Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Predictors of Parenting among African American Single Mothers: Personal and Contextual Factors

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Predictors of Parenting among African American Single Mothers: Personal and Contextual Factors

Article excerpt

Guided by family stress theory, relations among neighborhood stress, maternal psychological functioning, and parenting were examined among 123 low-income, urban-dwelling, African American single mothers. Using a longitudinal design, structural equation modeling was employed to test the hypothesis that neighborhood stress results in poorer parenting over time through its detrimental effect on maternal psychological functioning. Social support from family and friends was examined as a potential moderator of the association between neighborhood stress and parenting behavior. Results indicated that higher levels of neighborhood stress were related to greater psychological distress among mothers, which in turn, was significantly related to less engagement in positive parenting practices approximately 15 months later. A moderating effect emerged for social support, however, such that the proposed model provided a better fit for mothers reporting low levels of perceived social support than for mothers reporting high levels. Implications of the findings for prevention and intervention are discussed.

Key Words: child development, family stress, neighborhood, parenting.

A rich empirical history has documented how positive parenting, characterized by positive parent-child relationships, open displays of warmth or affection, monitoring of children's activities, and consistent disciplinary strategies, relates to various measures of adaptive child psychosocial adjustment. Across many studies with diverse populations, these parenting behaviors have been associated with greater academic competence, higher self-esteem, positive peer relations, and fewer child behavior problems (e.g., Baumrind, 1978; Brody & Flor, 1998; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992). Positive parenting has been found to be particularly important for children in families facing adverse circumstances, such as financial hardship, parental divorce, or parental illness (e.g., Fauber, Forehand, Thomas, & Wierson, 1990). Research in these areas suggests that positive parenting provides children with a buffer against such stresses and strengthens their coping abilities.

Given the importance of parenting in promoting child adjustment, it is disheartening that little is known about the personal and environmental factors that shape or affect parenting practices. Certainly, research has shown that parenting can be adversely affected by such factors as financial stress (e.g., McLoyd, 1998) and parental conflict (e.g., Fauber et al., 1990). Our understanding of how stressors lead to compromised parenting, however, and the factors that may serve to buffer or protect parents, and thus, their children, from the deleterious effects of stress, remains rather limited.


Two relatively independent lines of research provide insight into some of the factors that influence parenting behavior. First, family stress theory postulates that the primary mechanism through which contextual stressors impair parenting is parental psychological distress (Conger, Rueter, & Conger, 2000; McLoyd, 1998). According to the family stress model, exposure to stressful life events increases parental psychological distress, which, in turn, compromises parenting, which then exacerbates child behavioral and emotional maladjustment.

Empirical support for this theory is rooted in the work of Elder and his colleagues who studied the effects of the Great Depression on family functioning (Elder, Liker, & Cross, 1984; Elder, Nguyen, & Caspi, 1985). Collectively, Elder's research demonstrated that economic hardship was associated with fathers' increased irritability, depression, and explosive behavior, which then led to disruptions in effective parenting (Elder et al., 1984, 1985). This pattern of findings-that economic stress exacerbates parental psychosocial distress, which then disrupts parenting (and subsequently, child adjustment)-has been replicated in contemporary, two-parent European American families (Conger, Ge, Elder, Lorenz, & Simons, 1994), two-parent African American families (Conger et al, 2002), and single-parent African American families (McLoyd, Jayaratne, Ceballo, & Borquez, 1994). …

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