Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Mother and Grandmother Parenting in Low-Income Three-Generation Rural Households

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Mother and Grandmother Parenting in Low-Income Three-Generation Rural Households

Article excerpt

This study draws data from the Family Life Project to examine parenting behaviors observed for 105 mothers and grandmothers raising an infant in rural low-income multigenerational households. Multilevel models are used to examine the relationships between maternal age and psychological distress and parenting of the infant by both generations. The findings indicate that young maternal age is a risk factor for less sensitive parenting in the presence of other risks, including psychological distress. Further, young maternal age is associated with negative parenting behaviors by grandmothers only. Grandmothers and mothers displayed similar levels of negative intrusive parenting, but different factors were linked to the observed parenting of each generation. These findings contribute to understanding the benefits and risks of three-generation households.

Key Words: adolescent mothers, grandparents, multigenerational, parenting, poor families, rural.

Multigenerational households in which mothers and grandmothers raise children together are an increasingly common family structure. In 2006, almost 3.7 million children lived in households with grandparents and parents, with children under 6 years of age the most likely to live in three-generation households (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). The rising prevalence of this family structure is linked to increases in femaleheaded households caused by out-of-wedlock births and divorce (George & Dickerson, 2000). Housing, employment, and educational limitations in nonurban environments may also directly or indirectly influence formation of multigenerational households. Despite this growing trend, there has been little systematic investigation of family relations in three-generation households (Foster & Kalil, 2007).

Extant research on multigenerational families has focused on adolescent mothers, who may comprise a particularly vulnerable group of parents. Much research in this area has also focused on African American families in low-income urban communities. The research base includes limited insight into family processes that influence parenting within these family structures (Black et al., 2002; Black & Nitz, 1996; ChaseLansdale, Gordon, Coley, Wakschlag, & Brooks-Gunn, 1999; East & Felice, 1996; Jones, Zalot, Foster, Sterret, & Chester, 2007). Moreover, the grandmother perspective is often missing from research on multigenerational families, as little research has focused on grandmothergrandchild relationships (Caldwell, Antonucci, & Jackson, 1998; Goodman & Silverstein, 2002; Sadler & Clemmens, 2004). Parenting of mothers and grandmothers may be influenced by different factors and differentially related to child outcomes (Chase-Lansdale et al., 1999; Kalil, Spencer, Spieker, & Gilchrist, 1998; Schweingruber & Kalil, 2000). The present study addresses these research gaps by studying the relations between maternal age, psychological distress, and parenting by mothers and grandmothers in low-income three-generation households.

Consistent evidence indicates that economic disadvantage is associated with less positive parenting and more negative parenting, ranging from less sensitive and responsive parenting, harsher discipline, and the use of fewer child-oriented approaches (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Magnuson & Duncan, 2002; McLoyd, 1998). Many parents living in poverty, however, exhibit sensitive parenting behaviors. This positive parenting can serve as an important resource or protective factor for children facing the other risks associated with poverty (e.g., risky neighborhoods, failing schools). Identifying the processes through which poverty compromises parenting while simultaneously identifying the mechanisms that preserve effective parenting in the face of economic adversity are critical goals for researchers (Klein & Forehand, 2000; Magnuson & Duncan).


Parental psychological distress represents one pathway through which economic disadvantage may compromise parenting (Magnuson & Duncan, 2002; McLoyd, 1998; Petterson & Albers, 200 1 ). …

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