Inside the Black Box of Interactions Between Programs and Participants: Re-conceptualizing Subgroups for Fatherhood Program Evaluation. H. Relationship with Child's Mother

10/12/2012

The relationship with child's mother category includes measures reflecting the status of the relationship (for example, married or no longer a couple), the amount of warmth or level of conflict within the romantic or platonic relationship, and the quality of the co-parenting partnership specific to raising their child.

Just over half of all reviewed studies (36 of 64) examined the association between the father's relationship with their child's mother and key fatherhood outcomes (see Table VI.1).

·      The vast majority of studies (27 of 36) examined parenting outcomes, and 19 of these studies found a significant association.

·      Seven studies examined father well-being, with three studies finding significant associations.

·      Five studies examined partner relationship outcomes, and four found significant associations.

·      Two studies explored employment outcomes, and one found a significant association.

·      One study looked at child support outcomes, and it found a significant association.

Appendix Table E.8 provides a list of the variables related to fathers' relationship with their child's mother that were examined in each article, and indicates which variables were associated with which outcomes. Findings are summarized below.

1. Predictors of Parenting Outcomes

Negative partner characteristics. Coohey (2000) used multivariate methods to examine whether negative partner characteristics are related to parenting behaviors but did not find a significant association.

Conflict. Two multivariate and longitudinal studies examined the association between level of conflict in the father's relationship with his child's mother and parenting behaviors. Florsheim and colleagues assessed the level of hostility displayed by adolescent expectant fathers toward their partners and found that a higher level of hostility predicted a lower level of nurturing behaviors when their children were 12 to 18 months old. In a study of 7,802 married-couple families from England, Scotland, and Wales, Flouri and colleagues (2003) found that the level of domestic tension measured when the child was 7 years old predicted a greater likelihood of fathers taking the child on outings at age 11; however, this predictor did not predict fathers' involvement in managing the child at age 11 or their interest in the child's education at age 11 or 16. Three multivariate studies also found significant associations between conflict and parenting.

Communication. Rienks and colleagues (2011) did not find a significant association between the presence of communication danger signs and fathers' negative communication with their child's mother and fathers' involvement with their children.

Relationship quality. Eight studies examined whether the quality of fathers' relationships with their child's mother is related to parenting. None of these studies were longitudinal in design but all used multivariate methods. Three of the studies documented a significant association. For example, in a sample of 735 low-income Mexican American fathers, Cabrera and colleagues (2009) found that fathers who reported higher levels of overall happiness in their relationship with their wife or partner demonstrated more displays of affection and engagement with their infants in literacy and caregiving activities. The remaining five studies yielded results that were not statistically significant.

Relationship satisfaction. Two multivariate studies examined whether fathers' relationship satisfaction was associated with parenting but neither one found a significant association.

Quality of co-parental relationship. One multivariate and longitudinal study documented a significant association between coparental relationship status and fathers' involvement with their children (Holmes, 2010). Six multivariate studies also examined the quality of the co-parental relationship as a predictor of parenting and documented significant results. For example, Coley and colleagues (2006) found that among a sample of 239 low-income resident and nonresident fathers, the level of father-mother conflict surrounding parenting was negatively associated with fathers' involvement with their preschool-age children.

Nature or status of relationship. The association between the nature or status of the father's relationship with his child's mother and various parenting outcomes was investigated in nine studies, five of which found a significant link. For example, in a study of 416 Early Head Start teen fathers, Holmes (2010) found that a father's romantic attachment to his child's mother predicted his continued involvement with his child over time. However, the nature of the couple's relationship was confounded with the father's residential status because the romantic involvement variable included couples who were married or cohabitating as well as couples not living together. Thus, it is unclear whether findings would hold equally for married, cohabitating, and non-residential fathers.

2. Predictors of Partner Relationship Outcomes

Conflict. Two multivariate, longitudinal studies examined conflict as a predictor of partner relationship outcomes. In a sample of 600 unmarried couples, Caputo (2006) found that fathers who reported areas of conflict over the amount of time the couple spent together at the time of the child's birth were less likely to be married to their child's mother one year later. In contrast, among a sample 70 adolescent first-time fathers, Florsheim and colleagues (1999) found that the level of hostility expectant fathers displayed toward their pregnant partners was not predictive of the quality of the relationship when the child was between 12 and 18 months of age. Two multivariate studies also documented significant associations between conflict and partner relationship outcomes.

Relationship quality. The quality of the father's relationship with his child's mother was examined in two multivariate, longitudinal studies. In a study of more than 1,600 low-income couples, Kamp Dush and colleagues (2011) found that high relationship quality was significantly associated with a positive co-parental relationship although fathers' supportive co-parenting declined after the couple relationship ended. In contrast, Caputo (2006) did not find a significant association between relationship quality and partner relationship status one year later.

Nature or status of relationship. Only one study examined relationship status as a predictor of partner relationship outcomes using multivariate and longitudinal methods. Kamp Dush and colleagues (2011) found that the nature of the relationship – that is, the initial level of commitment within a couple's relationship (dating, cohabitating, or married) was positively associated with the quality of the co-parenting relationship shortly after the couple broke up, and, to a lesser degree, the quality of the relationship over time. Fathers who had been in committed relationships reported lower levels of supportive co-parenting immediately following the dissolution of the relationship, but the quality of co-parenting relationship eventually increased over time. Two multivariate studies also examined relationship status predictors but neither one found a significant association.

3. Predictors of Employment Outcomes

Relationship quality. In Knoester's study of low-income new fathers, the relationship quality between fathers and mothers was positively associated with an increase in paid labor (Knoester et al. 2007). On the other hand, Bialik (2011) conducted a multivariate study and found no evidence of an association between couples' parenting alliance and employment outcomes.

4. Predictors of Child Support Outcomes

Relationship quality. Nonresident fathers with a positive relationship with their partner were more likely to establish paternity (Castillo 2010); however, they were less likely to establish formal child support orders (Castillo 2009). The author hypothesized that perhaps some parents with a healthy relationship may decide that they would rather not have the child support enforcement system involved in their lives and choose to make informal child support arrangements.

5. Predictors of Father Well-being Outcomes

Conflict. Two multivariate and longitudinal studies examined partner conflict as a predictor of father well-being. Frost (1997) found that fathers' marital concerns during pregnancy predicted fathers' anger and depressive symptoms, but not anxiety, one month after the child's birth, controlling for baseline well-being. In contrast, the level of hostility in the father-mother relationship was not predictive of the father's level of parenting stress one year in Florsheim and colleagues (1999) study of 70 adolescent expectant fathers.

Relationship quality. The association between relationship quality and father well-being was examined in two multivariate and longitudinal studies. In a sample of 2,494 low-income, new fathers, Knoester and colleagues (2007) found that higher father-mother relationship quality at the birth of the child was associated with better physical health, lower depressive symptoms, and reduced substance use one year later. On the other hand, expectant fathers' self-reported marital happiness did not moderate fathers' depressive symptoms, anxiety, or anger following the birth of the child (Frost, 1997).

Quality of co-parental relationship. Only one study examined the association between the quality of the co-parenting relationship and fathers' well-being. In a sample of 127 predominantly African American fathers, Anderson and colleagues (2005) found that co-parenting conflict over how the child is raised was not associated with fathers' depressive symptoms.

Nature or status of relationship. Two multivariate and longitudinal studies examined the association between parents' relationship status and father well-being. Knoester et al. (2007) found that low-income fathers who resided with their child upon but subsequently reported breaking up with their child's mother were more likely to report depressive symptoms. However, changes in relationship status were not associated with fathers' health or substance abuse. Florsheim and colleagues (1999) found that expectant couples' living arrangements did not moderate the effects of various risks factors on fathers' level of parenting stress.

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