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Material difficulties in low-income families: the positive effect of co-parenting on fathers’ and mothers’ upbringing and children’s prosocial behavior
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Low-income families experience great economic insecurity, but less is known about how mothers and fathers in such families successfully navigate co-parenting and co-parenting in the context of material hardship. The present study used a risk-resilience framework to examine family processes linking material hardship and prosocial behavior in children from socioeconomically disadvantaged mother-father families whose former children attended a Strong Families Project (N = 452) school. Co-parents’ union and mothers’ and fathers’ reactive parenting were considered as mediators. Structural equation modeling results indicated that the coparenting alliance was associated with higher levels of reactive parenting in both mothers and fathers. Next, both parents’ reactive parenting was associated with higher child prosocial behavior. Material difficulties were not associated with coparenting alliance and either parent’s responsive parenting. Tests of indirect effects confirmed that the effects of the coparenting alliance on children’s prosocial behavior were mediated by both mothers’ and fathers’ reactive parenting. Overall, these results suggest that when mothers and fathers have a strong coparenting alliance, they are likely to resist the negative effects of material hardship and thus engage in positive parenting behaviors. Family-strengthening interventions, including responsible fathering programs, would do well to focus on strengthening the positive co-parenting alliance between mothers and fathers.
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Financial hardship, defined as challenges paying for food, housing, utilities, or medical care, is common among low-income American families, with 70% of these families reporting some degree of financial hardship (Ouellette et al., 2004; Karpman et al., 2018). ). Although empirical evidence on the effects of material hardship on family functioning is more limited than that of income poverty, material hardship has been less associated with negative family and child outcomes, including lower levels of parental relationships (Lucas et al., 2020). sensitive. parenting (Newland et al., 2013) and children’s lower cognitive skills and social-emotional competence (Gershoff et al., 2007). However, less is known about the family processes that underlie these associations in low-income two-parent families and whether resilience in these families buffers the negative effects of material hardship on relevant family processes and, ultimately, child development. . Therefore, the present study aimed to use a risk and resilience framework to understand the underlying family processes (eg, coparenting and parenting) that link material hardship and young children’s prosocial behavior using data from the Building Strong Families (BSF) project. and a racially diverse project. a sample of low-income, socioeconomically disadvantaged mother-father families.
The Family Stress Model (FSM: Conger et al., 1992) was first developed to better understand the impact of negative economic events on families in the Midwestern United States during the Great Family Crisis of the 1980s. The first studies in Micronesia used samples of white families in rural farming communities in Iowa (Conger et al., 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994) and found that negative economic events were associated with poor child outcomes primarily through their impact on parental spirituality. health, relationship quality, and parenting behavior. Specifically, Micronesia states that economic pressures resulting from negative economic events such as low family income, loss of income, unstable employment or debt can lead to depressed mood in both mothers and fathers, which in turn causes strain in relationships. in form. of conflicts between parents. Subsequently, poor quality of parental relationships is associated with less involved or caring parenting behaviors, which ultimately lead to child maladjustment (Conger et al., 1992).
Extending this work, researchers have also tested the FSM with racially diverse samples and found support for the model (Conger et al., 2002; Parke et al., 2004; Masarik and Conger, 2017; Gard et al., 2020; Curran et al., 2021; Lee et al., 2021). For example, Lee et al. (2021) recently applied the FSM to a sample of BSF families and found that fathers’ depressive symptoms mediated the relationship between material hardship but not income poverty and destructive interparental conflict. Curran et al. (2021) also applied the FSM to a BSF sample and showed in cross-lagged panel models that fathers’ depressive symptoms at the 15-month follow-up predicted higher levels of destructive interparental conflict at the -36-month follow-up, but not Vice. on the contrary. Both studies emphasize the centrality of the father’s mental health as an important factor affecting family processes, i.e. the quality of parents’ relationships.
However, neither BSF study included parenting or child outcomes, and more importantly, both focused on testing FMIC family conflict and poor mental health and did not use a risk and resilience framework or consider the buffering effects of positive family dynamics. . The purpose of the present study was to test how a supportive coparenting alliance between mothers and fathers predicted responsive parenting and, in turn, children’s prosocial behavior in an attempt to examine protective factors in families experiencing material hardship.
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Previous research has examined the relationships between material hardship, coparenting alliance, and reactive parenting behaviors (Gershoff et al., 2007; LeBaron et al., 2020; Curran et al., 2021). Co-parenting alliances are often characterized by both parents’ investment in their children, respect for each other’s assessment of child rearing, and a desire to communicate child-related information (Weissman and Cohen, 1985; Feinberg, 2003). Recently, LeBaron et al. (2020) used a sample of two-parent families from the BSF project and showed that material difficulties at the 15-month follow-up were associated with lower levels of fathers’ perceived coparenting alliance (i.e., communication, support, and teamwork), but not. mothers perceived coparenting alliance at the 36-month follow-up. Researchers noted the possibility that when low-income fathers face financial strain that makes it difficult to meet their families’ material needs, they may prioritize providing for their families financially over forming co-parenting alliances with mothers (LeBaron et al., 2020). That is, the stress of meeting the material needs of their families may weaken the ability of socioeconomically disadvantaged fathers to successfully engage in positive parenting behaviors with their partners. Alternatively, mothers may engage in withholding behaviors when fathers do not meet breadwinner norms (e.g., unemployed) (Waller, 2012), and financial stress related to material difficulties and meeting family needs may affect family life. co-parenting relationship. Unlike LeBaron et al. (2020), although Curran et al. (2021) using BSF data to cross-model material hardship and coparenting alliance found that material hardship at 15-month follow-up was not associated with mothers’ or fathers’ perceived coparenting alliance at 36-month follow-up. – up. up
Findings regarding material hardship and reactive parenting are also mixed, and existing research appears to focus primarily on mothers. In one study examining the relationship between material hardship and positive parenting, Shelleby (2018) used data from the Fragile Families Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) and found that material hardship at age one was unrelated to mothers’ positive parenting (e.g., praise, warmth) when the children were 5 years old. They did not include information on fathers, although the work cited earlier suggested that men’s mental health was a contributing factor to family conflict. Gershoff et al. (2007) also focused primarily on mothers using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K) and found that material hardship was associated with greater levels of positive maternal parenting (e.g., warmth, cognitive stimulation) when children were as young as 6 years old. – an unexpected find. The researchers noted that mothers can invest in positive parenting behaviors when they are unable to provide economic resources to improve their children’s lives. Few studies specifically focus on material hardship and fathers’ positive parenting and instead use indicators of fathers’ economic conditions (e.g., employment status, living in poverty) to examine the relationship between parenting and child outcomes (Johnson, 2001; Waller, 2012). . ; Baker et al., 2018). For example, using a sample of FFCWS fathers, Waller (2012) showed that fathers who worked when their children were 3 years old were associated with mothers’ reports of fathers spending more time with their children, but fathers were less involved in daily activities. (e.g. playing outside, reading stories and singing songs).
When studies include both mothers and fathers from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, again limited in number, there is evidence that lack of economic resources can negatively impact the quality of parent-child relationships. For example, Baker et al. (2018) studied fathers and mothers from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) and showed that levels of poverty were associated with lower levels of paternal warmth and cognitive stimulation during parent-child interactions. – old children at home. Family poverty was only associated with lower levels of cognitive stimulation during mother-child interactions. Overall, given the mixed results of previous studies and the limited number of studies that include both mothers and fathers, further research is needed to better understand the relationships between material hardship, the coparenting alliance, and mothers.
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