Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Single Mothers' Religious Participation and Early Childhood Behavior

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Single Mothers' Religious Participation and Early Childhood Behavior

Article excerpt

Using data on 1,134 single mothers from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, this study examined trajectories of religious participation among single mothers and whether these trajectories were associated with early childhood behavior. The results suggested that single mothers experienced diverse patterns of religious participation throughout their child's early life; some mothers maintained a consistent pattern of religious participation (or nonparticipation), and other mothers increased their participation. The results also suggested that religious participation was associated with greater involvement with children, reduced parenting stress, anda lower likelihood of engaging in corporal punishment. Young children raised by mothers who frequently attended religious services were less likely to display problem behaviors, and this relationship was partially mediated by increased child involvement, lower stress, and less frequent corporal punishment. Overall, religious participation may provide resources for single mothers that encourage them to engage in parenting practices that promote positive child development.

Key Words: early childhood, Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing, low-income families, mothers, religiosity, single motherhood.

Family scholars have increasingly focused on fragile families in recent years, because these families have an increased risk of experiencing poverty and family dissolution and often consist of unmarried parents and their children (Carlson, McLanahan, & England, 2004). Because family instability and economic hardship may have negative social and behavioral consequences for children, it is important to examine factors that may strengthen fragile families (Amato, 2005; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994).

Religion may be one factor that strengthens fragile families by providing access to social capital (Coleman, 1988; Wilcox & Wolfinger, 2008). Social capital can be defined as a set of resources stemming from shared norms and group membership that may be beneficial to families (Furstenberg, 2005); religious institutions may be a source of social capital by providing shared beliefs and values as well as a social network that provides support, parenting guidance, and resources for building healthy relationships (Abbott, Berry, & Meredith, 1990; Edgell, 2006; Ellison, 1991). The social capital gained from religious participation may help to increase the use of supportive parenting practices (Brody & Flor, 1998; Wiley, Warren, & Montanelli, 2002) and improve children's well-being (Bartkowski, Xu, & Levin, 2008). Although researchers have begun to examine the role of religion within fragile families (e.g., Wilcox & Wolfinger), little is known about patterns of religious participation among single mothers (i.e., mothers who are not married or are not residing with a cohabiting partner) and the influence of religious participation on young children's well-being (Mahoney, 2010). This question is important to consider, because single mothers may benefit from social capital because of hardship, and religion may be one of the few institutions to which single mothers have access (Foley, McCarthy, & Chaves, 2001).

To benefit from the social capital that religion may provide, single mothers may need to acquire connections within religious institutions; by attending services frequently and over a period of time, mothers may gain access to a greater number of resources (Iannaccone, 1990). Thus, although religion is a multidimensional construct that includes a variety of attitudes and behaviors (often labeled religiosity), this study focused on whether participation in the social institution of religion may provide access to social capital for single mothers and their children.

The aim of this study was to use longitudinal data to explore the relationship between single mothers' religious participation and early childhood behavior. Three research questions guided this investigation. …

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