Borrowing from a Swiss study, a procedure has been used tolook at how an expectant mother and father will interact with each other and with the baby by videotaping them with a baby doll.
Jeff Grabmeier, writing for the Ohio State University news room, says that researchers videotaped 182 couples in the third trimester of pregnancy while they played with a doll, for five minutes, which they were told represented the infant they were about to have. The researchers than studied how the couple acted and reacted with each other around the doll.
Nine months after the birth, the parents were videotaped again with their new baby. The results showed that the parents acted in much the same way they did with the doll, whether positively or negatively.
“The extent to which couples support or undermine each other’s interactions with the doll predicts their co-parenting behavior a year later,” said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, co-author of the study and professor of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University.
“We saw the same kinds of behaviors between parents when they were interacting with their baby that we saw a year earlier with the doll.”
The couples were participating in the New Parents Project, co-led by Schoppe-Sullivan, to investigate how dual-earner couples adjust to becoming parents, says Kathleen Lees of Science World Report .
The study was published in the August 2014 Journal of Family Psychology. Researchers hope that these findings, along with those in the future, will help supply intervention methods that could help change unhealthy behaviors in families.
Lauren Altenburger, a doctoral student in human sciences at Ohio State, said the results have valuable implications, reported Rick Nauert of Psych Central.
“Co-parenting has consistently been linked to child outcomes. When parents fight and undermine each other’s parenting, the child suffers,” she said.
“If we can identify couples who may have problems with their co-parenting before their baby is even born, we may be able to intervene.”
One part of the study asked each individual to measure their couple relationship through a questionnaire which included rating their overall happiness in their relationship. The couples were observed by interns who rated their interactions with each other when the doll was not present. The results showed that how a couple “co-parented” the doll contributed unique information about how well they would co-parent their own baby.
The Ohio State University New Parents Project‘s (NPP) website explains that it exists to “examine the relationship between parents, and the relationship between parents and their children”. In all cases, the mother and the father must both work. The reasons for this are:
• Families in which both parents work are becoming more prevalent.
• Dual-earner parents may be more vulnerable to the stresses that come with being a parent.
• Couples who both work are on more equal terms as far as time and money constraints are concerned.
Participants need to be first-time parents because the project looks at the transition to parenthood.
NPP recruits cohabiting couples because very little has been studied on this type of relationship, yet the 2001 US Census estimates that there are nearly 5.5 million cohabiting couples in the country, more than a 1000% increase since 1970. Also, parenting roles and styles are shown to be different between cohabiting and married couples.