Does Shared Responsibility Lead to Less Parental Conflict?

Mothers and fathers have unique parenting responsibilities. Some areas of care, such as breastfeeding, can only be performed by mothers. Fathers, on the other hand, may feel an innate responsibility to foster moral values in their children. But most child-rearing activities, such as feeding, changing, and bathing, can be done by either parent. Likewise, cognitive activities such as reading, stimulating, and teaching can be accomplished by either parent. Some research has suggested that the long-term effects of a father’s engagement with his child are more vulnerable to social and relational influences than the effects of a mother’s engagement. But until recently, few studies have fully examined this dynamic. To explore this more, Jay Fagan of the School of Social Work at Temple University in Pennsylvania recently led a study that looked at how parent relational conflict affected paternal engagement and how paternal engagement predicted later parental conflict.

Fagan gathered data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey Birth Cohort and assessed the family constructs and behaviors of 3,600 participants. He evaluated how much paternal physical engagement and cognitive engagement existed during the first several years of the children’s lives and looked at how that affected later parental conflict. He found that when fathers were heavily involved in the physical care of their children at nine months of age, conflict between mothers and fathers increased as children reached 4 years old. However, when fathers were more involved in cognitive activities with their young children, the level of parental conflict decreased. Fagan believes that mothers and fathers often disagree on how children should be bathed, fed, and tended to physically. This difference in opinion could increase tensions that lead to later conflict.

Cognitive involvement, on the other hand, is an activity that parents often agree on. When fathers engage in mentally stimulating activities with their children, they are more likely to achieve expectations set by mothers, thus decreasing the chance of future relational conflict. Although this study looked at only one area of parental conflict—namely, disagreements about child rearing—other sensitive parenting topics may influence parenting harmony and should be examined. Fagan hopes that the results of this research underscore the importance of early paternal involvement and its impact on children and parents. “Our findings suggest that programs that focus on increasing fathers’ engagement in cognitively stimulating activities may also lead to less coparenting conflict between mothers and fathers,” he said.

Fagan, J., Cabrera, N. (2012). Longitudinal and reciprocal associations between coparenting conflict and father engagement. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029998

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  • Percy


    October 24th, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    I can see how this would play out because I think I have lived out the same play in my home! lol
    My wife and I are always on the same page about the things that are important to do with the kids- play time, read, eating and sleep schedule, etc- but when it comes to things like how to bathe the kids or when and what clothes to wear, well I have to say that can lead to some HUGE knock down drag out arguments!
    we always get over it pretty fast, but it can cause a little rift for a while. So if the basic foundations of the marriage isn’t solid, this could really start to tear it apart, little nit picky things like this.

  • Patricia


    October 24th, 2012 at 5:11 PM

    shared responsibility = happy home
    just my opinion ;)

  • delilah


    October 25th, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    I realize that I am probably in the minority, but I am one of those moms who would just rather do something myself over watiching my husband fumble and do it wrong. Doing it a way other than the way that I do it makes me more incensed than just having to do everything myself. I realize that I am kind of a control freak and I am willing to acknowledge that while I think that my husband is willing to accept that. For me I think that there would be far more arguments and conflict of he did go out on a limb and do something in the house that did not match my personal standards. Sorry, that’s just the way I am.

  • jerome


    October 25th, 2012 at 4:33 AM

    never is it possible to have agreements in every little thing. but an ideal set up would be where the husband and wife would share the responsibilities WITHOUT a rigid set up, like this HAS to be done by the wife or that HAS to be done by the husband. flexibility and clear communication can help avoid a lot of conflicts.

  • TOBY


    October 25th, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Don’t you think that a lot of this has to do with the strength of the relationship to begin with?

    Issues over things like this don’t start when you have children. Maybe the grow and get a little worse but you can’t be serious of you think that the underlying issues weren’t always there to begin with.

  • Emma


    October 26th, 2012 at 12:40 AM

    I hate it when they say a certain thing is the mom’s job.They never say anything such as dad’s job but so many baby tasks get labelled as Mom’s job.I think that is discrimination right there. If both are equal parents then why can’t the equivalent be shown in raising kids!

  • cayla r

    cayla r

    October 26th, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    shared responsibilities is the way to go.its just not fair to burden one parent with all the responsibilities while the other does nothing.also the child will learn more and newer things from two individuals rather than helps bonding between the couple and also helps the family connect with each other as a team in the future too.

  • Riley


    October 26th, 2012 at 2:41 PM

    I saw my mom always doing literally everything around the house and I often wondered how she could stand it. That is, until the day when she up and left my dad because she was tired of being our mom and his too. I don’t blame her, she had more than she could take, but I can’t help but blame my dad a little because if he had done a little more to pitch in around the house then maybe she would have hung around a little longer.

  • JAKE


    October 27th, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    I don’t know about the general perception but I very much prefer fixed roles.I take the kids to school and bring them back home everyday.I don’t want the wife doing that on the odd day and then take credit for it.Its not fierce competition but I like being appreciated for what I do, just as I am big hearted when it comes to complimenting others.



    October 27th, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    Although both parents have an equal responsibility towards a child I think its better to have the responsibilities divided between the two.It ensures a uniformity for the child and also no delay or confusion on part of the parents.Ensures a scheduled and smooth flow of things in my opinion.

  • Eliza


    October 28th, 2012 at 5:27 AM

    I would much rather have my husband handle the things like playing and reading duty sometimes over doing things like dressing or feeding the baby.

    I don’t know why, these are just things that I feel more comfortable doing and I don’t necessarily think are his strong suits.

    I think that if he tried to get more involved in doing things that I prefer doing that this would cause a little animosity on my part because I guess I like to be in control and kind of dictate how I want the household to run.

  • BetterChildNC


    November 6th, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    Gee Fagan, how about programs that also mature Mothers to enhance their support for Fathers physical care for their children leading to less coparenting conflict since that is the area where you have identified the ‘uneven expectations’?

    “Fagan hopes that the results of this research underscore the importance of early paternal involvement and its impact on children and parents. “Our findings suggest that programs that focus on increasing fathers’ engagement in cognitively stimulating activities may also lead to less coparenting conflict between mothers and fathers,” he said.”

  • BetterChildNC


    November 6th, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    Keep up the great work……you are definitely on the ‘right track’……

  • jacelynne


    January 27th, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    THIs is a good website

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