Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How Does Marital Satisfaction Influence my Child's Learning?

As a family therapist, I often meet with couples who have neglected nurturing their relationship, often excusing such behavior in the name of "the kids." When I ask more specifically, what about "the kids" causes their lack of time together I hear a litany of answers. Anywhere from kids sports, school work, gymnastics, language learning, music lessons, art lessons, etc. The belief is that if they put a lot of time help their children development these skills early, they will be able to excel later on, creating more opportunities for their future. I'm met with shock, awe and just plain disbelief at the suggestion that they schedule a date for themselves, at the expense of one of those "note-worthy" activities. While research has indicated that neglecting your relationship in such a manner can be detrimental and even tragic for a marriage, later on down the road, some new research suggests another reason for nurturing your marital relationship.
An article published in the February 2013 edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family makes the case the mother's marital satisfaction and the family emotional environment influences a pre-schooler's literacy development. Froyen, and colleagues (2013) found  that mothers' marital satisfaction was associated with family emotional expressiveness, which in turn was associated with the home learning environment. While this is not a direct relation, indicating that positive marital satisfaction increases home learning environment activities, it does show a connection. Put simply, a mother's positive (or negative) marital satisfaction increases the chance of positive (or negative) emotional expressiveness in the home. This emotional expressiveness influences the amount of learning activities performed in the home. If positive emotional expressiveness is present, the home learning activities increases, creating greater literacy development for children. If negative emotional expressiveness (influenced by a negative marital relationship) is present, home learning activities decrease, in turn decreasing literacy development in children. 

Take Home Message: The more you nurture your relationship with your spouse, you will have a greater likelihood of having a positive emotional environment in the home (with all of the benefits that brings), which in turn increases the probability of helping your child's literacy development. 
Granted, there are a few limitations with this research, namely, this is not longitudinal, and is one of the first times this dynamic has been looked at. But the premise is promising and overall, it makes sense. 
  • What do you think about this article? 
  • As Valentine's Day is approaching, what are some of your ideas on nurturing your relationship?
Froyen, L. C., Skibbe, L. E., Bowles, R. P., Blow, A. J. and Gerde, H. K. (2013), Marital Satisfaction, Family Emotional Expressiveness, Home Learning Environments, and Children's Emergent Literacy. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75: 42–55. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.01035.x

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