The aims of this project are: (a) to determine if the birth of a first child affects a couple's relationship, (b) to assess the extent to which a couple's response and adaptation to the birth and rearing of a child is influenced by the nature of the marital relationship, and (c) to understand the marital relationship as a protective factor in the development of parent-child relationships and in the development of socio-emotional competence and adaptive ability in children. The way in which the birth and rearing of a child affects and is affected by the marital relationship will be examined as part of an on-going prospective, longitudinal study of the relationship between social support and the rearing of a child at-risk for poor developmental outcome. In this on-going study, 500-600 families are being enlisted a year for 3 years. These families will be followed from pregnancy to 6-months after birth in order to identify and follow through two years a cohort (which has been studied prenatally) of 210 18- to 40-year-old women who have children with various risk factors for poor developmental outcome. The families with infants who do not have risk factors for poor developmental outcome will be dropped at 6 months in this study. The study proposed here would take advantage of this already- recruited sample of families with infants who do not have risk factors for poor developmental outcome (and who would be dropped form the study at 6 months after birth) to add another major line of inquiry concerning the mutual effects in the family of the marital and parent-child relationships. The marriages of 120 couples experiencing a first birth will be extensively investigated prenatally and at 3, 12, and 24 months after birth, parent- child relationships will be studied at 3, 6, 9, 12, and 24 months after birth, and socio-emotional competence and adaptation in children will be studied at 12 and 24 months. The data will be analyzed using a mediational model that temporally orders individual, marital, parental, parent-child and child variables in a manner that is predicted to influence a family's reactions to the birth and rearing of a first child. By studying the early family in this way, we seek to understand factors that protect children from behavioral disturbance. Though clinical theories in family therapy link marital problems and child disturbance, little research has followed the marital dyad through the transition to parenthood to ask how different marital systems adapt to the child and what the implications are of that adaptation for parent-child relationships and for the development of socio- emotional competence and adaptive behavior in the child. Failure to reach early markers of socio-emotional competence has been shown in earlier studies to have mental health implications for children's later socio- emotional functioning. The importance of this research for mental health issues is clear, not only with regard to child disturbance, but also with regard to parental functioning and the parental marriage.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Schools of Medicine
Chapel Hill
United States
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Paley, Blair; Cox, Martha J; Kanoy, Korrel W et al. (2005) Adult attachment and marital interaction as predictors of whole family interactions during the transition to parenthood. J Fam Psychol 19:420-9
Kanoy, Korrel; Ulku-Steiner, Beril; Cox, Martha et al. (2003) Marital relationship and individual psychological characteristics that predict physical punishment of children. J Fam Psychol 17:20-8
Costigan, Catherine L; Cox, Martha J; Cauce, Ana Mari (2003) Work-parenting linkages among dual-earner couples at the transition to parenthood. J Fam Psychol 17:397-408
Paley, Blair J; Cox, Martha J; Harter, Kristina S et al. (2002) Adult attachment stance and spouses' marital perceptions during the transition to parenthood. Attach Hum Dev 4:340-60