Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

First-Time Parenthood under Socially Disadvantaged Conditions: Linking Caregivers' Experiences of Avoidance and Relationship Satisfaction with Feelings of Closeness to the Infant

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

First-Time Parenthood under Socially Disadvantaged Conditions: Linking Caregivers' Experiences of Avoidance and Relationship Satisfaction with Feelings of Closeness to the Infant

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Systemic models assume that quality of interparental and parent-child relationships are related to adult attachment representations in internal working models. Previous studies have confirmed this, but failed to consider interpersonal mechanisms such as relationship satisfaction as latent variables. Further, these relations in socially disadvantaged first-time parents are understudied. The present study sheds more light on that area by investigating the interdependency of parents' ratings by using the actor-partner mediator model with latent variables, and the association between adult representations of attachment, relationship satisfaction and caregivers' feelings of closeness to the infant at 6 months postpartum in a sample of 104 socially disadvantaged first-time parents. Results supported the assumption that relationship satisfaction mediates the association between parents' characteristics of attachment avoidance and mothers" bonding to the infant. Moreover, a few individual-level associations between the study variables and psychosocial risk factors such as experiences of domestic violence and neglect in childhood could be found.

KEYWORDS: bonding, adult attachment avoidance, socially disadvantaged families, actor-partner mediator model

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As a central aspect of attachment theory, internal working models (Bretherton, 1990; Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985) which are founded in childhood experiences with primary caregivers influence individual behavior in social interactions including the parent-child relationship. It has become widely accepted in the field of research that caregiving behavior toward the child including feelings of closeness, pleasure, and satisfaction in interactions represents the intergenerational transmission of attachment, with a focus on the mother as the primary caregiver (George, Kaplan, & Main, 1985; Main & Goldwyn, 2003). Although it is known that fathers are also able to show sensitive and involved caring behavior (e.g., Belsky, Jaffee, Sligo, Woodward, & Silva, 2005; Grossmann, Grossmann, Kindler, & Zimmermann, 2008), only a few studies have described early bonding to the child from the father's view.

Especially during the transition to parenthood and the first months postpartum, parents' caregiving system is vulnerable to individual and social-contextual risk factors (George & Solomon, 2008). In line with this, recent studies have shown that mother's early feelings of closeness to the child are influenced by maternal psychological health (i.e., posttraumatic stress and depression; Perry, Ettinger, Mendelson, & Le, 2011), experiences of domestic violence (Quinlivan & Evans, 2005), and infant social-emotional development (Mason, Briggs, & Silver, 2011), whereas paternal feelings of closeness to the child were correlated with paternal mental health, child's temperament, and relationship outcomes such as partnership satisfaction (e.g., Condon, Corkindale, & Boyce, 2008). Yet, only a few studies have focused on socially and financially disadvantaged families to analyze the influence of multiple psychosocial risk factors on parents' ability of providing care for the child. In a study by Huth-Bocks, Levendosky, Bogat, and von Eye (2004) on maternal attachment experiences, representations of caregiving and infant-mother attachment, poverty, low socioeconomic status (SES) and domestic violence were related to prenatal representations of caregiving in mothers, and to less secure attachment representations of the child. Nevertheless, paternal characteristics were not considered in their study, and the interdependency of both parents' postnatal feelings of bonding to the infant under the influence of socially disadvantaged conditions remains unclear. In the present study, parents' experiences of domestic violence, neglect in childhood, problems with drugs, and a low SES were considered because of the high frequency with which these risk factors occurred in the present sample of socially disadvantaged families. …

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