Attachment and Parenting: The Mediating Role of Work-Family Balance in Portuguese Parents of Preschool Children

Article excerpt

Given the increasingly challenging task of balancing multiple adult life roles in contemporary society, this study examined the influences of both conflicting and (positively) synergistic work and family roles in mediating associations between the quality of adult attachment and both parental satisfaction and parenting stress. Participants were 242 Portuguese fathers and mothers involved in dual-earner relationships and in parenting preschool-aged children. Structural Equations Modeling analyses yielded findings demonstrating that the paths from romantic attachment (avoidance and anxiety) to parenting stress and satisfaction were fully explained by work-family dimensions, especially the conflict dimension. Implications of these findings for parent education and intervention are discussed.

Key Words: adult attachment, parenting satisfaction, parenting stress, work-family conflict, work-family positive spillover.

One of the most emblematic aspects of the end of the 20th century and early 21st century lies hi the rapid pace of change that has occurred in two central areas of life: work and family. Contemporary adults in dual-earner families with children face increasingly new challenges in balancing their multiple roles as spouses, parents, and workers. The present study intends to analyze the relation between adult attachment and both satisfaction and stress in the parental role. It extends previous studies by considering both negative and positive spillover effects of work-family dynamics in this relation, aiming thus to contribute to a more embracing understanding of the complexities inherent to the balance of multiple life roles.

ADULT ATTACHMENT

Bowlby (1969) described attachment as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings" (p. 194), defining it as an emotional bond established with someone that is perceived as a source of security and that provides a safe base from which individuals explore the world (Bowlby, 1988). Attachment theory stresses the centrality of emotionally close relationships in human development, influencing the psychosocial adaptation of individuals and the quality of the emotional ties they establish lifelong with emotionally significant figures. This influence of the attachment bonds along the developmental trajectory of individuals would be achieved by what Bowlby (1969) called representational models or internal working models, supposed vehicles of connection between childhood experiences and those in which individuals will be participating and acting on in the course of their development (Matos, 2002). These models configure important patterns of reading and interpreting reality, integrating beliefs, and expectations about self and others that influence the way people behave and relate to the world.

Kazan and Shaver (1987) extended attachment theory to the domain of adult functioning and found, in adults, attachment patterns similar to those identified with children. The authors proposed that adults whose early caregivers supplied them with consistent, sensitive, and responsive support were presumed to form a "secure" internal working model of close relationships. In contrast, the experience of inconsistent sensitivity and responsiveness was assumed to promote an "anxious" orientation to close relationships, whereas the early experience of cold, neglectful, and rejecting parenting was presumed to forecast the formation of "avoidant" adult attachment orientation. Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991; Bartholomew, 1990) subsequently differentiated two types of avoidant attachment in intimate relationships: the avoidant-dismissing and the avoidant-fearful. On the basis of a bidimensional model of adult attachment organized around the positive and negative valences of "self and "other" models, these authors described four attachment patterns: (1) The securely attached individuals, with positive models of self and others, tend to present high levels of self-esteem and self-confidence, positive views of their partners and their relationships, and an ability to maintain close relationships without losing personal autonomy, being able to balance intimacy and independence; (2) the preoccupied attached adults, with a positive model of others but a negative model of the self, tend to present a low self-esteem, an exacerbated demand for intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from partners, and an excessive involvement in relations, exhibiting high levels of emotional dependency, worry, separation anxiety, and fear of abandonment; (3) the dismissing adults, with a positive model of the self but a negative model of the others, tend to view themselves as independent and self-sufficient and invulnerable to attachment feelings, suppressing their feelings and avoiding intimacy; and (4) the fearful attached adults, with negative models of both self and others, tend to present ambivalent feelings and chronic approach-avoidance conflicts regarding close relationships; they tend to present a great sensitivity to rejection signs, a low self-confidence, feeling uncomfortable with emotional closeness although expressing the need for intimacy (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). …