Parents seeking the holy grail of domestic harmony are advised to encourage Dad to play with the kids but not bathe or feed them, according to research that shows a father's involvement with caregiving causes marital conflict.
The findings, published in February in the journal Developmental Psychology, fly in the face of our ideas about parental equality. But they kind of make sense too. If Mom is generally responsible for the kids, having Dad step in can result in arguments over how to approach child rearing.
Ohio State researchers looked at 112 Midwestern families with kids, first when the kids were 4, then again at age 5. The researchers videotaped the families in a lab where the parents were tasked with assembling a building from Lincoln Logs and sketching a family portrait with their child.
They found that fathers who reported playing with their children at home had a more compassionate, agreeable relationship with their wife during the building and drawing tasks. But dads who said they were involved in the nitty-gritty of parenting giving baths, brushing teeth, heating up those darned chicken nuggets were more likely to spar with the other parent over how to parent.
"So many couples say they really want to share parenting equally, but it doesn't happen," says Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, co-author of the study and an associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University. "It's hard to break out of more traditional gender roles. When you have two parents highly invested in caregiving, there's an opportunity to step on each other's toes."