Collaboration between co-resident parents
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The majority of children in the UK live in households with two parents, yet most of the academic research on parenting focuses on the relationship between one parent and one child. More often than not, this one parent has been the mother. There is an expectation of father involvement in contemporary parenting, but the literature still tends to emphasise parenting as a one parent-one child interaction, measuring involvement of the father in terms of time spent with his child. The idea of collaboration, or collaborative parenting, drawing on research into coparenting in the US, considers the involvement of both parents with each other, with respect to the child, as an alternative way of conceptualising parental involvement. Collaboration is considered a useful concept, as it goes beyond the idea of parenting as being about time spent directly with the child. Unlike many factors which may predict child outcomes, a lack of collaboration could be addressed at the family level, through counselling or education. The aims of the research were to develop an understanding of the way in which parents work together, looking in particular at how this is affected by social support; whether there are associations between parental collaboration and the availability of time for family and leisure activities, and feelings about the balance between work and home life; whether parents who collaborate are more likely to adhere to expert advice on parenting matters; and whether there are associations with a child’s social, emotional and behavioural development. Emphasis was also placed on the methodology, as it entailed the development of a method for measuring the concept of collaboration, using data that was not designed for the purpose. The research was conducted through a combination of methods, comprising secondary analysis of data from the first four sweeps of the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) study, and the conduct and analysis of 20 pairs of semi-structured interviews with parents who had previously taken part in this study. A condition of the funding received from the Scottish Government was to make use of the GUS data. The research found social support affected the process of collaboration in a number of ways: by enabling collaboration to take place; by removing the need for collaboration; by increasing the time available to collaborative couples; and by removing the need to plan ahead. Of particular note were the problems that were more likely to occur when couples neither collaborated, nor had support from outside the home. These are the couples who find that work impacts on their family the most. They are also the ones who are least likely to have time away from their children to do something for their own interest, and are the ones who are most likely to find it difficult to access advice. Collaborative couples tended to find more time available for activities with their children, as well as time for themselves. Positive associations were demonstrated between collaboration and a child’s social, emotional and behavioural development, but the strength of the association was not equal in all situations. When the mother was employed full-time, relatively strong associations were evident. When she was not in employment, and a number of other risk factors were present, relatively strong associations could again be seen. However, when the mother worked part-time, there did not appear to be any association between child behavioural development and collaboration. Associations were also demonstrated with the work-life balance of parents. Collaborative fathers professed less of an impact of the family on their work than non-collaborative ones. Similarly, collaborative fathers were less likely to say that long hours impacted on the time they had with their children than non-collaborative fathers, but there was no equivalent association for mothers. The impact of work on family was more likely to be lower for both parents when they acted collaboratively.