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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Couples Benefit When Dad Is Involved with the Kids

When husbands are involved with their children, spending time with them and giving care to them, their marriages are the better for it, a new study finds.

The division of labor in households is the issue addressed by this study. It found that marriages benefit when a husband relates well with his children and is involved with them. Their marriages also benefit when he participates in household chores. These are important ways husbands connect with their wives, the study suggests.

Wives tend to feel cared for when husbands both help around the house and are involved with the children, the study indicates. It says, moreover, that “both husbands and wives report higher marital quality when they are more satisfied with the division of labor” at home.

But perceptions on the part of wives play a particularly important role in this study. First, it notes, “the more wives perceived that husbands were engaged in routine family work tasks, the better the relationship was for both partners.”

Second, however, the study found that what is even more important to wives is the kind of relationship a father has with their children. When her husband is involved with the children (playing with them, teaching them, tending to their physical and emotional needs), her satisfaction with their marriage is likely to expand.

That means “family life educators or therapists working with couples may find it beneficial to help fathers see the importance of the father-child relationship to their marital relationship.” The study encourages professionals working with couples to help fathers “find ways to better their relationships” with their children.

Dad’s To-Do List

Titled “Father Involvement, Father-Child Quality and Satisfaction With Family Work,” this study was published in March by the Journal of Family Issues. Researchers examined the ways 160 young couples handled household work and child-rearing responsibilities.

In a news release announcing the study, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said it “points to two items that should have a permanent place on a father’s to-do list:

  • “Do housework alongside your spouse.
  • “Spend quality time with the kids.”

The university said, though, that achieving these goals is not a matter for couples of striving “for exact equality when it comes to chores, i.e., ‘I scrub a dish, you scrub a dish; I change a diaper you change a diaper.’”

Adam Galovan, a doctoral fellow at the University of Missouri-Columbia, one of the study’s co-authors, commented on the division of labor at home that works best for couples. In this study, “a good relationship wasn’t as much about equally sharing the work as it was about finding an arrangement that both partners were satisfied with,” Galovan concluded.

In a cautionary note, the study underscores an issue that can arise when husbands devote themselves to household work in a manner than pulls them away from quality time with their children. Sometimes, it explains, a wife worries that her husband “cannot engage as effectively” with their children as he otherwise might because “he is worried too much about the household arrangements.”

Household Work Is Relational

Erin Holmes, a professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, co-authored the study. “For women, Dad having a good relationship with the kids means that Dad and Mom are probably going to have a better relationship,” Holmes commented.

She called attention to a sense of togetherness with their husbands that many women welcome when it comes to doing work around the house. The study affirms that wives “are more satisfied with the division of labor” at home when they perform “daily family work together” with their husbands. Curiously, men in the study did not accent the value of this form of togetherness to the same degree.

The term “family work” refers in the study “to the day-to-day work families do to care for each other’s physical and emotional needs.”

What the study calls “care work” is especially important to wives, it says. It comments that “wives may place a greater emphasis on care work within the family” than their husbands do and may perceive “work on their homes and work with their children as important relational work.”

The study points out that other researchers also believe women often “view family work in more interpersonal ways than men do.” For many women, some propose, family work involves “necessary work for people they care about,” rather than “tasks that just need to be completed.”

About the author 
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.