How Well Do Couples Care When They Are Expecting Their First Child? Family and Dyadic Predictors of Parental Sensitivity in Expectant Couples

Maria Kaźmierczak, Paulina Pawlicka*, Ariadna B. Łada-Maśko, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Belsky's Process Model points to family-of-origin (especially experiences of mistreatment in childhood) as well as personality and marital relations as determinants of parenting quality, including parental sensitive responsiveness. Parental sensitivity might be intuitively developed during pregnancy and affects perinatal mental health. However, there is a lack of studies investigating effects of family-of-origin and relationship perceptions on expectant couples' parental sensitive responsiveness. The aim of the presented study was to test mediation and moderation effects of perceived partner's empathic concern and retrospectively assessed abuse experienced in childhood on sensitive parental responsiveness operationalized as caretaking behaviors and emotional reactions to a crying life-like doll. One hundred eleven expectant couples (N = 222; age: Mwomen = 28.4 years, SD = 3.03; age: Mmen = 29.2 years, SD = 3.31; relationship duration: Myears = 6.8, SD = 3.43; gestational week: M = 31.3, SD = 4.58) assessed the extent to which they experienced physical and emotional abuse from their parents in childhood and rated their current partner's empathic concern. In the experimental procedure, couples reacted to a crying life-like doll and were assessed by trained psychologists using the modified Ainsworth Sensitivity Scale to measure couples' sensitive responsiveness. The results confirmed a significant mediational effect of perceived women's (and not men's) empathic concern for the relationship between the reported experience of abuse in family-of-origin by expectant fathers (and not mothers) and couples' sensitivity. Support and interventions regarding couples' empathy and parenting competence can be offered to both mothers and fathers to identify those who are at risk of low parental sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number562707
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2020


  • abuse
  • couple
  • empathy
  • family-of-origin
  • parental sensitivity


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