Coparenting in the feeding context: perspectives of fathers and mothers of preschoolers

  • Cin Cin TanEmail author
  • Sarah E. Domoff
  • Megan H. Pesch
  • Julie C. Lumeng
  • Alison L. Miller
Original Article



This study examined how fathers and mothers coparent around child feeding.


Father–mother pairs (N = 30) of preschool-aged children (M child age = 4.1 years old) participated in joint or group interview sessions.


Three themes emerged from the qualitative analysis: (1) couples’ division of labor regarding feeding tasks seemed to align with stereotypical gender roles; (2) couples noted that they attempted healthier family eating habits in comparison to families of origin and recognized the influence of extended family on their attempts at healthier feeding; (3) couples agreed on the importance of family mealtime, routines, and healthy meals, yet disagreed on strategies to limit unhealthy foods and achieve harmonious family meals.


This study identified processes of coparenting and child feeding areas that were particularly challenging to manage among parents, which could be important targets for childhood obesity interventions.

Level of evidence

V, descriptive study.


Father Mother Coparenting Feeding Child Couple 



All phases of this study were supported by the National Institute of Health (NIH) Grant Number R03HD086430.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee 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.

Supplementary material

40519_2019_730_MOESM1_ESM.docx (20 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 20 kb)
40519_2019_730_MOESM2_ESM.docx (21 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 20 kb)


  1. 1.
    Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM (2014) Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011–2012. JAMA 311(8):806–814. Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lumeng JC, Ozbeki TN, Appugliese DP, Kaciroti N, Corwyn RF, Bradley RH (2012) Observed assertive and intrusive maternal feeding behaviors increase child adiposity. Am J Clin Nutr 95(3):640–647. Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Birch LL, Fisher JO (2000) Mothers’ child-feeding practices influence daughters’ eating and weight. Am J Clin Nutr 71(5):1054–1061. Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bailey WT (1994) A longitudinal study of fathers’ involvement with young children: infancy to age 5 years. J Genet Psychol 155(3):331–339. Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Treas J, T-o Tai (2012) Apron strings of working mothers: maternal employment and housework in cross-national perspective. Soc Sci Res 41(4):833–842. Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Vollmer RL, Adamsons K, Foster JS, Mobley AR (2015) Association of fathers’ feeding practices and feeding style on preschool age children’s diet quality, eating behavior and body mass index. Appetite 89:274–281. Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Khandpur N, Blaine RE, Fisher JO, Davison KK (2014) Fathers’ child feeding practices: a review of the evidence. Appetite 78:110–121. Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Mallan KM, Nothard M, Thorpe K, Nicholson J, Wilson A, Scuffham P, Daniels L (2014) The role of fathers in child feeding: perceived responsibility and predictors of participation. Child: Care Health Dev 40(5):715–722. Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Fiese BH, Hammons A, Grigsby-Toussaint D (2012) Family mealtimes: a contextual approach to understanding childhood obesity. Econ Hum Biol 10(4):365–374. Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Berge JM, Rowley S, Trofholz A, Hanson C, Rueter M, MacLehose RF, Neumark-Sztainer D (2014) Childhood obesity and interpersonal dynamics during family meals. Pediatrics. Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Pulley C, Galloway AT, Webb RM, Payne LO (2014) Parental child feeding practices: how do perceptions of mother, father, sibling, and self vary? Appetite 80:96–102. Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Boričević Maršanić V, Kušmić E (2013) Coparenting within the family system: review of literature. Coll Antropol 37(4):1379–1384Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Feinberg ME (2003) The internal structure and ecological context of coparenting: a framework for research and intervention. Parent Sci Pract 3(2):95–131. Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Schoppe-Sullivan SJ, Weldon AH, Claire Cook J, Davis EF, Buckley CK (2009) Coparenting behavior moderates longitudinal relations between effortful control and preschool children’s externalizing behavior. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 50(6):698–706. Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Teubert D, Pinquart M (2010) The association between coparenting and child adjustment: a meta-analysis. Parent Sci Pract 10(4):286–307. Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Khandpur N, Charles J, Davison KK (2016) Fathers’ perspectives on coparenting in the context of child feeding. Child Obes 12(6):455–462. Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Thullen M, Majee W, Davis AN (2016) Co-parenting and feeding in early childhood: reflections of parent dyads on how they manage the developmental stages of feeding over the first three years. Appetite 105:334–343. Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Walsh AD, Hesketh KD, van der Pligt P, Cameron AJ, Crawford D, Campbell KJ (2017) Fathers’ perspectives on the diets and physical activity behaviours of their young children. PLoS One 12(6):e0179210. Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Majee W, Thullen MJ, Davis AN, Sethi TK (2017) Influences on infant feeding: perceptions of mother–father parent dyads. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs 42(5):289–294. Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Feinberg ME, Brown LD, Kan ML (2012) A multi-domain self-report measure of coparenting. Parenting 12(1):1–21. Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Pratt M, Hoffmann D, Taylor M, Musher-Eizenman D (2017) Structure, coercive control, and autonomy promotion: a comparison of fathers’ and mothers’ food parenting strategies. J Health Psychol. Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Glaser BG (1965) The constant comparative method of qualitative analysis. Soc Probl 12(4):436–445 Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Glaser BG, Strauss AL (1967) The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Aldine, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Hayman LW, Lee HJ, Miller AL, Lumeng JC (2014) Low-income women’s conceptualizations of emotional-and stress-eating. Appetite 83:269–276. Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Pesch MH, Harrell KJ, Kaciroti N, Rosenblum KL, Lumeng JC (2011) Maternal styles of talking about child feeding across sociodemographic groups. J Am Diet Assoc 111(12):1861–1867. Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Hayter AK, Draper AK, Ohly HR, Rees GA, Pettinger C, McGlone P, Watt RG (2015) A qualitative study exploring parental accounts of feeding pre-school children in two low-income populations in the UK. Matern Child Nutr 11(3):371–384. Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Endendijk JJ, Groeneveld MG, Mesman J (2018) The gendered family process model: an integrative framework of gender in the family. Arch Sex Behav 47(4):877–904. Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Sayer LC (2016) Trends in women’s and men’s time use, 1965–2012: back to the future? In: gender and couple relationships. Springer, Switzerland, pp 43–77Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Bianchi SM, Milkie MA, Sayer LC, Robinson JP (2000) Is anyone doing the housework? Trends in the gender division of household labor. Soc Forces 79(1):191–228. Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Bianchi SM (2000) Maternal employment and time with children: dramatic change or surprising continuity? Demography 37(4):401–414. Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Flagg LA, Sen B, Kilgore M, Locher JL (2014) The influence of gender, age, education and household size on meal preparation and food shopping responsibilities. Public Health Nutr 17(09):2061–2070. Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Duxbury L, Higgins C, Smart R, Stevenson M (2014) Mobile technology and boundary permeability. Br J Manag 25(3):570–588. Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ekinsmyth C (2014) Mothers’ business, work/life and the politics of ‘mumpreneurship’. Gend Place Cult 21(10):1230–1248. Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Johnson CM, Sharkey JR, Dean WR, McIntosh WA, Kubena KS (2011) It’s who I am and what we eat. Mothers’ food-related identities in family food choice. Appetite 57(1):220–228. Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Mena NZ, Gorman K, Dickin K, Greene G, Tovar A (2015) Contextual and cultural influences on parental feeding practices and involvement in child care centers among Hispanic parents. Child Obes 11(4):347–354. Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Jean Turner M, Young CR, Black KI (2006) Daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law seeking their place within the family: a qualitative study of differing viewpoints. Fam Relat 55(5):588–600. Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    McDaniel BT, Coyne SM, Holmes EK (2012) New mothers and media use: associations between blogging, social networking, and maternal well-being. Matern Child Health J 16(7):1509–1517. Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Berge JM, Truesdale KP, Sherwood NE, Mitchell N, Heerman WJ, Barkin S, Matheson D, Levers-Landis CE, French SA (2017) Beyond the dinner table: who’s having breakfast, lunch and dinner family meals and which meals are associated with better diet quality and BMI in pre-school children? Public Health Nutr 20(18):3275–3284. Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Hammons AJ, Fiese BH (2011) Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Pediatrics 127(6):e1565–e1574. Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Gevers DW, van Assema P, Sleddens EF, de Vries NK, Kremers SP (2015) Associations between general parenting, restrictive snacking rules, and adolescent’s snack intake. The roles of fathers and mothers and interparental congruence. Appetite 87:184–191. Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Saltzman J, Musaad S, Bost K, McBride B, Fiese B (2019) Associations between father availability, mealtime distractions and routines, and maternal feeding responsiveness: an observational study. J Fam Psychol. Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Wardle J, Herrera M, Cooke L, Gibson EL (2003) Modifying children’s food preferences: the effects of exposure and reward on acceptance of an unfamiliar vegetable. Eur J Clin Nutr 57(2):341–348. Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Newman J, Taylor A (1992) Effect of a means-end contingency on young children’s food preferences. J Exp Child Psychol 53(2):200–216. Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Shloim N, Edelson LR, Martin N, Hetherington MM (2015) Parenting styles, feeding styles, feeding practices, and weight status in 4–12-year-old children: a systematic review of the literature. Front Psychol 6:1849. Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Lumeng JC, Miller AL, Appugliese D, Rosenblum K, Kaciroti N (2018) Picky eating, pressuring feeding, and growth in toddlers. Appetite 123:299–305. Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Guerrero AD, Chu L, Franke T, Kuo AA (2016) Father involvement in feeding interactions with their young children. Am J Health Behav 40(2):221–230. Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Garasky S, Stewart SD, Gundersen C, Lohman BJ, Eisenmann JC (2009) Family stressors and child obesity. Soc Sci Res 38(4):755–766. Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Thompson OM, Ballew C, Resnicow K, Must A, Bandini L, Cyr H, Dietz W (2003) Food purchased away from home as a predictor of change in BMI z-score among girls. Int J Obes 28(2):282–289. Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Taveras EM, Berkey CS, Rifas-Shiman SL, Ludwig DS, Rockett HR, Field AE, Colditz GA, Gillman MW (2005) Association of consumption of fried food away from home with body mass index and diet quality in older children and adolescents. Pediatrics 116(4):e518–e524. Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Styles JL, Meier A, Sutherland LA, Campbell MK (2007) Parents’ and caregivers’ concerns about obesity in young children: a qualitative study. Fam Community Health 30(4):279–295. Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    James D (2004) Factors influencing food choices, dietary intake, and nutrition-related attitudes among African Americans: application of a culturally sensitive model. Ethn Health 9(4):349–367. Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Watterworth JC, Hutchinson JM, Buchholz AC, Darlington G, Randall Simpson JA, Ma DW, Haines J, Study GFH (2017) Food parenting practices and their association with child nutrition risk status: comparing mothers and fathers. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 42(6):667–671. Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Reczek C (2014) Conducting a multi family member interview study. Fam Process 53(2):318–335. Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Rylatt L, Cartwright T (2016) Parental feeding behaviour and motivations regarding pre-school age children: a thematic synthesis of qualitative studies. Appetite 99:285–297. Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Coltrane S (2000) Research on household labor: modeling and measuring the social embeddedness of routine family work. J Marriage Fam 62(4):1208–1233. Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Buckley CK, Schoppe-Sullivan SJ (2010) Father involvement and coparenting behavior: parents’ nontraditional beliefs and family earner status as moderators. Pers Relatsh 17(3):413–431. Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Gouveia M, Canavarro M, Moreira H (2018) The role of mindful parenting and children’s weight in mothers’ child-feeding practices. Eat Weight Disord-St. Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Blissett J, Meyer C, Haycraft E (2006) Maternal and paternal controlling feeding practices with male and female children. Appetite 47(2):212–219. Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Goulding AN, Lumeng JC, Rosenblum KL, Chen Y-P, Kaciroti N, Miller AL (2015) Maternal feeding goals described by low-income mothers. J Nutr Educ Behav 47(4):331–337. Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Leung CY, Miller AL, Lumeng JC, Kaciroti NA, Rosenblum KL (2015) Maternal representations of their children in relation to feeding beliefs and practices among low-income mothers of young children. Appetite 95:176–181. Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Domoff SE, Miller AL, Khalatbari N, Pesch MH, Harrison K, Rosenblum K, Lumeng JC (2017) Maternal beliefs about television and parental mediation in a low-income United States sample. J Child Media 11(3):278–294. Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Penilla C, Tschann JM, Deardorff J, Flores E, Pasch LA, Butte NF, Gregorich SE, Greenspan LC, Martinez SM, Ozer E (2017) Fathers’ feeding practices and children’s weight status in Mexican American families. Appetite 117:109–116. Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Burningham K, Venn S, Christie I, Jackson T, Gatersleben B (2014) New motherhood: a moment of change in everyday shopping practices? Young Consumers 15(3):211–226. Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Gram M (2015) Buying food for the family: negotiations in parent/child supermarket shopping: An observational study from Denmark and the United States. J Contemp Ethnogr 44(2):169–195. Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Burton M, Reid M, Worsley A, Mavondo F (2017) Food skills confidence and household gatekeepers’ dietary practices. Appetite 108:183–190. Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Musher-Eizenman D, Holub S (2007) Comprehensive feeding practices questionnaire: validation of a new measure of parental feeding practices. J Pediatr Psychol 32(8):960–972. Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Allen A, Swope K, Miller AL, Rosenblum K, Lumeng JC (2014) The role of fathers in child feeding. Pediatrics Research Symposium, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  68. 68.
    Lambert S, Loiselle CG (2008) Combining individual interviews and focus groups to enhance data richness. J Adv Nurs 62(2):228–237. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Human Growth and DevelopmentUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ToledoOhioUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyCentral Michigan UniversityMt. PleasantUSA
  4. 4.Department of PediatricsUniversity of Michigan Medical SchoolAnn ArborUSA
  5. 5.Department of Nutritional SciencesUniversity of Michigan School of Public HealthAnn ArborUSA
  6. 6.Department of Health Behavior and Health EducationUniversity of Michigan School of Public HealthAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations