Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Relationships between Maternal Parenting Stress and Reports on Children's Internalizing and Externalizing Problems: A Cross-Lagged Structural Equation Model

Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Relationships between Maternal Parenting Stress and Reports on Children's Internalizing and Externalizing Problems: A Cross-Lagged Structural Equation Model

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article presents results of a two-wave panel study with a one-year interval between two time points. The main aim was to examine the reciprocal relationship between parenting stress and reports on problem behavior based on cross-lagged structural equation models. At both time points, adolescents (M = 12.51 years on the first time point) and their mothers reported on internalizing and externalizing problem behavior of the adolescents. Additionally, mothers reported on their parenting stress. Independent of grade, mothers of boys report more parenting stress than mothers of girls. Maternal reports on problem behavior are lower than adolescents' self-reports and both reports are correlated with maternal parenting stress. The results of the cross-lagged model comparisons indicate a unidirectional relation between parenting stress and proxy-reports/cross-informant discrepancies regarding adolescent problem behavior: parenting stress appears to be a predictor of proxy reports/cross-informant discrepancies but not vice versa. The results are discussed in terms of a meaningfulness of cross-informant discrepancies.

Keywords: parenting stress, cross-informant reports, internalizing problems, externalizing problems

1. Introduction

After the transition to parenthood, individuals are confronted with several new demands. In the majority of cases the adoption of the parenting role is experienced as a challenge and often as satisfactory. On the other hand, there are situations where parenting involves distress and the experience of negative emotions. Most of these situations are related to parent-child interactions. In line with this, the most prominent theoretical models of parenting stress by Mash and Johnston (1990) and Abidin (1992) conceptualize the quality of the parent-child interaction as the central source of parenting stress. Both models posit that parenting stress is influenced by characteristics of the child, characteristics of the parents and by characteristics of the environment. While Mash and Johnston (1992) assume direct as well as indirect effects of these characteristics on parenting stress, Abidin (1992) highlights the role of parental appraisals in moderating the relation between potential stressors and parenting stress. He assumes that parenting stress is a result of an individual appraisal process in which a parent assesses the harm of potential stressors through an internal working model of him- or herself as a parent. Thus, whether potential stressors lead to parenting stress depends on an individual's perspective on and an individual's appraisal of events. Based on these fundamental theoretical assumptions, the emphasis of this study is on the relation between maternal parenting stress and characteristics of the child/adolescent. In particular, the focus is on maternal parenting stress because mothers are typically the main primary caregiver for children as well as for adolescents.

First, relevant child characteristics may be objective characteristics (i.e., sex and age). However, the existing literature provides only limited evidence for an effect of the child/adolescent's sex on parenting stress (McBride, Schoppe & Rane, 2002; Williford, Culkins & Keane, 2007). If the results of studies support the existence of sex differences (e.g., Scher & Sharabany, 2005), mothers of boys report more parenting stress than mothers of girls. Results regarding the effect of age (or grade) are poorly documented. Traditionally, research on parenting stress has focused on the transition to parenthood and on early childhood while less is known regarding parenting stress in late childhood or during the transition from childhood to adolescence. This is surprising as it is well-known that the parent-child interaction changes from childhood to adolescence. This change is not only characterized by a decreasing frequency of interactions but also by fewer (positive) affective exchanges and more intense conflicts (Collins, Madsen & Susman-Stillman, 2002; Steinberg & Silk, 2002) which may be seen as a change in psychological relationship quality. …

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