Attachment Parenting International strives to ensure that parents have access to the most complete information and resources to help strengthen families and create a more compassionate world. One of API's eight principles focuses directly on the need to strive for balance in both personal and family life. This position paper summarizes the research and information available at this time about marriage and an attachment parenting practicing family.
Attachment Parenting is a philosophy based in the practice of nurturing parenting practices that create strong emotional bonds, also known as secure attachment, between the child and parents. This style of parenting encourages responsiveness to the infant or child's emotional needs. Attachment Parenting International's Mission Statement: to educate and support all parents in raising secure, joyful, and empathic children in order to strengthen families and create a more compassionate world.
Attachment Parenting International recognizes the importance of a healthy marriage/relationship between a child's parents for the well-being of the child. Marital discord and dissolution has been linked to poor infant sleep, behavior problems, aggressive behavior, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, harsh parenting practices and more1.
Data available as of 2012 show that 41-49% of first marriages end in divorce2. National research indicates that while parenthood leads to lower levels of marital satisfaction, it is not associated with increases in marital conflict or divorce-proneness3. According to Gottman 75% of married couples consider themselves to be highly dissatisfied in their marriage within the first three years of a child's birth4. This initial three years has been coined the "parental emergency" by researchers and is characterized by loss of sleep, less disposable income, new housework requirements, new childrearing routines, and less quality time as a couple5. The National Marriage Project (2011) found that parenthood is associated with lower levels of marital satisfaction6, and Heaton (1990) reports that marital dissatisfaction declines during parenting years, but increases again when the children have left home7.
Although parenthood appears to be associated with a decline in marital satisfaction, marriage continues to be an important aspect of parenthood. Research finds that parents who are married experience more happiness and less depression than parents who are unmarried, as well as reporting that their lives have a sense of purpose in higher numbers than their unmarried peers8. Parenthood is not linked to depression among adults in their mid-twenties as long as parenthood is linked to partnership9. Single parents are 13% more likely to report experiencing depression than their married counterparts10. Research shows that parenting taken on as a solo enterprise is more difficult than one in which there is a partnership. Marriage can be the source of built-in support for parents, financially, physically, and emotionally11.
Research shows that while parenthood is associated with lower levels of marital satisfaction, there are some key behaviors that appear to serve as a buffer. Sevinç & Garip (2010) finds that couples who practice a parenting style identified as authoritative by Baumrind have higher marital satisfaction than those that practice either a permissive or authoritarian parenting stylesup>12. The authoritative parenting style was identified by Diane Baumrind and is characterized by: parents working with their children in a give and take manner, parents giving children the rationale behind their decisions and rules, and listening to their children's objections when they fail to conform. Parents who are consistent in their expectations and reactions to their children's behavior, and state their values clearly. Authoritative parents' affective responses are characterized by being loving, supportive and committed13. Sevic & Garip also find that parents who are in consensus about the parenting style they are using have higher marital satisfaction14.
Other buffering behaviors include shared workload with household and parenting tasks, a supportive network of family and friends who take marriage seriously, that parents can talk to about the challenges of parenting, couples that share a family centered view of family life, and value raising children are more emotionally invested in one another and less prone to divorce15. Generosity is also shown to have a buffering effect, generosity being defined as "the virtue of giving good things to one's spouse freely and abundantly"16.
Husbands and wives who prioritize their mutual identity, putting the needs of the couple ahead of their own person needs enjoy more marital satisfaction than peers that put their own needs before the couple or family17. Time spent alone both one-on-one and with a couple's children are both indicators of marital solidarity18. The survey for marital generosity indicates that couples who spend lots of time engaging with their children in activities such as playing, talking, working on projects together, etc. enjoy significantly higher levels of marital happiness and lower levels of divorce-proneness19. According to the National Marriage Project, "Wives and especially husbands who devote more time to their children also enjoy higher levels of marital happiness." they conclude that, "there does not seem to be a zero-sum relationship between time devoted to parenthood and marital happiness."20
Attachment Parenting International works to provide parents with information and support based on the latest research to strengthen families. We recognize the importance of the marital relationship in the health of the family and children. API's Eight Principles of Parenting work to incorporate the latest knowledge and educate parents about the buffering effects that can strengthen their marriages through the parenting years. Support is a key element of marital satisfaction, and API provides regular local support group meetings open to mothers and fathers to allow parents to come together and develop supportive friendships and discuss their parenting challenges with like-minded parents. API encourages parents to attend meetings together, recognizing the research that supports the need for parents to gain their parent education in a mutual environment to increase the mutual commitment to child rearing practices21.
API's principle of Providing Consistent Loving Care offers many resources to help parents identify and develop relationships with loving, supportive caregivers for their children so that they can make time for one-on-one couple time, and date nights when the parents and baby are ready for separation. API recognizes that this timing will be different for every family, and we encourage families to follow their instincts and make decisions that work for their families current situation.
API's principle of Preparing for Pregnancy, Childbirth and Parenting encourages parents to look at the changes new life will bring to their family. We encourage parents to seek out educational opportunities, talk with their support systems and begin to explore and discuss the changes that parenting will bring to their lives, including how they will divvy up housework, child rearing responsibilities, and their financial situation before the child is born.
API's principle of Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life reminds parents to recognize individual needs within the family, and to ensure that everyone's needs, not just the child's, are recognized, validated, and met to the greatest extent possible. This includes making time for your marital relationship, going on dates, and being creative in finding couple time. API recognizes that child rearing is a very demanding task, and it is critical to take care of individual needs and couple needs in order to be at your best in your parenting duties.
API's principle of Practice Positive Discipline encompasses the definition of authoritative parenting, which has been linked to higher levels of marital satisfaction22. Parents work with their children's current developmental stage, and their individual personalities and temperaments to create a discipline strategy that incorporates their family's value system. Positive discipline is an overarching philosophy that helps a child develop a conscience guided by his or her own internal discipline and compassion for others. Positive discipline is rooted in a secure, trusting, connected relationship between parent and child.
As an international organization, API recognizes that parents come from a variety of cultural and social backgrounds. We recognize that every family is different and we encourage all families to take what works for their family and leave the rest. We ask all parents to educate themselves in API's Eight Principles of Parenting and to find ways to apply them in a way that supports and nurtures their individual family, including the children, the couple, and the individual parent. API believes that the skills parents use with their children -- responding with sensitivity, building a foundation of trust, the use of nurturing touch, responding with empathy, setting realistic expectations, remaining flexible, communicating in a non-violent way and crafting solutions together, and more trickle into other areas of a family's life and can have a positive impact on the marital relationship.
For more information about Attachment Parenting International, and API's Eight Principles of Parenting, as well as FAQ about Marriage and Attachment Parenting, please visit our website at: www.attachmentparenting.org.
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11 Wilcox, B., & Marquardt, E. (2011). When Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable (State of Our Unions 2011). University of Virginia. National Marriage Project.
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