Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Mental Health, Neighborhood Characteristics, and Time Investments in Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Mental Health, Neighborhood Characteristics, and Time Investments in Children

Article excerpt

We use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 3,572) to examine relationships between maternal depression and mothers' time investments with their 5-yearold children in outings, trips to playgrounds or parks, time spent reading with the child, and time spent playing indoors with the child. We also examine whether mothers' selfassessments of neighborhoods are associated with time investments in children. Findings indicate that persistent maternal depression is associated with fewer time investments in all four activities with 5-year-old children. Mothers' fear of children playing outdoors and self-assessments of neighborhood collective efficacy are associated with indoor and outdoor activities with children, but do not mediate the relationships between maternal depression and maternal time investments. In sum, maternal depression and neighborhood context play significant but largely independent roles in regulating mothers' time spent in primary childcare activities.

Key Words: depression, early childhood. Fragile Families, mothers, parenting.

The time that mothers and children spend together in physically active or cognitively stimulating activities is invaluable for children's development. Reading to a child, taking a child out to play or on an outing, and playing together with toys such as blocks have been associated with improved cognitive skills, lower levels of problem behaviors, and more positive parent -child interactions (Kohen, Leventhal, Dahinten, & Mcintosh, 2008; Raikes et al., 2006; Ruiz ?tal., 2006). Researchers have become increasingly concerned that maternal depression may undermine mothers' ability to engage in these activities, which may have consequences for children's development. The high prevalence of maternal depression in low-income, urban settings in particular poses significant, long-term risks for mothers and their time investments in children (Lanzi, Pascoe, Keltner, & Ramey, 1999). Given the well-established relationship between maternal depression and children's risks for poor verbal and reading scores, behavior problems, poorer early health outcomes, and psychological distress (Chung, McCollum, EIo, Lee, & CuIhane, 2004; Kahn, Brandt, & Whitaker, 2004; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 1999), it is essential to better understand the diverse pathways through which maternal depression impacts children's lives. Moreover, because lower income families face the cumulative disadvantages of poverty, depression, and less safe neighborhoods, evaluating the relationships between maternal depression, neighborhood context, and children's activities in a low-income population is of particular importance for developing policies to improve mothers' and children's well-being.

We use a national data set with rich information on the activities of children and maternal socioemotional factors to address two research questions related to maternal time investments in children: First, what is the relationship between maternal depression and mothers' frequency of trips to parks or playgrounds with a child, taking a child on outings, playing indoors with toys with a child, and reading with a child? Second, do mothers' subjective assessments of neighborhood fear or collective efficacy mediate the relationships between maternal depression and time spent in these activities?

RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MATERNAL DEPRESSION AND CHILD WELL-BEING

A research consensus has emerged that parental mental health, particularly maternal mental health, is associated with a wide variety of child and adolescent outcomes, ranging from children's mental and physical health to school achievement, cognitive skills, behavioral problems, and developmental trajectories (e.g., Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 1997; Kiernan & Huerta, 2008). Few studies, however, have examined differences between depressed and nondepressed mothers in time spent with young children, particularly while engaged in "primary" child-care activities (Bianchi, 2000), where the mother and child spend active or cognitively stimulating time together. …

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