Academic journal article Social Work Research

Poor Single Mothers with Young Children: Mastery, Relations with Nonresident Fathers, and Child Outcomes

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Poor Single Mothers with Young Children: Mastery, Relations with Nonresident Fathers, and Child Outcomes

Article excerpt

Using data from two waves of a short-term longitudinal study, the authors examined the impact of maternal socioeconomic conditions (education, employment, and income) and family processes (quality of mother-father relations, frequency of nonresident fathers' contacts with their children, and mothers' parenting stress) at time (T) 1 on maternal parenting adequacy and children's behavior problems and adaptive language skills, 1 1/2 to two years later, at T2. The sample consisted of 86 single mothers--each with a preschool child (ages 3 and 5, respectively, at T1 and T2)--who were employed and unemployed current and former welfare recipients. As predicted, the influences of mothers' socioeconomic conditions and family processes were largely indirect and mediated by mothers' perceived self-efficacy (mastery).The quality of the mother-father relationship was related positively to the frequency of nonresident fathers' contacts with their children. More nonresident father involvement and less maternal parenting stress at T1 were associated with better child outcomes in kindergarten--that is, fewer behavior problems and better adaptive language skills. These findings suggest that there might be enduring effects on poor children's adjustment in early school of mothers' efficacy beliefs and nonresident fathers' involvement. Implications for social welfare policies and practice are discussed.

KEY WORDS: mastery beliefs; mother-father relations; parenting; preschool children's development; single mothers


For some poor children, the transition to school is imperiled. A large body of research has documented associations among economic disadvantage, unstable and conflicted family relations, deprived cognitive environments at home, and behavior problems and reduced verbal ability early in school (Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1994; Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 1997; McLoyd, 1998). Behavior and learning problems early in school tend to persist for children from economically disadvantaged families (Ackerman, Brown, & Izard, 2003).

Researchers also have observed that children develop more optimally when there is both a primary caregiver who is committed to the well-being of the child (typically the mother) and another adult (frequently the father) who gives support to the primary caregiver (see, for example, Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Jackson & Scheines, 2005). Jackson and Scheines (2005) pointed out that little is known about how single black mothers and nonresident black fathers coparent in poor and near-poor black families. In a sample of current and former single-mother welfare recipients in New York City, they investigated the determinative impact on preschool black children's subsequent behavioral and cognitive development of mothers' perceived self-efficacy (mastery), parenting practices involving the relationship between the mothers and the nonresident fathers, and the level of contact between those fathers and their children. They found that more contact between nonresident fathers and their children predicted more adequate maternal parenting, which in turn was associated directly with the children's subsequent behavioral and cognitive functioning in early elementary school.

In this longitudinal study, we adopted ecological and social cognitive theoretical perspectives in examining predictors of child behavior problems and language skills in kindergarten in a sample of single black mothers with a three- or four-year-old child who were employed and unemployed current and former welfare recipients in Pittsburgh in 2004 at time (T) 1. We focused on factors that distinguish children with lower levels of behavior problems and better language skills 1 1/2 to two years later at T2. Because of the paucity of research on within-group differences among poor and near-poor single black mothers and their young children, little is known about individual differences in this population. The current study aimed to reduce this deficit in the empirical literature on parenting and child outcomes. …

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