Academic journal article Social Work Research

Concerns about Children's Development: Implications for Single, Employed Black Mothers' Well-Being

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Concerns about Children's Development: Implications for Single, Employed Black Mothers' Well-Being

Article excerpt

This study sought to determine the effects of mothers' concerns about their preschool children's well-being and development on indicators of maternal role strain, depression symptoms, and feelings about work, using data from an ongoing investigation of 93 single black mothers employed in low-wage jobs in New York City. Findings revealed that beliefs that maternal employment can be detrimental to young children contributed to mothers' role strain and preference to stay home, whereas appraisals of greater child problem behaviors and lower pay contributed to depression symptoms. Mothers were less comfortable with their main child care arrangement when their child was a boy. Policy implications are offered in light of the 1996 welfare reform.

Key words: African Americans; employment; mothers; preschool children; well-being

Under federal law, welfare recipients can receive public assistance for only five years in a lifetime. The 1996 welfare reform places time limits on welfare receipt and requires most recipients to enter the paid workforce. Employment by mothers with young children means that they must find acceptable substitute child care arrangements. Because the needs of young children for care and nurturing are likely to trigger concerns about their well-being, particularly among single black mothers whose employment frequently does not avert poverty (Edin, 1991; Jackson, 1992; Jencks, 1992), some questions worth exploring are whether and how single black mothers' concerns about their children's well-being and development affect their own well-being and feelings about work.

Although little research has focused on how parental beliefs about the consequences for children of maternal employment affect the mother's well-being, a large body of research documents the negative effects of the reverse; that is, that parental psychological distress--maternal depression in particular--has adverse effects on children (see, for example, Conrad & Hammen, 1989; Downey & Coyne, 1990; Gelfand & Teti, 1990; Ghodsian, Zajicek, & Wolkind, 1984; Jackson, 1994; Leadbeater & Bishop, 1994; Richters & Pellegrini, 1989; Schaughency & Lahey, 1985; Zahn-Waxler, Iannotti, Cumings, & Denham, 1990).

Research also has documented the importance of high-quality substitute care. For example, studies of early intervention programs for low-income children have found positive developmental consequences in center-based programs of high quality (Haskins, 1989; Lee, Brooks-Gunn, Schnur, & Liaw, 1990; Ramey & Campbell, 1994). However, studies of low-income children in more typical child care arrangements have reported some detrimental effects of unsteady or low-quality care (Baydar & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Vaughn, Gore, & Egeland, 1980). Vandell and Corasaniti (1990) have found negative effects of extensive early child care on children's social and academic functioning in a white, predominantly middle-class sample but have concluded, on the basis of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, that alternative forms of child care can be a positive force in the lives of young, low-income children (Vandell & Ramanan, 1992).

Whereas most people would agree that parents influence children's development, some have argued convincingly that children's behavior and experiences influence parental well-being and competence as well (Belsky, Robins, & Gamble, 1984). It is probable, moreover, that the adequacy of child care arrangements is critical not just for children but for the psychological functioning and employment success of their mothers. Likewise, employed mothers' concerns about their children's experiences in child care are likely to influence negatively their own well-being and feelings about work when the current child care arrangement is not their first choice. In the study discussed in this article, we addressed the latter issue. More explicitly, we sought to determine the effects of single black mothers' concerns about their preschool children, including their appraisals of their children's behavior, on indicators of maternal role strain, depression symptoms, and preferences for employment, using data from an ongoing investigation of single black mothers employed in low-wage jobs in New York City. …

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