Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Mothers' Solutions to Childrearing Problems: Conditions and Processes

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Mothers' Solutions to Childrearing Problems: Conditions and Processes

Article excerpt

Parenting style is the constellation of parental perspectives about childrearing that create a context in which parenting behaviors are expressed (Smetana, 1995). Much has been written about parenting styles and their consequences for a child's academic and social competence and adaptive behavior (Baumrind, 1971, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1994; Clark, 1983; Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987; Dumas & LeFreniere, 1993; Maccoby Martin, 1983; Panzarine, 1989; Smetana, 1995; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbusch, 1994).

However, little is known about parental behaviors that are likely to be components of parenting styles. When one of these styles, labeled authoritative by Baumrind (1971), is operative, the parent is responsive to the child, encourages and firmly supports a child's striving for autonomy, and guides the child's activities. Another parenting style, labeled authoritarian by Baumrind, is characterized by attempts to control the child's behavior and to curb autonomy when the child's actions conflict with the parent's standards of acceptable behavior. A parent's handling of childrearing problems is one type of behavior that is likely to underlie parental styles.

Childrearing problems are common, everyday occurrences, and tend to be generated, from a parent's perspective, by the child's behavior or the responses of others to the child's behavior in home, neighborhood, or school activities. A childrearing problem provides a setting in which a mother enacts a style of parenting and, in the process, instigates and shapes the child's cognitive and personal-social development (Bronfenbrenner, 1993). The problem-solving processes a mother uses and the solutions she generates in response to a childrearing problem can be viewed as components of parenting style. These processes and solutions structure the child's learning and ultimately shape how the child problem solves interpersonal problems (Bronfenbrenner, 1993; Rogoff & Garner, 1984). The purpose of this article is to explore the problem-solving processes and solutions that a mother generates in response to childrearing problems and the links among processes and solutions. In particular, we are interested in types of solutions that are consistent with a parenting style that nurtures and supports a child' s personal and cognitive development.


Two aspects of solutions generated for everyday problems -- quantity and quality -- are associated with clinically important outcomes. Both aspects of solution generation are likely to be dimensions of parenting styles. The quantity of solutions generated for practical, everyday problems, such as childrearing problems, has consistently predicted adaptive behavioral and emotional responses for the problem solver and positive relationships with others (Heppne & Krauskopf, 1987; Nezu, Nezu, & Perri, 1989; Shure, 1988). Azar, Robinson, Hekinans, and Twentyman (1984) found that mothers who maltreated their children did not generate as many solutions to typical childrearing problems as mothers who did not maltreat their children. Generation of a number of solutions to a problem indicates flexibility of thought and resourcefulness, supports persistence in problem solving, and increases the chances of success in resolving the problem (Nezu, Nezu, & Perri, 1989; Shure, 1988). Furthermore, generation of a number of solutions may underlie a style of parenting that is responsive to the child and supportive of the child's development, whereas generation of only one or a few solutions may be a marker of a parenting style that controls the child's behavior and limits autonomy.

The quality of a mother's solutions to childrearing problems may be gauged by whether or not the solution potentially assists the child in understanding the mother's expectations, in learning approaches to and gaining experience in problem solving, and in gaining a sense of efficacy and worth as a member of the family and community. …

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