Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Pathways among Marital Distress, Parental Symptomatology, and Child Adjustment

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Pathways among Marital Distress, Parental Symptomatology, and Child Adjustment

Article excerpt

A community sample of 295 mothers, fathers, and children (M age = 11.14 years, SD = 2.52 years) rated marital distress, maternal and paternal psychological symptoms, and child adjustment. The predicted direct relations between these family and child variables were demonstrated for both fathers and mothers. Tests of pathways among these variables were conducted for separate but complementary mediation models. Maternal and paternal symptoms mediated the association between marital distress and child adjustment. Marital distress mediated the link between fathers' symptoms and child adjustment, but the direct pathway between mothers' symptoms and child adjustment remained. Pubertal status was modestly related to higher levels of family stressors. Joint implications of marital distress and parental symptoms for child adjustment are discussed.

Key Words: child adjustment, marital conflict, psychological symptoms.

Developmental and family theorists have called for the consideration of marital adjustment and parental well-being for improving understanding of how children develop in the face of family Stressors (Cox & Paley, 1997; Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). Separate lines of research indicate the negative influence of harmful forms of marital conflict and parental psychological symptoms on children's development. Limited research has examined these two family risk factors jointly, however. Recent evidence suggests links between marital functioning and a variety of parental symptoms in the prediction of child adjustment problems (e.g., Nomura, Wickramarante, Warner, Mufson, & Weissman, 2002). To further advance understanding of how these two family risk factors jointly relate to children's functioning, especially with regard to more complex mediational pathways, the current study examines associations between marital functioning, maternal and paternal psychological symptom levels, and children's adjustment using a large community sample. Structural equation models based on multi-informant data were employed to test direct and mediated relations between these family risk factors (i.e., marital distress, parental symptom levels) and child adjustment.

The marital relationship, including how conflict is handled, has important implications for children's development of interpersonal relationships within and outside their families (Cowan & Cowan, 2002; Cummings & Davies, 2002; Grych & Fincham, 1990). For example, in a study involving 7- and 10-year-old children and their parents, observers' and parents' ratings of marital conflict related to more hostile parent-child relationships (with mothers and fathers), less warm and more conflictual sibling bonds, and problematic peer relationships (Stocker & Youngblade, 1999). Further, how children respond to marital conflict may have implications for children's adjustment. Davis, Hops, Alpert, and Sheeber (1998) observed marital and family processes during triadic (mother, father, child) laboratory discussions. Parental hostility predicted boys' and girls' (aged 14 to 18) subsequent aggressive behavior during the laboratory discussions, which in turn was linked with children's levels of aggression one year later. Along similar lines, Kitzmann (2000) observed parents' triadic interactions with their children (6- to 8-year-old sons) following both dyadic parental pleasant and conflictual discussions, and found that fathers were less supportive toward their sons following the conflict discussion as compared to the pleasant discussion.

How marital differences are handled also holds important implications for the well-being of parents. Marital interaction patterns in which both spouses engage in hostile behavior are associated with low levels of marital satisfaction and marital dissolution (Katz & Gottman, 1993). Individual psychological problems and marital distress reciprocally influence one another (Davila & Bradbury, 1998; Halford & Bouma, 1997). …

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