STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — New parents are prone to disagreement and disappointment in their newfound capacity, particularly when a new mom holds stronger opinions about a parenting practice than a dad, a new study finds.
Researchers at Penn State recruited 167 mothers and 155 fathers with newborns for an examination into beliefs surrounding coparenting.
Parents were initially asked how they felt they should respond to their child waking at night, followed by self-reporting how well-aligned they felt their coparenting ideology to be with their significant other (e.g., “My partner and I have the same goals for our child.”)
The researchers found that mothers generally had stronger views on how their infant should be tended to than fathers, and this difference in opinion often caused mothers significant distress.
“Setting limits about how to respond to night wakings is stressful, and if there are discrepancies in how mothers and fathers feel they should respond, that can reduce the quality of that coparenting relationship,” says lead researcher Jonathan Reader, a doctoral candidate in the university’s College of Health and Human Development, in a news release.
“We found that for mothers in particular, they perceived coparenting as worse when they had stronger beliefs than the father,” Reader adds.
Previous research into infant rearing has mostly looked at how a mother’s beliefs affect their child’s sleep quality, without giving much thought to how the father’s beliefs play a role.
In general, mothers were much more active in watching their baby at night than fathers, although both parents demonstrated less concern as their infant grew.
In the interim, however, many parents were found to not be on the same page.
“Perhaps because the mothers were the more active ones during the night, if they’re not feeling supported in their decisions, then it creates more of a drift in the coparenting relationship,” speculates Reader.
Reader et al. recommend that parents communicate and freely express their views, as disagreements on infant rearing can be a proxy for other relationship issues.
“It’s important to have these conversations early and upfront, so when it’s 3 a.m. and the baby’s crying, both parents are on the same page about how they’re going to respond,” says Reader. “Constant communication is really important.”
Future research can help formulate solutions to parental bickering, the researchers suggest, no matter the ease or difficulty of raising a given infant.
The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Family Psychology.