Academic journal article Family Relations

The Influence of Maternal History of Abuse on Parenting Knowledge and Behavior

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Influence of Maternal History of Abuse on Parenting Knowledge and Behavior

Article excerpt

This study examined the intergenerational transmission of abuse among a sample of 681 teen, adult low-resource, and adult high-resource first-time mothers. Participants ranged in age from 14 to 36 years, with a mean of 20 years. Exposure to childhood emotional and to physical abuse were associated with 6-month parenting behavior but not with parenting knowledge. Teen mothers, as opposed to adult mothers, had higher mean scores for exposure to childhood emotional and physical abuse. Adult high-resource mothers reported lower mean scores on each abuse outcome than both teen and adult low-resource mothers. For the total sample of mothers, as past exposure to emotional and physical abuse increased, maternal responsivity decreased and opinions toward, and propensities for, abusive behavior increased.

Key Words: child abuse, intergenerational transmission, parenting behavior, parenting knowledge.

A history of physical abuse is associated with a punitive parenting style and discipline practices (Dixon, Brown, & Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2005; Dixon, Hamilton-Giachritsis, & Brown, 2005; Haapasalo & Aaltonen, 1999; Pears & Capaldi, 2001). In attempting to explain the prevalence of harsh, insensitive parenting behavior documented among high-risk populations, such as teen and low-resource mothers (e.g., Borkowski et al., 2007), it is particularly important to examine past exposure to abuse and how it relates to present parenting knowledge and behavior. Examinations of past childhood experiences combined with examinations of reported opinions and behaviors aid in clarifying mechanisms involved in strategies parents use when raising their children. The current study was designed to assess maternal history of abuse and how it subsequently relates to parenting knowledge and behavior among a diverse sample (i.e., teen, adult low resource - older than 21 years with less than 2 years of college, and adult high resource - older than 21 years with more than 2 years of college) of first-time mothers.

Intergenerational Transmission of Child Abuse

One factor implicated in the etiology of child abuse is parents' own childhood experiences of abuse. It is estimated that up to one third of the variance predicting child maltreatment is accounted for by maternal history of abuse (Haapasalo & Aaltonen, 1999). It has been shown that mothers who had experienced some form of abuse during their lifetime were more likely to engage in negative responses and abusive behavior toward their children than mothers who did not experience abuse (Dixon, Brown, et al., 2005; Dixon, Hamilton-Giachritsis, et al., 2005; Scaramella & Conger, 2003). Consequently, insight into an individual's upbringing is an important factor in understanding the development of beliefs about parenting and parenting practices (Miller, 1988). Investigations of abusive parenting have led researchers to examine parents' concurrent attitudes and behaviors as well as childhood experiences in an attempt to better understand the occurrence of abuse. It has been well documented that individuals with a history of severe physical abuse are more likely to endorse the use of harsh punishment than those with a mild history of abuse (Pears & Capaldi, 2001). In short, positive relationships have been documented between childhood exposure to abuse/neglect and later propensities toward less optimal parenting practices.

Unfortunately, evidence supporting the intergenerational transmission of abuse is limited (Ertem, Leventhal, & Dobbs, 2000). For example, it has been found that 90% of abused mothers do not go on to abuse then own children within the first year of life (Dixon, Hamilton-Giachritsis, et al., 2005). However, in this study, only 135 of the 4,351 participants reported experiencing an abusive childhood. The large difference in group size, and the relatively small number of individuals in the abused group may have led to confounds in the analyses. …

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