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Interpersonal functional flexibility : an antecedent of authoritative parenting? Van Oeveren, Margaret Ann

Abstract

It has been asserted that androgynous individuals are both competent and flexible and that, as such, they should be most likely to be authoritative parents (highly demanding/highly responsive) (Spence & Helmreich, 1978). However, studies examining the association between psychological androgyny and this optimal parenting strategy (Baumrind, 1982; Spence & Helmreich, 1978) have reached conflicting conclusions. The position taken in this study is that there is a logical association between androgyny and authoritative parenting at the construct level, but that the component of androgyny critical to this link is functional flexibility (the ability to appropriately deploy both masculine and feminine attributes across multi-interpersonal domains) rather than the simple possession of both masculine and feminine traits per se. In view of this argument, earlier studies share a significant limitation. Their operational definitions of androgyny fail to reflect the functional flexibility aspect of the construct definition, thus allowing individuals who possess both masculine and feminine traits but who are not functionally flexible to be classified as androgynous. This study had two objectives. The first was to retest Spence and Helmreich's (1978) hypothesis that androgyny is positively related to authoritative parenting using a measure which would assess functional flexibility. The second objective was to demonstrate that authoritative parenting requires flexibility with respect to a whole range of interpersonal abilities rather than simply masculine and feminine attributes. A sample of 96 mothers with children between the ages of 7 and 12 were asked to complete a battery of questionnaires which included Bern's (1974) Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), Paulhus and Martin's (1987) Battery of Interpersonal Capabilities (BIC), and the Block (1965) Childrearing Practices Report: Q-Sort (CRPR). Contrary to what was expected, neither androgyny nor flexibility with respect to the whole range of interpersonal attributes was positively associated with authoritative parenting. Certain problems with the content of the parenting measure may have contributed to the lack of association. To minimize some of the problems with its content the method of using the parenting Q-sort was revised. The new analyses involved categorizing mothers according to warmth and demandingness--a method similar to that used in earlier studies. In these further analyses few significant differences in parenting style were found between androgynous mothers and other mothers. The most notable difference arose when the sex of the child was considered. Although, overall, androgynous mothers were not more likely to be bad parents, they were more likely than other mothers to be permissive with their sons.

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