Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Work Absence: A Longitudinal Study of Language Impairment and Behavior Problems in Preschool Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Work Absence: A Longitudinal Study of Language Impairment and Behavior Problems in Preschool Children

Article excerpt

The dual-earner family has been a central political ambition in Norway and other welfare-oriented countries since the early 1970s, and the past few decades have seen an unprecedented increase in maternal employment throughout Europe and the United States. Still, mothers have lower employment and higher sick leave rates than fathers across most of these countries (Laaksonen et al., 2010; Melchior, Niedhammer, Berkman, & Goldberg, 2003), including Norway (Mastekaasa, 2000). Children's disabilities or special health care needs (McPherson et al., 2004) might constitute an important risk factor for this maternal work absence, forming the nucleus of much work- family conflicts

Caregiving constitutes a normal part of being a mother but is likely to take on a different significance when a child has special needs and might become a "fertile ground for persistent stress" (Pearlin, Mullan, Semple, & Skaff, 1990, p. 583). Over time, additional stress factors might lead to compromised health and necessitate various employment-related adjustments. The notion that child health and behavior affect maternal behavior is central within transactional and family systems theories (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), and a number of theoretical models describe the impact of stress on caregivers. Extensive caregiving commonly requires rearrangement of priorities and redirection of energy to optimally manage the child's disability and to juggle the caregiver role within the requirement of everyday life, personal, and contextual (e.g., social support, finances, health care, and education facilities) resources (Raina et al., 2005). Although extra care (e.g., special education, supervision, medical visits) might constitute an important ingredient in promoting optimal development for the child, it is likely to divert resources from other purposes and might result in stress, compromised health, exhaustion, absenteeism, reduced work hours, or cessation of paid work altogether (DeRigne & Porterfield, 2010). Because mothers are typically the primary caregivers, they are likely to shoulder the bulk of these added responsibilities (Baker & Drapela, 2010; DeRigne, 2012). Empirical evidence has also demonstrated associations between caregiving and both maternal health and employment outcomes. A majority of mothers tend to adjust their work participation to meet family goals, making employment decisions in response to an intricate web of interconnected relational issues (Holmes, Erickson, & Hill, 2012; Mainiero & Sullivan, 2005), including their children's health and behavior (DeRigne, 2012; Gordon, Rosenman, & Cuskelly, 2007). A number of studies have also documented associations between children's special care needs and lowered maternal employment rates (DeRigne, 2012), with more mothers working part time (Gordon et al., 2007) or leaving work altogether (Nes et al., 2013), despite not having a weaker desire for work (Gordon et al., 2007), with the more severe child care conditions most strongly related to lower employment rates (DeRigne, 2012; Montes & Halterman, 2008), and the employment differences becoming more pronounced with child age (Hauge et al., 2014).

Extensive caregiving is also likely to influence both maternal mental and somatic health. Mothers of children with special needs have been shown to be more likely to suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders than fathers or mothers of typically developing children (Brehaut et al., 2009). These differences commonly ensue from the chronic strain involved in the caretaker role as well as from emotional reactions and concerns evoked by the child's condition. The cumulative effect of multiple daily caregiving stressors has been shown to adversely affect wound healing and to promote elevations in inflammatory markers associated with depression, cardiovascular disorders, frailty, and mortality (Gouin, Glaser, Malarkey, Beversdolf, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2012; Mausbach, Patterson, Rabinowitz, Grant, & Schulz, 2007). …

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