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Parental sensitivity and intrusiveness in gay-, lesbian-, and heterosexual-parent families with infants conceived using artificial reproductive techniques: Do parents’ gender and caregiver role matter?

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Ellis-Davies, K 
Winstanley, A 
Rubio, B 


The goal of our study was to examine whether differences in the sensitivity and intrusiveness of fathers and mothers from gay-, lesbian-, and heterosexual-parent families (57 French couples, 47 Dutch couples, and 31 British couples) with their first-born infants were explained by gender or caregiver role, while controlling for nesting within families, infant temperament, and twinship. We assessed the sensitivity and intrusiveness of 147 primary caregivers (45 fathers, 102 mothers) and 123 secondary caregivers (68 fathers and 55 mothers). All infants were conceived using assisted reproductive techniques and averaged 4 months of age. They were videotaped at home with both parents while engaged in play, feeding, and other childcare (bathing or changing) and these videotapes were coded for sensitivity and intrusiveness. Information about relative levels of caregiving, infant temperament, and twinship was collected via parent report questionnaires. Mixed linear models showed that sensitivity while playing, cleaning, and feeding were not predicted by parental gender, relative parental involvement, and the interaction between parental gender and parental caregiver role. Models for intrusiveness while playing and feeding showed similar results. However, intrusiveness during cleaning was predicted by parental gender and the interaction between parental gender and caregiver role. Post-hoc analyses showed that secondary caregiving fathers showed more intrusive behavior during cleaning (M = 1.51, SD = 0.09) than secondary caregiving mothers (M = 1.26, SD = 0.10). Our results also showed that contextual factors, such as having singletons or twins, infant temperament, and country of residence were related to parenting behavior. In sum, our findings do not support presumptions that mothers are more capable of providing better quality care than fathers, or that, at this early stage, primary caregiving parents are better attuned to their infants than those who are less involved.



fathers, mothers, primary caregivers, secondary caregivers, parent-child observations, infancy, twins, sensitivity, intrusiveness

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Early Childhood Research Quarterly

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Elsevier BV