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Triangular interactions of unmarried African American mothers and fathers with their 3-month-old infants.

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James P. McHale

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We examined the responsivity of unmarried African American fathers to bids from their 3-month-old infants during the

Lausanne Trilogue Play (LTP), and the responses of mothers subsequent to father-baby exchanges. Twenty mother-father-infant triads (75% noncoresidential) with parents between the ages of 14 and 53 took part in the investigation. All fathers and the majority of mothers were African American with reported incomes at least 200% below the U.S. poverty line. All

participants had previously completed a prenatal intervention study examining formation of coparenting alliances across

their transitions to parenthood and were observed while playing together in videotaped LTP sessions at 3-months

postpartum. We microanalyzed infants’ gaze orientation toward their fathers and the sequence of parent behaviors after

babies’ bids to fathers. Father responses to bids from the infant were characterized as withdrawal, nonwithdrawal but failure to adapt behavior he had been showing prior to the baby’s bid, or affective and/or behavioral adjustment in response to the baby’s bid. Maternal reactions to the father-baby exchange were coded as either reinforcing, opposing, or neutral. Analyses revealed that fathers showed substantial evidence of intuitive parenting and matching behavior, and mothers overwhelmingly supported, rather than interfered with or disrupted, baby-father exchanges. Results are discussed in contradistinction to deceptive commonplace depictions of African American families that focus largely on deficits rather than strengths, and recommendations for family research and practice are offered.


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