Sharing Parenting Duties May Increase Conflict


Just about every parent of young children wishes for help with parenting duties, but sometimes it is hard to give up control. When parents attempt to share caregiving for their preschool children, researchers find that they may experience more conflict than those in which the mother is the primary caregiver.

Mothers May Feel Conflict When Fathers Participate in Primary Caregiving

Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, an associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University, conducted the study when she was a graduate student. Over 100 Midwestern couples with a four-year-old child, most of who were married, filled out questionnaires that asked how often they were involved in caregiving tasks and in play activities with their children.

The researchers then observed the couples 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. Because both tasks are a bit difficult, says Schoppe-Sullivan, parental guidance is required so this gave the researchers the opportunity to detect how much the parents supported each other or undermined each other during co-parenting.

One year later, the couples returned to the laboratory and participated in a similar observed activity.

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Couples had a stronger, more supported co-parenting relationship when the father spent more time playing with the child versus when he participates in caregiving tasks, such as preparing meals for the child or giving baths. The findings held true even when the researchers compared dual and single-income families and when they considered a wide variety of other demographic factors such as education and work hours, family income and the length of the couple’s relationship.


Even though fathers’ involvement in child-rearing has increased over the last few decades, mothers still most often are primary caregivers in the home, even when they work full time. They might experience some ambivalence when allowing fathers to participate in day-to-day activities, the authors say. That may contribute to less supportive co-parenting.

However, it does show that there is not just one way to share parenting duties. “I don’t think this means that for every family, a father being involved in caregiving is a bad thing. But it is not the recipe for all couples,” said Schoppe-Sullivan. “There is more than one path to an effective co-parenting relationship.”

Read: Co-Parenting Provides Stability for Children After Divorce

Women can have the best of both worlds in parenting children with just a few changes, says
Mr. Dad” Armin Brott. First, adjust your standards a bit and realize that no two people will approach a task in exactly the same way. You may feel a child’s clothing should match, but Dad may just be happy the children are dressed appropriately for the weather.

Don’t be a “gatekeeper” and not allow your husband or partner a role in active parenting. Let him develop his own parenting style and remember that not every child has a positive male role model in their lives.

It may also help to redefine certain roles. While older fathers may see housework as women’s work for example, instead, divide tasks according to who is more qualified to do the job. And switch responsibilities every once in a while so that each parent understands the others true importance.

The study was supported in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and published in the journal Developmental Psychology.