Family systems theory proposes that the parent- child relationship is embedded within the broader system of the family, and that other family subsystems can influence the dynamics and quality of the parent- child relationship. The current paper examines marital adjustment as a context for the parent- child relationship during adolescence. Specifically, the extent to which marital adjustment moderates child-based genetic and environmental effects on the parent- child relationship was assessed. Data for this study were from the initial wave of the Nonshared Environment in Adolescent Development (NEAD) study, and included 720 families with same-sex sibling pairs, ages 10-18 years. A range of sibling and family types was sampled, with 93 monozygotic twin pairs, 99 dizygotic twin pairs, and 95 sibling pairs from nondivorced families, and 182 sibling, 109 half-sibling, and 130 unrelated sibling pairs from stepfamilies. Composite measures of marriage (based on parent reports) and parenting (based child and parent reports and observation ratings) were examined. Results indicate that as marital adjustment declines, evocative child effects on parenting increase, while the role of shared family experiences declines. However, the specific impact of marital adjustment on child-based genetic and child-specific nonshared environmental contributions to parenting differed for mothers and fathers. This study identifies a previously unexplored mechanism through which family subsystems influence each other.
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