The Becoming a Family Project is a longitudinal research and clinical intervention study of couple relationships during family formation. The study has three central objective: (1) To examine the impact of a first child on couple relationships during the transition to first-time parenthood; (2) To evaluate a preventive intervention designed to facilitate couple adaptation to become a family; and (3) To describe the impact of couple relationship quality on the development and mental health of the young child. We have been following 96 couples: 72 were interviewed and assessed in late pregnancy and again 6 and 18 months postpartum; 24 similar couples not yet decided about having children were assessed over a similar period. We are now in the final year of a three-year renewal period (1982-85), assessing the couple, the child, and parent-child relationships at 42 months postpartum. This application requests renewed support for the years 1986-1989 to follow the families again when the children have entered elementary school. With pre-birth data describing both parents and the marriage, we can flesh out our investigation of the bi-directional influences of parents and children on each other's satisfaction, adaptation, and dysfunction. Within our central concern about the connection between couple relationships and child development, there are 3 related aims of the current proposal, each representing a logical extension of work completed or in progress: 1) To test our model describing the impact of couple relationship quality on child development at a later point in family life; 2) To test hypotheses about the reciprocal links between the family's impact on the child's adaptation to kindergarten and the impact of the transition on the family; and 3) To provide a critical test of our preventive intervention by examining whether the early positive effects are still operative during a new major family transition. Our emphasis on assessment of the family during periods of transition reflects a method of focusing on coping at times of disequilibration in order to understand family processes associated with development and mental health in adults and children.

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National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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University of California Berkeley
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Cowan, Carolyn Pape; Cowan, Philip A; Barry, Jason (2011) Couples' groups for parents of preschoolers: ten-year outcomes of a randomized trial. J Fam Psychol 25:240-50
Hirschberger, Gilad; Srivastava, Sanjay; Marsh, Penny et al. (2009) Attachment, Marital Satisfaction, and Divorce During the First Fifteen Years of Parenthood. Pers Relatsh 16:401-420
Ablow, Jennifer C; Measelle, Jeffrey R; Cowan, Philip A et al. (2009) Linking marital conflict and children's adjustment: the role of young children's perceptions. J Fam Psychol 23:485-99
Schulz, Marc S; Cowan, Carolyn Pape; Cowan, Philip A (2006) Promoting healthy beginnings: a randomized controlled trial of a preventive intervention to preserve marital quality during the transition to parenthood. J Consult Clin Psychol 74:20-31
Alexandrov, Elina O; Cowan, Philip A; Cowan, Carolyn Pape (2005) Couple attachment and the quality of marital relationships: method and concept in the validation of the new couple attachment interview and coding system. Attach Hum Dev 7:123-52
Schulz, Marc S; Cowan, Philip A; Cowan, Carolyn Pape et al. (2004) Coming home upset: Gender, marital satisfaction, and the daily spillover of workday experience into couple interactions. J Fam Psychol 18:250-63
Johnson, Vanessa K (2003) Linking changes in whole family functioning and children's externalizing behavior across the elementary school years. J Fam Psychol 17:499-509
Johnson, V K (2001) Marital interaction, family organization, and differences in parenting behavior: explaining variations across family interaction contexts. Fam Process 40:333-42
Measelle, J R; Ablow, J C; Cowan, P A et al. (1998) Assessing young children's views of their academic, social, and emotional lives: an evaluation of the self-perception scales of the Berkeley Puppet Interview. Child Dev 69:1556-76
Cowan, P A; Cowan, C P; Cohn, D A et al. (1996) Parents' attachment histories and children's externalizing and internalizing behaviors: exploring family systems models of linkage. J Consult Clin Psychol 64:53-63

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