The Great Mom & Dad Experiment

The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Couples with babies in tow arrive for dinner one evening at a red brick office building in downtown Oklahoma City. On the menu tonight are pasta and garlic bread, served on Styrofoam plates. The parents file in nervously, not sure what to expect. Seated at one table is a touchingly earnest couple, still in high school, who didn’t plan to have a baby but now want to be the best possible parents. Nearby is a 23-year-old in a baseball cap, pulled low over his eyes, who admits he was dragged here by his girlfriend. There are older couples, too, including a forty-something dad who laughs and says he wants to get fatherhood right this time around. The group is racially mixed: black, white, Asian. Some are married, some not. They’re in school or between jobs or working but not earning enough; to be eligible, your income can’t be higher than twice the federal poverty level. They’ve come for the first session of a 13-week program that promises to teach them skills that will strengthen their relationships so that they can provide more stable homes for those babies.

Better partners make better parents, or so the thinking goes.

Matthew D. Johnson, for one. Not that he’s against helping poor couples or even necessarily against relationship education. In fact, Johnson, an associate professor of psychology at Binghamton University and director of its Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory, examines why marriages fall apart and what can be done to keep people together. This is the stuff he cares about. And he started out believing that these programs were worthwhile. “I thought this would work,” he says. “I wanted to apply these interventions to these populations.” It made sense to him, and he eagerly awaited the results.

That’s what Benjamin Karney wonders. For the last couple of decades, Karney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles, has studied marriages, how they either remain stable or deteriorate.

Read the whole story: The Chronicle of Higher Education

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