that the pregnancy was planned; however, 30.6% indicated they had neverused birth control. All pregnant teens had decided to keep their babies. This study included a primarily White (81.9%) sample. One participant self-identiﬁed asa Paciﬁc Islander, and 10 participants identiﬁed themselves as Hispanic. According to theHollingshead Four-Factor Index of Social Status (Hollingshead, 1975), the mean SES of thesample (based primarily on information about parents’ occupation and education) was in the
538 ● P. Florsheim and A. Smithmiddle-class range. A total of 67.8% of the adolescents in the sample fell into this categorywhile 8.9% were characterized as upper class and 23.4% as lower class (i.e., machine operators,semiskilled workers, menial service workers). A previously published article, based solely on data collected from this sample prior tochildbirth, provides additional information regarding differences between this expectant sampleand a matched sample of their nonexpectant peers (Moore & Florsheim, 2001). The presentstudy was designed as a follow-up to examine whether some of the relationship problems notedin the expectant couples (and reported previously) predicted problems in parenting. At follow-up, parenting data were collected from 27 mothers and 20 fathers. Follow-updata on relationship status were collected from 35 couples. We were able to collect the dataregarding relationship status over the phone from one or the other partner. Twenty-three coupleswere romantically involved, 4 couples were coparenting but not romantically involved, and 8couples were disengaged (i.e., neither coparenting nor romantically involved). None of themothers had become completely disengaged from parenting. Eleven couples were married atfollow-up, and another 2 were cohabiting but not married. Tests were run to examine demographic differences (age, SES, ethnicity, and gender)between participants who participated in follow-up data collection and those who did notparticipate because they had moved out of state or were unwilling to remain involved. Thereare no differences in age or SES between those who remained in the study and those whowithdrew. White participants were signiﬁcantly more likely than Latino participants to partic-ipate in the follow-up, (2, N 72) 8.71, p .05, and mothers were marginally more likelythan fathers to participate in the follow-up, (1, N 72) 3.03, p .08.MeasuresQuality of couples’ relationship. The Quality of Relationship Inventory (QRI; Pierce, 1996)was used to assess participants’ perceived relations with partners at Time 1. The QRI is a 25-item self-report measure designed to assess levels of support, conﬂict, and depth in dyadicrelationships. The QRI has been found to have high internal consistency and test-retest reli-ability, and high levels of construct, convergent, and discriminate validity (Pierce, 1996; Pierce,Sarason, Sarason, Solky-Butzel, & Nagle, 1997). The QRI consists of questions such as “Towhat extent can you trust this person not to hurt your feelings?” and “To what extent can youcount on this person to help if you were in a crisis situation, even if he or she had to go outof his or her way to help you?” These questions are rated on scale of 1 (not at all) to 3 (a lot).Higher scores on the QRI indicate more positive appraisals of the relationship. In this sample,QRI scores ranged from 41 (describing a negative relationship) to 100 (describing a verypositive relationship). The internal consistency of the QRI for this sample was good ( .87for girlfriends’ QRI; .91 for boyfriends’ QRI).Observed interpersonal behavior. At Time 1, prior to childbirth, couples participated in a 10-minute, videotaped conﬂict task in which they were asked to discuss and resolve a recentconﬂict or disagreement. After explaining the task, the interviewers left the room to allow theadolescents to talk. At follow-up, approximately 2 years after childbirth, each young parentwas asked to participate (separately) in a 10-minute, structured-play activity with his or herchild. More speciﬁcally, parents were asked to help their child put together puzzles and thenread together two storybooks. Videotaped couple and parent – child interactions were coded using an observational cod-ing scheme based on the Structural Analysis of Social Behavior (SASB; Benjamin, 1974). TheSASB model is based on two dimensions of behavior, interdependence and afﬁliation, distrib-
Adolescent Coparenting Couples ● 539TABLE 1. Gender Differences in Quality of Relationship Scores, Partners’ Hostile Control BehaviorScores, and Parents’ Hostile Control Behavior Scores Male Female Paired Mean (SD) Mean (SD) t test dfQuality of Relationship Inventory scores 76.81 (11.21) 78.72 (11.21) 1.21 35Hostile Control Behavior toward partner 206.09 (214.93) 102.62 (189.80) 2.70* 35Hostile Control Behavior toward child 108.15 (120.75) 167.71 (150.74) 2.40* 19*p .05.uted across three circumplex surfaces.1 The afﬁliation dimension of the SASB model describesthe degree of warmth and/or hostility in any given interpersonal exchange, ranging from attack(extreme hostility) to love (extreme warmth). The interdependence dimension of the SASBmodel is used to describe the degree of enmeshment (control or submit) and/or differentiation(autonomy giving or autonomy taking) observed in a given behavior. The process of SASB coding a unit of interpersonal behavior involves three steps. First,the coder decides whether a behavior is self-focused, other-focused, or both self- and other-focused. Once the focus of the behavior has been determined, its degree of interdependence israted on a scale of 9 (highly enmeshed; e.g., controlling or submitting) to 9 (highly differ-entiated; e.g., autonomy taking or giving). Finally, the degree of afﬁliation is rated on a scaleof 9 (extremely hostile) to 9 (extremely warm). Based on these three coding decisions, abehavior can be represented either in terms of a speciﬁc category (“cluster” code; for details,see Florsheim & Benjamin, 2001) or a set of dimensional scores (e.g., control, autonomy,warmth, and hostility). For the purposes of this study, we focused on the rate of hostile controlling behaviors(between partners and among parents) relative to other forms of interpersonal behavior de-scribed by the SASB model. As indicated earlier, the use of hostile control has been found tobe problematic across family contexts and is often the focus of clinical interventions for at-risk couples and parents. SASB codes were used to create a summary score designed to indexhostile controlling behavior while taking into account other relevant behaviors, includingwarmth and autonomy (give and take). The formula for this summary score is as follows: Hostile Control Behavior Score Interpersonal Hostility (Hostility Warmth) Interpersonal Control (Control Autonomy Give and Take) Using this formula, four summary scores were created: (a) expectant mothers’ hostilecontrolling behavior toward her partner, (b) expectant fathers’ hostile controlling behaviortoward his partner, (c) mothers’ hostile controlling behavior toward her child, and (d) fathers’hostile controlling behavior toward his child. Because couples tended to engage in more warmautonomous behaviors than hostile controlling behaviors, mean scores at both Time 1 andfollow-up were in the negative range (see Table 1). Scores that are more negative (lower)represent lower rates of hostile controlling behavior and higher rates of warm autonomousbehaviors.1The term circumplex refers to a model which has the mathematical properties of a circle (or a diamond shape), inthat its structure is determined by its vertical and horizontal axes (Benjamin, 1974).
540 ● P. Florsheim and A. SmithCoder training. In this study, we used the SASB-Composite Observational Coding Scheme(SASB-COMP; Florsheim & Benjamin, 2001), which is based on the same principles as theoriginal microanalytic SASB coding scheme but developed to simplify the coding process(Florsheim & Benjamin, 2001; Moore & Florsheim, 2001). The speciﬁc steps in composite coding are as follows: 1. The coder watches the videotaped interaction in 2-min intervals, focusing on one mem- ber of the dyad at a time. In cases of interruptions or interactants “talking over each other,” each member’s speciﬁc verbal and nonverbal behavior (including the behavior reﬂecting the interruption) is coded separately for the appropriate interval of interaction. 2. The coder tallies speciﬁc SASB codes, and these tallies are converted into frequency scores. 3. For each 10-min section of interaction, the coder calculates a “composite” score based on the frequency of codes given for each SASB cluster. These scores were then con- verted into hostile control scores using the formula described earlier. Videotaped discussion tasks were rated by coders who had received a minimum of 75 hrof training in the original SASB system and an additional 20 hr of training with the SASB-COMP. All coders attained a criterion level of reliability with both the original SASB codingscheme (Cohen’s weighted 0.7) and the SASB-COMP (Intraclass correlation .80).Interrater reliability for SASB-COMP (assessed by intraclass correlation) ranged from .80 to.95 (M .90). Intraclass correlation is designed to assess for the rate of agreement betweentwo or more raters on a continuous scale or interval data while controlling for any systematicbias among raters (Shrout & Fleiss, 1979; Streiner, 1995). RESULTSPreliminary AnalysesPrior to conducting our primary analyses, data were examined for outliers, skew, and kurtosis.All variables were close to being normally distributed. Several preliminary analyses were run.First, we examined differences in relationship variables between participants who dropped outof the study and participants who remained in the study at follow-up. Parents who participatedin the follow-up had higher QRI scores at Time 1 than parents who were unable or unwillingto participate in the follow-up, t(69) 2.13, p .05, two-tailed. There were no differencesin the hostile control scores between those parents who participated in the follow-up and thosewho did not. Paired t tests were used to examine gender differences in quality of relationship scores,partnering behavior scores, and parenting behavior. Results reported in Table 1 indicate thatexpectant fathers engaged in less hostile controlling behavior than their partners, t(35) 2.70,p .05. At follow-up, it was observed that mothers engaged in less hostile controlling behaviortoward their children than fathers, t(20) 2.40, p .05. Pearson zero-order correlations were used to examine the associations between demo-graphic factors (age, SES, marital status at Time 1 and follow-up) and relationship/parentingvariables (QRI and hostile control scores). Results indicated that QRI scores at Time 1 werepositively associated with marital status at follow-up (r .39, p .05, two-tailed). Pearson zero-order correlations also were used to examine the bivariate associations amongand between IVs and DVs. Complete results are outlined in Table 2. As expected, we found
Adolescent Coparenting Couples ● 541TABLE 2. Correlations Among Primary Variables (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)1. Expectant Mother’s QRI score .35* .64*** .39** .89*** .13 .23 .39**2. Expectant Mother’s Hostile .39** .36* .41** .42** .48*** .09 Control (toward partner)3. Expectant Father’s QRI score .36* .91*** .34* .41* .49***4. Expectant Father’s Hostile .30 .39* .49* .02 Control (toward partner)5. Couples QRI score .33* .29 .47** (combined)6. Mother’s Hostile Control .39* .17 (toward child)7. Father’s Hostile Control NA (toward child)8. Still romantically involved at follow up (1 yes)Note: NA not applicable.*p .05. **p .01. ***p .001, one-tailed. As indicated in the text, ns vary between 20 and 36.that expectant mothers’ rate of hostile controlling behavior was positively associated withexpectant fathers’ rate of hostile controlling behavior. Expectant fathers’ and mothers’ QRIscores were negatively correlated with both fathers’ and mothers’ hostile controlling behaviorat Time 1, indicating that the high QRI scores were associated with less hostile controllingbehavior within couples. Pearson correlations also indicated that expectant mothers’ hostilecontrolling behavior toward their partners was positively associated with subsequent hostilecontrolling parenting behavior. Expectant fathers’ hostile controlling behavior toward theirpartners also was associated with subsequent hostile controlling parenting behavior. Addition-ally, expectant mothers’ hostile controlling behavior at Time 1 was positively associated withtheir partners’ hostile controlling parenting behavior, indicating that pregnant adolescents whowere more hostile controlling with their partners tended to have partners who were more hostilecontrolling with their children. A similar trend was observed in the association between ex-pectant father’s hostile controlling behavior at Time 1 and his partner’s parenting behavior atfollow-up. Moreover, we found that mothers’ hostile controlling parenting behavior was pos-itively correlated with fathers’ hostile controlling parenting behavior.Primary analyses. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses were used to test the hypothesisthat couples’ quality of relationship (QRI scores) and partners’ hostile controlling behaviorscores would predict hostile controlling parent behavior scores at follow-up. Because partners’QRI scores were highly correlated with each other and correlated with outcome scores (asindicated in Table 2), expectant mothers’ and fathers’ QRI scores were combined for theprimary analyses. Separate analyses were run to predict young mother’s and young father’sparenting behavior, and results are reported in Table 3. Total QRI scores were entered in theﬁrst step of the regression analyses, and both partners’ hostile control scores were entered inthe second step. Results indicated that expectant fathers and mothers who engaged in more hostile con-trolling behavior toward their partners engaged in more hostile controlling behavior towardtheir children. Expectant fathers whose partners had high hostile control behavior scores (at
542 ● P. Florsheim and A. SmithTABLE 3. Couples’ Relationship Predictors of Parenting Behavior Mothers’ Hostile Fathers’ Hostile Control Behavior Controlling Behavior Score at Follow-Up Score at Follow-Up (N 27) (N 20) Step B SE of B B SE of BStep 1 Couples’ QRI score at T1 1.57 1.58 .20 1.73 1.33 .29 R2 .038 .085Step 2 Couples’ QRI score at T1 0.39 1.80 .05 1.12 1.53 .19 Subjects’ Hostile Control 0.31 0.16 .42* 0.20 0.13 .41* Score at T1 Partners’ Hostile Control 0.03 .176 .05 0.26 0.10 .49* Score at T1 R2 .176 .428**p .05, one-tailed.Time 1) were signiﬁcantly more likely to engage in higher rates of hostile controlling withtheir children at follow-up. By contrast, mothers’ parenting behaviors were not associated withtheir partners’ hostile controlling behavior.2 Hierarchical logistic regression analysis was used to test the hypothesis that couples’ QRIscores and partners’ hostile controlling behavior scores would predict paternal disengagementat follow-up. Again, couples’ QRI scores were entered in the ﬁrst step, and partners’ hostilecontrol scores were entered in the second step. Results indicated that lower couples’ QRI scorespredicted paternal disengagement at the 2-year follow-up, such that couples with higher QRIscores were more likely to remain engaged in coparenting, (3, 35) 11.55, p .01. Resultsare reported in Table 4. DISCUSSIONThe primary purpose of this study was to clarify links between couples’ relations and parentingbehavior in a group of young mothers and fathers. As indicated in the introduction, previousresearch with married adults has indicated that the quality of a couples’ relationship, assessedusing both self-report measures and observational measures, has been linked to the quality ofparenting behaviors (Krishnakumar & Buehler, 2000). Moreover, there is some indication thatthe link between marital relations and parenting is strongest for fathers, perhaps suggesting2 It seemed plausible that the association between expectant mothers’ hostile control scores at Time 1 and paternalbehavior at follow-up was confounded by the association between fathers’ and mothers’ parenting scores. To test this,we ran another multiple regression analysis predicting fathers’ hostile control scores from (a) girlfriends’ hostile controlscores (to partner at Time 1), (b) boyfriends’ hostile control scores (to partner at Time 1), and (c) mothers’ hostilecontrol scores. This analysis tested whether the association between a girlfriend’s behavior toward her partner and hissubsequent paternal behavior would remain statistically signiﬁcant after controlling for the association between ma-ternal and paternal behavior. Results indicated that the maternal-behavior scores did not predict paternal-behaviorscores ( .12), and the addition of maternal behavior to the regression equation did not diminish the associationbetween girlfriends’ hostile control scores (Time 1) and paternal hostile control scores at follow-up.
Adolescent Coparenting Couples ● 543TABLE 4. Relationship Predictors of Paternal Disengagement Disengaged (n 8) versus Coparenting (n 27) B SE Exp (B) WaldStep 1 Couples’ QRI score at T1 .075 .029 1.08** 6.93Step 2 Couples’ QRI score at T1 .084 .032 1.09** 7.01 Expectant Fathers’ Hostile Control Behavior .002 .003 1.02 0.06 Score at T1 Expectant Mothers’ Hostile Control Behavior .001 .003 1.01 0.52 Score at T1**p .01.that for men the roles of coparenting partner and parent are more entwined (Belsky et al.,1996). Results of this study lend general support to the “spill over” hypothesis, which has beenpreviously tested with adult couples (Crockenberg & Langrock, 2001; Heinicke & Guthrie,1992; Katz & Gottman, 1996). Speciﬁcally, ﬁndings indicated that how expectant adolescentpartners behaved toward each other was partially predictive of how they engaged with theiryoung children. At the bivariate and multivariate level of analyses, hostile controlling behaviorbetween partners was associated with hostile controlling parenting behavior for both mothersand fathers. This suggests that for adolescent couples, interpersonal process measured prior tochildbirth may be a useful index of parenting risk, which mirrors previous research with adultcouples. Moreover, the medium to large effects obtained in this study are comparable to thosereported among studies of adult coparenting couples, as indicated in Krishnakumar and Bueh-ler’s (2000) meta-analytic review. Results revealed the unexpected ﬁnding that the quality of the expectant mother’s behaviortoward her partner predicted paternal behavior at follow-up. In other words, the fathers in ourstudy seemed to treat their children in a manner that reﬂected how they were treated by theirpartners. This ﬁnding complements the results of a previous study of adult couples indicatingthat a husband’s hostile behavior toward his wife predicted her negative behavior toward theirchildren (Katz & Gottman, 1996) and supports the idea that a hostile interpersonal climatebetween partners is likely to spill over into the parent – child relationship. It also suggests thatsome of the spill over is indirect and may be overlooked, underscoring the importance ofconsidering the subtle and complex relationships among family subsystems. This particularﬁnding seems consistent with previous research suggesting that compared to mothers, fathersmay be more strongly affected by the quality of their relations with their coparenting partners(Belsky et al., 1996; Cox & Paley, 1997; Lindahl et al., 1997; Parke, 2002; Van Egeren, 2003). It also was found that those adolescent couples who reported higher levels of satisfactionwith their relationship prior to childbirth were more likely to remain together, either as copar-ents or as romantic partners. As is usually the case with adult couples, when parental disen-gagement occurred, it was the father who became disengaged from parenting. The link betweengeneral relationship quality (as indexed by the combined QRI scores) and paternal disengage-ment suggests that couples who are already reporting dissatisfaction with their relationshipprior to childbirth are at risk for not being able to work through their differences across thetransition to parenthood. Based on the data collected in this study, we are not able to clarifythe process through which these fathers became disengaged, which is an issue worthy of further
544 ● P. Florsheim and A. Smithstudy. Moreover, we do not know how some couples, who seemed to have relationship prob-lems at Time 1, were able to resolve or set aside their differences and remain together ascoparents. Understanding the subgroup of couples who function well as parents despite initialrelationship difﬁculties is important to the development of effective preventive interventionprograms (Florsheim & Ngu, 2005). This study builds on previous research on the transition to parenting in two importantways. First, we measured both perceived and observed couples’ relations in an effort to developa more comprehensive understanding of the expected link between partnering and parenting.Results indicated that couples’ general relationship quality was only moderately associatedwith partnering-behavior scores, supporting our expectation that different methods of assess-ment would tap into distinct features of couples’ relationship functioning. Results also indicatedthat speciﬁc aspects of couples’ relationships differentially predicted parenting behavior amongmothers and fathers, underscoring the value of using different assessment methods. Second, we focused on adolescent couples in an effort to examine the generalizability ofthe spill over effect to an at-risk group of young parents. Testing whether current theories ofparenthood, which are largely based on research with adult, middle-class couples, generalizeto nontraditional families is important because (a) many children are being raised in nontrad-itional families and (b) we need a knowledge base for developing preventive interventionsdesigned to support coparenting across the wide spectrum of family circumstances (Cowan &Cowan, 2002). As indicated in the introduction, most of the previous research on adolescent parents hasfocused on adolescent mothers only (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1998; Elster & Lamb, 1982;Moore & Brooks-Gunn, 2002). Our efforts to include both parents were fruitful in the sensethat ﬁndings revealed several interesting differences between young mothers and fathers. First,we found that expectant mothers tended to engage in higher rates of hostile controlling withtheir partners than did expectant fathers. By contrast, we found that mothers engaged in lowerrates of hostile controlling parenting behavior than fathers. This set of ﬁndings raises someinteresting questions about the relationship between gender, role, and interpersonal process;female participants were more hostile and controlling than their partners in one context andless hostile and controlling in another. It seems possible that higher levels of hostile controlling behavior among the expectantmothers may be related to gender differences associated with pregnancy, including hormonalupsurges and stress associated with the anticipation of motherhood (Susman et al., 1999). Thishypothesis is consistent with previous ﬁndings, using this same dataset, that expectant adoles-cent mothers were observed to be more controlling toward their partners (boyfriends) than werea matched cohort of nonexpectant adolescent girlfriends, after controlling for differences inpredisposing psychological risk factors (Moore & Florsheim, 2001). The ﬁnding that motherswere more warmly engaged with their children than fathers also is consistent with previousresearch on gender-based parenting differences among adult couples (Cowan & Cowan, 2002;Cox & Paley, 1997; Lamb, 2000; Parke, 2002). Several family researchers have recently suggested that after years of research indicatingthat positive partnering predicts positive parenting, it is time to develop interventions for fa-cilitating improvement in coparenting relations among high-risk couples (Cowan & Cowan,2002; Krishnakumar & Buehler, 2000; Margolin et al., 2001). For example, it seems plausiblethat some couples who engage in high rates of hostile controlling behavior would beneﬁt froman intervention designed to help each partner express his (and her) feelings more positivelyand in a manner that is respectful of the other partner’s autonomy. Although we still knowrelatively little about how and when to intervene with nontraditional coparenting couples (Lin
Adolescent Coparenting Couples ● 545& McLanahan, 2001), these results suggest that efforts to improve the interpersonal skills ofexpectant adolescent couples also may facilitate paternal engagement and more positive par-enting behavior. It may be especially useful to deliver such services during the prenatal periodbefore fathers begin to disengage and before the chaos that accompanies the transition toparenthood begins. A preventive intervention program designed to improve coparenting rela-tions of pregnant teens and their partners, based in part on the results of this study, currentlyis being tested in our lab in Salt Lake City. Information about this program is available uponrequest from the ﬁrst author. Despite the value of our longitudinal, multimethod approach to the study of adolescentcoparenting couples, our small sample size raises questions about the generalizability of theﬁndings reported. While our decision to focus on a primarily White, middle-class sample ofadolescent parents allowed for a cleaner comparison with previous research on adult coparents(which has focused on White, middle-class couples), it also raises questions about the gener-alizability of ﬁndings to African American and Latino adolescent parents. These limitationsunderscore the importance of conducting research with more diverse samples of nontraditionalparents. Such research is likely to reveal additional twists in how particular groups of couplesnegotiate the transition to parenthood and to provide clues about how we might help the largenumber of couples struggling to coparent outside the context of the traditional nuclear family(Cowan & Cowan, 2002). REFERENCESBarber, B.K., & Harmon, E.L. (2002). Violating the self: Parental psychological control of children and adolescents. In B.K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents (pp. 15– 52).Barratt, M.S., & Roach, M.A. (1995). Early interactive processes: Parenting by adolescent and adult single mothers. Infant Behavior and Development, 18, 97–109.Baumrind, D. (1993). The average expectable environment is not good enough: A response to Scarr. Child Development, 64, 1299– 1317.Belsky, J., & Hsieh, K.H. (1998). Patterns of marital change during the early childhood years: Parent personality, coparenting, and division-of-labor correlates. Journal of Family Psychology, 12, 511– 528.Belsky, J., Putnam, S., & Crnic, K. (1996). Coparenting, parenting, and early emotional development. In J.P. McHale & P.A. Cowan (Eds.), Understanding how family-level dynamics affect children’s development: Studies of two-parent families. New directions for child development (pp. 45–55). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Benjamin, L.S. (1974). Structural analysis of social behavior. Psychological Review, 81, 392–425.Berlin, L.J., Brady-Smith, C., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2002). Links between childbearing age and observed maternal behaviors with 14-month-olds in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project [Special issue]. Infant Mental Health Journal, 23, 104–129.Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Vol. 3. Loss: Sadness and depression. New York: Basic Books.Brooks-Gunn, J., & Chase-Landsdale, P.L. (1995). Adolescent parenting. In M.H. Bornstein (Ed.), Hand- book of parenting: Status and social conditions of parenting (pp. 113–149). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Brooks-Gunn, J., & Furstenberg, F. (1986). The children of adolescent mothers: Physical, academic and psychological outcomes. Developmental Review, 6, 224–251.Coley, R.L., & Chase-Lansdale, P.L. (1998). Adolescent pregnancy and parenthood: Recent evidence and future directions. American Psychologist, 53, 152–166.
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