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Helen Norman writes about why paternal involvement in childcare is good for family relationships.
What is the impact of shared parenting on relationships?
The answer is yes. Fathers who spend time caring for their babies – on their own – during the first year of parenthood are more likely to be in stable relationships. This was the main finding from our research, which uses the Millennium Cohort Study to examine over 13,000 households in the UK.
Previous studies show that many factors can lead to a relationship breaking down – such as feeling depressed, having a baby or struggling with money. We wanted to explore whether a father’s (lack of) involvement in childcare and domestic work had any effect. Our results show that it does: parental relationships are less likely to break down up to seven years post-birth if the father looks after the baby on his own at least a few times a week during the first year of parenthood. This is the case even when we take account of other factors which may influence relationship breakdown such as household income, attitudes towards divorce and whether or not either parent is in employment.
Some research shows that paternal solo-care has a positive effect on a father’s happiness and wellbeing – traits which are likely to enhance the father-child relationship. Paternal solo-care may also increase the mother’s leisure time, which should have a positive effect on her personal well‐being, work–life balance and therefore relationship satisfaction. Men who do more at home are also actively challenging traditional gender roles by assuming some of the responsibility of running a home and looking after the family, which may make for a happier, more stable relationship.
While our research shows a clear link between fathers doing solo‐childcare and long‐term relationship stability, there are other things that will have an impact – such as the father being amenable and motivated. We do not conclude that greater involvement is a remedy for unstable relationships but our findings suggest that what dads do during the first year of parenthood is important. This also complements our other research findings, which highlight how father involvement in the first year of a child’s life shapes future parenting behaviour.
Our paper: Norman, H., Elliot, M., Fagan, C. (2018) Does fathers’ involvement in childcare and housework affect couples’ relationship stability?, Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 99 (5): 1599-1613 is available to download here
This analysis is part of a wider, Economic and Social Research Council funded project exploring what makes fathers involved in their children’s care led by Dr Helen Norman (Principal Investigator) with co-investigators Professors Mark Elliot and Colette Fagan. The project partner is Working Families. Read more here