Handbook of Parenting - Vol. 5

By Marc H. Bornstein | Go to book overview

10
Everyday Stresses and Parenting
Keith Crnic
Christine Low
The Pennsylvania State University

INTRODUCTION

Stress has long played an integral role in understanding parenting processes and families in general. The sheer volume of research has been staggering, both in regard to research that has specifically addressed stress as a construct (see Garmezy and Rutter, 1983), and research that has focused on contextual and events (e.g., poverty, divorce, single parenting, and illness) implicitly assumed to be stressful for families (Cummings, Davies, and Campbell, 2000). The volume of work is surprising, given the fact that no single, clear conceptualization of stress has emerged over the years. In general, stress involves an individual's emotional and behavioral response to some unpleasant event. Typically, the response involves some level of distress that adversely affects subsequent behavior and functioning. Furthermore, the stress response has multiple parameters (emotional, behavioral, and physiological) that affect well-being. Subjective assessment of the response involves an individual's appraisal of the adaptive significance of the stressor (event) that creates the response, whereas objective assessments strictly address the presence of adverse events without seeking individual appraisal.

Over time, the focus of attention in relevant stress research has primarily targeted major life changes or significant problematic circumstances facing parents and families. Yet such a singular conceptualization of the relation between stress and parenting ignored a more direct domain in which stress operates, and one which appears to have substantial effects on parental (and subsequently children's) psychological well-being.

Perhaps nothing characterizes parenting better than the everyday challenges and caregiving demands that involve relationships with the developing child. Certainly, many daily experiences with children are a source of joy or pleasure, and provide parents with a sense of competence and confidence as individual challenges or issues are met and solved. It is also the case, however, that children's behaviors and the daily tasks of parenthood can at times confuse, frustrate, or irritate, and thereby

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