Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 10, pp 3096–3106 | Cite as

Triangular Interactions of Unmarried African American Mothers and Fathers with their 3-Month-Old Infants

  • Erica E. CoatesEmail author
  • James P. McHale
Original Paper


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.


African American Coparents Infants Noncoresidential Fathers 


Author Contributions

E.E.C. designed this study, served as primary evaluator, analyzed the data, worked in partnership in the writing of the Introduction, and wrote the Method and Results sections of the report. J.P.M. planned and served as Principal Investigator for the parent Brady Education Foundation project that provided observational data for this study, assisted with the data analyses, worked in partnership in the writing of the Introduction, and wrote the Discussion section.


The project generating data for this study was funded by a Brady Education Foundation Early Childhood Grant.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of South Florida and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  2. 2.Family Study CenterUniversity of South Florida St. PetersburgSt. PetersburgUSA
  3. 3.Department of Family ScienceUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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