Academic journal article Family Relations

Effects of Grandmother Coresidence and Quality of Family Relationships on Depressive Symptoms in Adolescent Mothers

Academic journal article Family Relations

Effects of Grandmother Coresidence and Quality of Family Relationships on Depressive Symptoms in Adolescent Mothers

Article excerpt

Effects of Grandmother Coresidence and Quality of Family Relationships on Depressive Symptoms in Adolescent Mothers*

Ariel Kalil,** Michael S. Spencer, Susan J. Spieker, and Lewayne D. Gilchrist

New welfare policies mandate minor, unmarried adolescent mothers to coreside with a parent or adult guardian to qualify for cash assistance. The influence of grandmother coresidence and the quality of familial relationships on adolescent mothers' psychological well-being is little understood. This article considers the main and interactive effects of grandmother coresidence, family cohesion, and young mother conflict with grandmother on adolescent reports of depressive symptoms in a sample (N = 194) of predominantly low-income adolescent mothers. Young mothers ranged in age from IS to 17 years during pregnancy. Predictor variable.s' associations with depressive symptoms were examined at 6, 18, and 30 months post-partum. No main effects of grandmother coresidence on adolescents' depressive symptoms were found. In contrast, the quality of family relationships, as well as the interaction of grandmother coresidence with family cohesion, were associated with depressive symptoms. Adolescent mothers with the greatest depressive symptoms were those who coresided with grandmothers under conditions of poor family cohesion. Implications for new welfare policies are discussed.

Key Words: adolescent mothers, depressive symptoms, grandmother coresidence, welfare policy.

Adolescent nonmarital childbearing remains at the top of the political agenda. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104193), the most recent federal law affecting welfare benefits (formerly known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children [AFDC], now called Temporary Aid to Needy Families [TANF]), requires unmarried adolescent mothers under the age of 18 to live at home or under adult supervision (as opposed to setting up independent households) to receive cash assistance. This policy and related others stem from beliefs about how living arrangements influence adolescent mothers' options and behaviors. Proponents of the new policy focus on the potential economic and social benefits of adolescents' coresidence with their mothers (hereafter called "grandmothers" for clarity). Under some conditions, grandmother coresidence can improve school outcomes and reduce the likelihood of poverty, premature marriage, and repeat pregnancy (Furstenberg & Crawford, 1978; Trent & Harlan, 1994). Grandmother coresidence may also foster more positive parenting practices in very young mothers, thereby potentially improving the home environments of teens' children (Apfel & Seitz, 1991; Stevens, 1988).

However, recent studies have highlighted potential negative effects of grandmother coresidence on family relationships and parenting behaviors, particularly among families who experience prolonged coresidence (Black & Nitz, 1996; Chase-Lansdale, Brooks-Gunn, & Zamsky, 1994; Cooley & Unger, 1991; Luster & Dubow, 1990; Wakschlag, Chase-Lansdale, & Brooks-Gunn, 1996). States are allowed to exempt minor mothers from the coresidency requirement if such arrangements are deemed detrimental to the physical or emotional well-being of the adolescent or her child (Wood & Burghardt, 1997). Few studies have examined mental health outcomes associated with grandmother coresidence and thus the issue of how multigenerational coresidence and the quality of relationships therein affect adolescent mothers' emotional well-being is little understood. Because states have few guidelines to determine the safety or quality of multigenerational home environments and their links to adolescent mothers' well-being, research on this topic will be useful to policy makers as they begin to implement the TANF program (Wood & Burghardt, 1997). Moreover, understanding the determinants of mental health among adolescent parents is important as mental health problems can result in diminished economic well-being and significant health care costs (Caldwell & Antonucci, 1996) and poorer outcomes for the children of these parents (Leadbeater & Bishop, 1994). …

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