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McLeish, S. (2004). Starting a Family: The Child's Role in Marital Transition. Free Associations, 11(2):272-316.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(2):272-316

Starting a Family: The Child's Role in Marital Transition

Steven McLeish

In This Qualitative Study of the changes involved in the transition to parenthood, special attention was given to the way couples adapt to accommodate the child. The accounts of three women and three men were obtained using a semi-structured interview, and the results suggest that the less couples are able to confront the interpersonal changes necessary at this stage of the family life cycle, the greater the likelihood that their child will serve a mediating role in the marital relationship. Through detailed analysis of the accounts of two women, the kind of role assigned to a child was shown to vary dramatically according to the dynamics operating within the couple. One mother sought to minimize the child's impact on the marital relationship, which was destabilized by the couple's discrepant experience of parenthood. For the other, the child was a catalyst for far-reaching changes. Most couples exhibited a decrease in intimacy after becoming parents, but men and women negotiated this distance rather differently. For women, the marital relationship was eclipsed by a predominant concern for the child, and by an inclination to appraise the partner principally in terms of his suitability as a father. In contrast, men placed a far greater emphasis on the marital relationship.

Introduction

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