Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Multilevel Factors Influencing Maternal Stress during the First Three Years

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Multilevel Factors Influencing Maternal Stress during the First Three Years

Article excerpt

This prospective study applies family stress theory to the influence of personal, child, and familial factors on a mother's parenting stress during the first 3 years of her infant's life. Participants included 134 mothers and their infants at ages 1, 6, 15, 24, and 36 months from one site of a multisite, longitudinal study. Mother's personality was most predictive of parenting stress cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Intimacy with partner reduced parenting stress early in the infant's life and at 36 months, whereas general social support was more important in the second year. Child temperament was influential at 1 and 36 months. Counterintuitively, mothers who were more satisfied with work or school choices were more likely to be chronically stressed. Implications are discussed.

Key Words: parenting stress, family stress theory, mothering, longitudinal study, psychological well-being, social support.

The birth of a baby into a family brings with it many changes, These changes may be exciting and positive for many mothers, but even positive changes create stress (McCubbin & Patterson, 1983). The degree to which mothers experience parenting as stressful has been recognized as one of the most important environmental contributors to child well-being. Parenting stress is a significant factor in the disruption of family systems and one that can indirectly affect children's development (Crnic & Acevedo, 1995). Maternal parenting stress, as used herein, is a mother's perception, and feelings in response to that perception, that the changes and demands that are associated with the mothering role exceed the resources available for dealing with those demands. Feeling overwhelmed, incompetent in the parenting role, or consistently unhappy with one's life can all be symptoms of parenting stress. It has been suggested that even in low-risk populations, maternal parenting stress in the first years of a child's life predicts child externalizing problems and low self-assertion (Creasey & Jarvis, 1994). In fact, Crnic and Acevedo state that parenting stress predicts "poorer outcome, regardless of the outcome construct of interest" (p. 280). Mothers who report more parenting stress also report less secure attachment relationships with their children (Hadadian & Merbler, 1996).

Although researchers have explored the consequences of parenting stress, less attention has been directed at identifying those constructs that predict the degree to which a particular parent may experience parenting stress. Further, whereas predictors of parenting stress may differ across developmental periods (Levy-Shiff, Dimitrovsky, Shulman, & Har-Even, 1998), the literature to date has not adequately examined this issue longitudinally. Crnic and Acevedo (1995) note the importance of further study of parenting stress among nonproblematic families, as well as the need to differentiate between parenting stress of mothers and that of fathers. Thus the purpose of the present study is to examine the predictors of parenting stress among a normal population of mothers of infants across the first 3 years of their children's lives. Family stress theory (McCubbin & Patterson, 1983) and Belsky's (1984) process model of the determinants of parenting provide theoretical underpinnings for the present study.


Following dynamic multivariate models of the determinants of parenting in general and parenting stress in particular (e.g., Abidin, 1986; Belsky, 1984), Crnic and Acevedo (1995) proposed a model that involves considering parental, child, and family system factors and their direct, indirect, and reciprocal influence on how the parent perceives stresses related to parenting. The parental factors discussed include parental personality attributes, self-esteem, mood, and beliefs. Child factors include temperament, age, developmental stage, and gender. Family systems factors, although less studied to date, include the quality of the marital relationship and social support, as well as income. …

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