In families where dads play more with their young children, couples tend to be more supportive of each other's parenting styles.
But couples who look after their preschool children together may have more disagreements than couples in which mom is the main caregiver, researchers report.
The Ohio State University study included 112 Midwestern couples with a four-year-old child. The couples completed questionnaires that asked them how often each parent played with the child and how often each parent was involved in caretaking activities, such as giving the child a bath.
The researchers then observed each couple for 20 minutes while they helped their child complete two tasks: drawing a picture of the family and using a toy building set to make a house.
'Findings are surprising'
The study found that couples had a stronger, more supportive co-parenting relationship when the father spent more time playing with their child. However, couples tended to display less supportive and more undermining co-parenting behaviour if the father participated more in care-giving.
The findings surprised the researchers and may be disappointing for people who believe care-giving should be shared equally by mothers and fathers, said study co-author Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, an associate professor of human development and family science.
However, the study just shows that there is more than one way to share parenting duties.
"You can certainly have a solid co-parenting relationship without sharing care-giving responsibilities equally," Schoppe-Sullivan said. The study appears in the journal Developmental Psychology.
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