The parenthood paradox: Certain parenting beliefs are detrimental to mothers' mental health

July 5, 2012

Does being an intense mother make women unhappy? According to a new study by Kathryn Rizzo and colleagues, from the University of Mary Washington in the US, women who believe in intensive parenting - i.e., that women are better parents than men, that mothering should be child-centred, and that children should be considered sacred and are fulfilling to parents - are more likely to have negative mental health outcomes. The work is published online in Springer's Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Parenting can be quite challenging and requires wide-ranging skills and expertise - a big task. Many women idealize parenthood as one of the most fulfilling experiences in life. However, some research suggests that parenting may be detrimental to mental health. For example, women have reported that taking care of their children is more stressful than being at work. There have also been suggestions that intensive parenting can result in increased stress and , particularly for women. This is known as the paradox.

Rizzo and team looked at whether intensive parenting in particular, rather than parenting per se, was linked to increased levels of stress, depression and lower among 181 mothers of children under 5 years old. Using an online questionnaire, the authors measured to what extent mothers endorsed intensive parenting beliefs: mothers are the most necessary and capable parent; parents' happiness is derived primarily from their children; parents should always provide their children with stimulating activities that aid in their development; parenting is more difficult than working; a parent should always sacrifice their needs for the needs of the child.

Overall, the women were satisfied with their lives but had moderate and depression. Approximately 23 percent had . Negative mental health outcomes were accounted for by women's endorsement of intensive parenting attitudes. When the level of family support was taken into account, those mothers who believed that women are the essential parent were less satisfied with their lives; those who believed that parenting is challenging were more stressed and depressed.

The authors conclude: "If intensive mothering is related to so many negative mental health outcomes, why do women do it? They may think that it makes them better mothers, so they are willing to sacrifice their own mental health to enhance their children's cognitive, social and emotional outcomes. In reality, intensive parenting may have the opposite effect on children from what parents intend."

Explore further: Are feminism and attachment parenting practices compatible?

More information: Rizzo KM, Schiffrin HH, Liss M (2012). Insight into the parenthood paradox: mental health outcomes of intensive mothering. Journal of Child and Family Studies; DOI 10.1007/s10826-012-9615-z

Related Stories

Are feminism and attachment parenting practices compatible?

June 11, 2012
What kind of mothers do feminists make? According to a new study by Miriam Liss and Mindy Erchull, from the University of Mary Washington in the US, feminist mothers endorse the importance of the time-intensive, hands-on ...

Expectations, exhaustion can lead mothers to post-adoption stress

March 23, 2012
Fatigue and unrealistic expectations of parenthood may help contribute to post-adoption depression in women, according to a Purdue University study.

Recommended for you

Suicidal thoughts rapidly reduced with ketamine, finds study

December 14, 2017
Ketamine was significantly more effective than a commonly used sedative in reducing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). They also found that ketamine's ...

Do bullies have more sex?

December 14, 2017
Adolescents who are willing to exploit others for personal gain are more likely to bully and have sex than those who score higher on a measure of honesty and humility. This is according to a study in Springer's journal Evolutionary ...

Children's screen-time guidelines too restrictive, according to new research

December 14, 2017
Digital screen use is a staple of contemporary life for adults and children, whether they are browsing on laptops and smartphones, or watching TV. Paediatricians and scientists have long expressed concerns about the impact ...

Eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally

December 14, 2017
Children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits, a new Canadian study shows.

The iceberg model of self-harm

December 14, 2017
Researchers have created a model of self-harm that shows high levels of the problem in the community, especially in young girls, and the need for school-based prevention measures.

Encouraging risk-taking in children may reduce the prevalence of childhood anxiety

December 13, 2017
A new international study suggests that parents who employ challenging parent behavioural (CPB) methods – active physical and verbal behaviours that encourage children to push their limits – are likely protecting their ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.