The present research evaluated the attachment perspective on the transition to parenthood, which proposes that attachment security predicts coping behavior and outcomes across the transition period. Hypotheses were tested concerning associations amongst attachment security and other focal variables: coping resources (self-esteem and perceived social support), parenting strain, coping strategies, satisfaction with partner's domestic efforts, marital satisfaction, and individual well-being. In addition, hypotheses concerning the heightened relevance of attachment organization to couples undergoing the transition to parenthood were tested, and research questions concerning systematic changes in attachment, caregiving, sexuality, relationship satisfaction, and individual well-being were addressed.
To address these hypotheses and research questions, a longitudinal, multi-method, comparison group design was used. Two groups of married couples were recruited: 107 transition couples (in the second trimester of their first pregnancy) and 100 comparison couples (planning to remain childless in the near future). Participants were recruited from a wide range of sources, and the two groups were highly comparable on demographic and psychometric variables. The ages of husbands and wives in both groups varied widely, as did the duration of couples' marriages. Couples were followed over a period of approximately ten months, and data were collected on four occasions. For the transition couples, data were collected during the second trimester of pregnancy (Time 1), four to six weeks after the birth (Time 2), 13 weeks post-birth (Diary assessment), and 26 weeks post-birth (Time 3); an equivalent schedule was used to collect data from the comparison couples. Seventy-five transition couples and seventy-three comparison couples completed the study, and there was little evidence of systematic attrition. Spouses completed a core set of self-report questionnaires at Times 1, 2, and 3. These questionnaires measured attachment security, spousal caregiving, sexuality, psychological well-being, and marital satisfaction. Additional questionnaires were also administered at Time 1 (measuring self-esteem and perceived social support), and at Time 2 (measuring coping strategies, and, for the transition group, infant temperament and appraised parenting strain). At the third data collection point (Diary assessment), spouses were asked to keep diary records for a four-day period, recording their participation in household tasks and, for the transition group, in baby-related tasks. Spouses also evaluated their partner's efforts at these tasks.
Data from the research program are reported as a series of four studies. Study 1 examined the attachment characteristics of the sample, and tested for group and gender differences on these measures. The distribution of attachment categories was similar to that found in earlier studies, and the continuous attachment scales had satisfactory psychometric properties. Overall, the attachment measures showed satisfactory levels of stability, but the picture was complicated by group and gender effects: Attachment was less stable for transition couples than for comparison couples, and least stable for transition wives. Similarly, evidence of 'partner matching' was found for transition couples only. These group differences in attachment stability and in partner matching support the theoretical view that attachment issues are especially salient to couples undergoing the transition to parenthood.
In Studies 2 and 3, structural equations modelling was used to test an overall model of attachment, stress, and coping. In Study 2, hypotheses were tested concerning the predictive associations amongst attachment security, coping resources, parenting strain, and coping strategies. Attachment security reliably predicted coping strategies both directly, and indirectly via coping resources and parenting strain. However, patterns of effects were complex, varying with coping strategy and gender, and including effects of both own and partner's characteristics. Some interactive effects of coping resources and strain were also found.
Study 3 tested the predictive associations amongst attachment, coping strategies, parenting strain, and individual and relationship outcomes. In addition, it assessed mean changes in attachment, caregiving, sexuality, individual well-being, and marital satisfaction, across the transition period. Similarly to previous research, small mean declines were found in individual well-being and marital satisfaction, together with substantial variability in these outcomes. Systematic changes in attachment, caregiving, and sexuality were not found, but transition couples reported lower sexual satisfaction across the transition period. Attachment security predicted all outcome variables except for wives' overall marital satisfaction, with both direct and indirect effects. Again, patterns of effects were complex, varying with outcome variable and gender, and including both own and 'partner effects'. Supplementary analyses indicated that attachment security and associated mediating variables added significantly to the prediction of outcome measures, beyond that afforded by Time 1 values of the outcome variables. The links among attachment security, emotion-focused coping, and depression were particularly strong.
Study 4 focused on how couples shared domestic work, and on the predictors and consequences of satisfaction with partner's domestic efforts. In accordance with previous research, transition wives performed a greater proportion of household tasks than did comparison wives, and they also performed the bulk of infant care. A number of personal and couple variables were identified which predicted dissatisfaction with partner's domestic efforts, including husbands' relationship anxiety. Further, variables were identified which were predicted bv dissatisfaction with partner's efforts, again including husbands' relationship anxiety.
In summary, the current research indicates that attachment theory offers valuable insights into the transition to parenthood. It has shown that attachment issues are particularly salient to transition couples, and that attachment security predicts processes and outcomes in the transition. In addition, emphasizing the dynamic equilibrium between attachment security and relationship experience, there was evidence that attachment security itself is influenced by processes that occur during the transition to parenthood. Overall, the research supports the assertion that secure attachment is a key inner resource that facilitates adaptation to stressful circumstances.