When Parents Argue, They Are More Likely To Fight With Kids, Too

June 04, 1996

ITHACA, N.Y. -- On days that parents bicker, both mothers and fathers are much more likely to also have tense days with their children, according to a new Cornell University/ University of Arizona study.

And although mothers, in general, have conflicts with their children about 40 percent more often than fathers do, fathers are twice as likely as mothers to argue with their kids on days they argue with their wives than on other days.

"Whether mothers work full-time or not, however, seems to be key as to whether fathers experience a lot of so-called tension spillover from the marriage to the children," said Elaine Wethington, a medical sociologist and Cornell associate professor of human development and family studies. "In families where mothers were employed full-time, we found that fathers were twice as likely to experience tension spillover compared with families in which mothers did not work full-time."

Wethington and David Almeida, a developmental family psychologist and professor of family studies at the University of Arizona, analyzed the tension and stress entries in diaries kept for six weeks by 113 white married fathers and mothers living near Detroit. Their goal was to determine whether parents are more likely to have tense interactions with their children on days they experience conflict with their spouses.

Whereas previous studies on tension spillover have compared families, this study is the first to examine tension spillover within families for any length of time. The findings were presented to the Society for Research on Adolescence in Boston in March.

Specifically, the researchers found that during the 42-day period:
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