URC

The Effects of Working Mothers on Sibling Rivalry

Anna Tsang
The Master's College


Abstract

Research suggests “links between maternal management styles and sibling relationship quality have been established” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepty, 2003, p. 187). The purpose of this study is to determine whether or not sibling rivalry is affected by working mothers. The survey instrument, which requested demographic information in addition to six Likert-type scale questions, was distributed to students at the University of California, Davis, and The Master's College in Santa Clarita, CA, during the spring of 2008. STATPAK was employed to examine the data and the One-Dimensional Chi-square test was used for data analysis. All but one of the responses met the level of significance in the results. The conclusions of this research are such that they suggest that the relationship between siblings appears to be a multi-faceted relationship influenced by various factors.

Introduction

Sibling rivalry is a common reality of life in families with more than one child. The impact that parents have in the lives of their children not only affects each individual child’s life, but also the relationships among siblings. The competition between siblings may have benefits, but there will commonly be resentment “if one child feels slighted by a parent who appears to favor another” (McDevitt & Ormord, 2007, p. 165). There are many suggested parenting and educational strategies to prevent such rivalry among siblings. McDevitt & Ormord (2007) suggest that educators “avoid making comparisons between students and their siblings” (p. 166). In the home, competition over the parents’ attention is a main factor behind sibling rivalry. Studies on the parent-child relationship have examined the influencing factors of parents on sibling rivalry and “most of the research on children’s sibling relationships has emphasized maternal rather than paternal influences” (Kramer & Baron, 1995, ¶ 4).

Management Styles Contribute to Sibling Rivalry

When considering factors which contribute to sibling rivalry, the time a mother spends with her children is often an initial suggestion. However, the quality of time that the children receive from their parents is equally as important. Mothers may stay at home with their children yet her interaction could be minimal. The way she manages her children must be considered, and “links between maternal management styles and sibling relationship quality have been established” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 187). Studies have shown that “when siblings were less hostile and mothers engaged in positive management styles, siblings were more likely to be cooperative over time. However if siblings were low in hostility but mothers engaged in directive control, children were less cooperative over time” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 188-189).

Another conclusion which the study suggests is that “perhaps when mothers allow siblings psychological space in which to develop their own relationship and do not become active play partners, the more conflictual aspects of the relationship may develop as children enter middle childhood” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 189).

Jealousy Is a Strong Driving Force behind Rivalry

Studies have also been conducted on jealousy as a driving force behind sibling rivalry. Competition between children is a common observance and “concerns about childhood jealousy, often seen as sibling rivalry, surface frequently in clinical and pediatric texts” (McElwain, Miller, & Volling, 2002, p. 581). The nature of “competition among siblings probably has some benefits, including creating a motivation to learn new skills (so as to keep up with or outsmart siblings). However, resentment may brew if one child feels slighted by a parent who appears to favor another. Children may also feel jealous when, with age, their siblings increasingly form friendships outside the family circle” (McDevitt & Ormord, 2007, p. 165). The role that parents play in a child’s jealousy cannot be overlooked.

The importance of a parent’s effect on jealousy was an initial understanding for one study by McElwain, Miller, & Volling where “jealousy absolutely cannot be defined nor understood without reference to the social context” (McElwain, Miller, & Volling, 2002, p. 582). Caused by a social triangle of relationships, jealousy is the “loss of formative attention from the beloved to a rival . . . young siblings are no doubt reacting to this loss of formative attention when a parent turns his or her attention from them and interacts with their brother or sister. . . . Jealousy, then, is an organized complex of emotions, cognitions, and behaviors following the threat to or loss of a beloved relationship to a rival. In the world of siblings, the beloved is one’s parent and the rival is one’s sibling” (McElwain, Miller, & Volling, 2002, p. 582).

The importance of understanding how parents affect jealousy in their children is evident from research which shows “that even infants and young children are sensitive to the loss of attention from parents to another, whether this loss is experienced in relation to a doll, a peer, or a sibling” (McElwain, Miller, & Volling, 2002, p. 583). From a study of the effects, jealousy appears to be a driving force behind sibling rivalry.

The Time a Mother Spends With Her Children Affects the Quality of Sibling Relationship

Having already considered the quality of time a mother spends with her children and its effects on sibling rivalry, the quantity of time a mother spends with her children may also affect the quality of sibling relationship. Research suggests that “maternal intervention and presence or absence influence rates of conflict and children’s skills in resolving quarrels in cognitively sophisticated ways” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 184). Though a mother may not pursue active and positive intervention, her presence is an influencing factor in the relationships of her children. In a long-range study, results showed that “when siblings played together frequently with little maternal involvement, two years later children demonstrated more rivalrous behavior” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 189). Another observation further suggests the importance of the quantity of time that a mother spends with her children. “The mere presence of the mother creates a different dynamic between siblings than when they are alone,” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 188) which shows that the quality of sibling relationship is affected by the quantity of time the mother spends with her children.

Parental Interventions Affect the Outcome of Sibling Conflicts

Not only do management styles, quality of time, and quantity of time affect sibling relationship, the research conducted on parental interventions in sibling conflict explains why management styles would affect sibling rivalry. When a parent intervenes in a sibling conflict, the outcome is different from one that would have resulted in the children dealing with it between themselves. In certain studies, “longitudinal findings revealed that earlier patterns of family interaction were related to later indices of sibling conflict and maternal interaction” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003). Further reasoning to study the effect of parental interventions on the outcome of sibling conflict is because this conflict “must be considered within the context of the larger family environment, and certainly parents play an important role in helping youngsters to manage their conflicts” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 187). The impact which parents have on their children’s relationships cannot be overlooked, and it also points to the importance of the parent in the child’s life.

Maternal Absence is Associated With More Frequent Negative Interactions Between Siblings

While numerous studies and reports have suggested that maternal management styles, quantity and quality of time, and parental intervention all have positive benefits to the reduction of sibling rivalry, the other side of the research shows the opposite effect. If the presence of a mother contributes to positive interactions in sibling relationship, then the absence of a mother would produce a reversed contribution to sibling relationships. According to the research “others report maternal absence was associated with more frequent negative interactions” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 188). Simply stated, when a mother spends less time with her children, sibling rivalry is impacted negatively and frequent negative interactions between the children are the result.

The Degree of Sibling Rivalry Is Impacted by Working Mothers

Through studying the importance of the presence and management of a mother in the sibling relationship, the employment status of the mother will have an impact on her ability to be present in her children’s lives. In child development research, the effect of working parents on a child’s development has shown to have an influence on the child. “Parents’ employment is developmentally influential in a second way: It occupies parents’ time and so creates the need for other adults to supervise children’s activities,” (McDevitt & Ormord, 2007, p. 163) which does not allow the children time with their own parent.

However, the degree that sibling rivalry is impacted by a working mother may not only simply be a factor of limited time spent with the children but a myriad of other factors as well that come with the mother’s employment. Research indicates that “maternal employment is a multidimensional variable that has a differential impact on children depending on the number of hours a mother works, her job description, job stability, and role satisfaction” (Pett, Vaughan-Cole, &  Wampold, 1994, ¶2). The mother’s job itself factors into her maternal management style.

The employment situation of the mother appears to have more impact on the children than simply her employment status. Further studies show “that maternal employment had no significant impact on either children's adjustment or the interaction measures. The frequency of maternal hassles was significantly related to two of the seven dependent variables. Mothers who reported more hassles were more likely to view their preschool children as having more behavior problems. More-hassled mothers' interaction with their preschool children was also more likely to be characterized by lower reciprocity of supportive behaviors. A near significant (p = .03) positive relationship was also found between the frequency of maternal hassles and mothers' base rates of controlling behaviors” (Pett, Vaughan-Cole, &  Wampold, 1994). The management style of working mothers is affected by her experience in the workplace as seen in a study which reports the following: “MacEwen and Barling propose two mechanisms to explain ‘why’ and ‘how’ mothers' employment affects children's behavior. They reason that mothers' negative employment experiences create personal strains. The personal strains, in turn, affect parenting behaviors. Finally, parenting behaviors affect children's behaviors” (Atkinson,  Barling, MacEwen, & Otto, 1994). These studies have shown that while a working mother may not necessarily be a direct force behind sibling rivalry, her ability to parent her children is more likely to be affected by working outside the home. Thus, the degree of sibling rivalry is impacted by a working mother.

Method

The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not sibling rivalry is affected by working mothers. The following questions were explored:

  1. What contributes to sibling rivalry?
  2. Does the quantity of time a mother spends with her children affect sibling rivalry?
Method of Data Collection

The survey instrument used in this study measured the perception of whether or not sibling rivalry is affected by working mothers and the quantity of time they spend with their children. A personal data sheet requested demographic data in addition to the responses to the six item survey instrument. The survey instrument was distributed to students enrolled at the University of California, Davis, located in Davis, California, and The Master's College located in Santa Clarita, California, during the spring of 2008. They received and returned the survey to the researcher.

Statistical Procedures

STATPAK was employed to examine the data; the desired scale of measurement was interval because it is “a scale of measurement in which the intervals between numbers on the scale are all equal in size” (Brown, Cozby, Kee, & Worden, 1999, p. 370). The data were collected by use of a survey instrument composed of six questions with responses based on the Likert scale, which is a “rating scale consisting of a set of statements on a topic; typically using five categories ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree” (Brown, Cozby, Kee, & Worden, 1999, p. 370). The One-Dimensional Chi-square statistical test was employed because it is “used when the data consist of frequencies – the number of subjects who fall into each of several categories” (Brown, Cozby, Kee, & Worden, 1999, p. 340). A .05 level of significance was used to test the results of the study. Data retrieved from the demographic portion of the survey instrument were reported in percentages and figures.

Results

The subjects sampled for this study were students attending the University of California, Davis, and The Master's College during the spring of 2008. Thirty-eight copies of the survey instrument were distributed; thirty-four were returned and thirty-four were used in this study. The data collected from the thirty-four subjects are discussed in subsequent sections, commencing with the reporting of the demographic findings. The survey indicated that 47.1% were male and 52.9% were female; 100% were unmarried; 100% had no children; 52.9% were employed part-time and 47.1% were not employed. Table 1 summarizes the survey responses.

Table 1 Summary of Responses to Survey Questions

Survey Question

Scale Number

Total Responses

Computed Chi-Square Value

Tabled Chi-Square Value

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Agreee

Strongly Agree

No Response

1

0

6

19

9

0

34

8.1765

5.991

2

0

3

18

13

0

34

10.2941

5.991

3

0

4

9

20

1

33

12.1818

5.991

4

1

8

10

15

0

34

11.8824

7.815

5

2

9

14

9

0

34

8.5882

7.815

6

0

11

14

9

0

34

1.1178

5.991

Research Question One

What contributes to sibling rivalry? Questions 1 and 2 of the survey located in Appendix A addressed this research question.

The results of the analysis revealed that the calculated value for all of the questions were at the .05 significance level and suggest that maternal management styles contribute to sibling rivalry and that jealousy is a strong driving force behind sibling rivalry.

The finding from question 1 aligns with the research conducted by Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy (2003) who found that “when siblings were less hostile and mothers engaged in positive management styles, siblings were more likely to be cooperative over time. However if siblings were low in hostility but mothers engaged in directive control, children were less cooperative over time” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 188-189).

The finding from question 2 aligns with the research conducted by McElwain, Miller, & Volling (2002) who found that “infants and young children are sensitive to the loss of attention from parents to another, whether this loss is experienced in relation to a doll, a peer, or a sibling” (McElwain, Miller, & Volling, 2002, p. 583).

Research Question Two

Does the quantity of time a mother spends with her children affect sibling rivalry? Questions 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the survey located in Appendix A addressed this research question.

The results of the analysis revealed that the calculated value for questions 3, 4, and 5 were at the .05 significance level and suggest that parental interventions affect the outcome of sibling conflicts, disputes are more likely to be resolved with parental intervention, and maternal absence is associated with more frequent negative interactions between siblings. The results of the analysis also revealed that the calculated value for question 6 was not at the .05 significance level and suggest that the degree of sibling rivalry is not impacted by working mothers.

The finding from question 3 aligns with the research conducted by Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy (2003) who stated that “longitudinal findings revealed that earlier patterns of family interaction were related to later indices of sibling conflict and maternal interaction.” They also concluded that sibling conflict “must be considered within the context of the larger family environment, and certainly parents play an important role in helping youngsters to manage their conflicts” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 187).

The finding from question 4 aligns with the research conducted by Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy (2003) who found that children who exhibited “mature behaviors were also associated with high maternal involvement in sibling conflict, suggesting that children employed more constructive resolution strategies during maternal presence” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 187). Also, “parental interventions affected the outcome of sibling conflicts, because disputes were more likely to be resolved and via more sophisticated negotiations rather than power assertive strategies” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 188).

The finding from question 5 aligns with the research conducted by Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy (2003) who found that according to the research “others report maternal absence was associated with more frequently negative interactions” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p. 188).

The finding from question 6 aligns with the research conducted by Pett, Vaughan-Cole, &  Wampold (1994) who found that “that maternal employment had no significant impact on either children's adjustment or the interaction measures” (Pett, Vaughan-Cole, &  Wampold, 1994).

Findings

The results of the One-Dimensional Chi-square statistical analysis test suggest that maternal management styles contribute to sibling rivalry and that jealousy is a strong driving force behind rivalry; parental interventions affect the outcome of sibling conflicts; disputes are more likely to be resolved with parental intervention; maternal absence is associated with more frequent negative interactions between siblings; and the degree of sibling rivalry is not impacted by working mothers.

 

Discussion

Within the stated purpose and findings of this study, the following conclusions appear warranted:

  1. Maternal management styles and jealousy are contributing factors to sibling rivalry.
  2. The quantity of time a mother spends with her children will affect sibling rivalry, although whether a mother works or not does not appear to impact rivalry.

The findings of the study yielded many significant results aligning with the .05 level of significance. The majority of responses showed that participants either agreed or strongly agreed that maternal management style is a contributing factor to sibling rivalry and that jealousy is also a strong driving force behind sibling rivalry. The relationship between siblings appears to be a multi-faceted relationship influenced by various factors. The findings of the study also revealed that the participants agreed that maternal absence is associated with more frequent negative interactions between siblings, allowing the correlation to be drawn between quantity of time spent with children and sibling rivalry. However, one finding of the study delineated from the .05 level of significance. Responses revealed that participants disagreed with the statement that the degree of sibling rivalry is impacted by working mothers.

Contradictory results may appear to be evident from this study because the work in which a mother is involved naturally takes time away from her children. This may indicate a distinction between quantity and quality of time which a mother spends with her children and the impact that it has on sibling rivalry. The mother’s work situation may also be a factor to consider.

Limitations of the Study

Several limitations to this study existed. The sample population consisted of only students at The Master’s College and the University of California, Davis, during the spring semester of 2008. Because all the individuals surveyed were unmarried and had no children, the variety of responses were probably biased. In addition, the experience of each individual with working mothers and sibling rivalry is not known. Although the findings for this study pertain mainly to the individuals from The Master’s College and the University of California, Davis, a general trend may be observed and conclusions drawn.

Recommendations for Further Study

This study provides some information regarding the impact of working mothers on sibling rivalry. Additional questions pertaining to working mothers and contributing factors in sibling rivalry warrant further investigation; thus, the following recommendations for further research and study are offered:

  1. This study should be replicated, using a different population to determine whether or not sibling rivalry is affected by working mothers.
  2. A study should be conducted to determine how the age of the children affects sibling rivalry.
  3. The effects of juvenile delinquency should be studied comparing delinquency today with delinquency before women began going into the workforce.
  4. A study should be conducted to determine how a mother’s work situation affects sibling rivalry.
References

Atkinson M.,  Barling, J. MacEwen, K., & Otto, L. (1994). Maternal employment experiences and children's behavior: A reanalysis and comment--Comment/reply . Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56(2), 501.

Brown, K. W., Cozby, P. C., Kee, D. W., & Worden, P. E. (1999). Research methods in human development. Mountain View: Mayfield.

Howe, N., & Fiorentino, L., & Gariepy, N. (2003). Sibling conflict in middle childhood: Influence of maternal context and mother-sibling interaction over four years . Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: 49(2).

Kramer, L., &  Baron, L. (1995). Parental perceptions of children's sibling relationships. Family Relations, 44(1), 95.  Retrieved February 23, 2008, from Research Library Core database. (Document ID: 1640000).

McDevitt, T., & Ormrod, J. (2007). Child development and education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

McElwain, N., Miller, A., & Volling, B. (2002). Emotion regulation in context: The jealousy complex between young siblings and its relations with child and family characteristics. Child Development: 73 (2).

Pett, M., Vaughan-Cole, B., &  Wampold, B. (1994). Maternal employment and perceived stress: Their impact on children's adjustment and mother-child interaction in young divorced and married families.   Family Relations: 43(2), 151. 


SURVEY INSTRUMENT

Sibling Rivalry

This survey is being conducted by Anna Tsang, a junior Home Economics-Family & Consumer Sciences student at The Master's College.

Current research suggests “links between maternal management styles and sibling relationship quality have been established” (Howe, Fiorentino, & Gariepy, 2003, p.187). The presence or absence of a full-time mother may influence the degree of sibling rivalry between children in a family.

This study was developed to discover what contributes to sibling rivalry and whether it is affected in any way by working mothers.

Demographics

Gender: Male _______ Female _______

Married: YES_______ NO_______

Number of Children: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10+

Employment: Full time _______ Part time _______ Not employed ­­­­_______

Survey Questions

  1. Research suggests that maternal management styles contribute to sibling rivalry.

    Strongly disagree                1     2     3     4               Strongly agree

  2. Jealousy is a strong driving force behind rivalry.

    Strongly disagree                1     2     3     4               Strongly agree

  3. Parental interventions affect the outcome of sibling conflicts.

    Strongly disagree                1     2     3     4               Strongly agree

  4. Disputes are more likely to be resolved with parental intervention.

    Strongly disagree                1     2     3     4               Strongly agree

  5. Research suggests that maternal absence is associated with more frequent negative interactions between siblings.

    Strongly disagree                1     2     3     4               Strongly agree

  6. The degree of sibling rivalry is impacted by working mothers.

    Strongly disagree                1     2     3     4               Strongly agree


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