Parenting behavior in adoptive families

February 20, 2018, Society for Research in Child Development
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Mothers who struggle with depression are more likely to parent harshly and in over-reactive ways, and their children are at risk for a variety of negative outcomes—including more frequent behavior problems. A new longitudinal study of adoptive families looked at whether symptoms of depression in adoptive fathers is also related to over-reactive parenting and behavior problems in children; the study also examined how social support networks affect parenting. It found that fathers' symptoms of depression were related to harsh, over-reactive parenting, but not to children's subsequent behavior problems. For both mothers and fathers, when their partner was satisfied with his or her social support outside the marriage, symptoms of depression were no longer associated with harsh, over-reactive parenting.

These findings come from a study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Oregon, the University of California Riverside, George Washington University, Yale University, and The Pennsylvania State University. They appear in the journal Child Development.

"Our study suggests that for fathers as for , even mild symptoms of can impair parenting," explains Lindsay Taraban, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, who led the study. "For parents who have a depressed spouse, it may be important to have sustaining social relationships—with friends, extended family, and others—outside the marriage. Through such relationships, parents may receive advice and empathy that increases their ability to support their depressed spouse and positively shape his or her parenting behavior."

Researchers looked at 519 adoptive families (in which children were adopted shortly after birth) from the Early Growth and Development Study. They focused on adoptive families to limit the possibility that shared genes contributed to links between parents' symptoms of depression and children's outcomes, and to isolate more fully the environmental impact of being raised by a depressed parent. Families were of middle to high income, primarily Caucasian, and well educated.

In-home assessments were conducted when children were 9, 18, and 27 months. Researchers measured parents' symptoms of depression and satisfaction with their social support networks when children were 9 months, and their reports of harsh, over-reactive parenting (e.g., displays of anger, meanness, irritability in response to challenges from their infants) when children were 18 months. Mothers and fathers reported on children's recent emotional and behavioral problems when the children were 27 months.

The study also took into consideration the effects of the birth mothers' aggression and mental health problems on children's behavior, adoptive parents' openness about the adoption, obstetric complications, children's temperament and gender, family income, parents' age, and the symptoms of depression of the spouse.

Fathers' and mothers' symptoms of depression when children were 9 months were related to harsh, over-reactive parenting when children were 18 months, the study found. However, only mothers' symptoms of depression were related to children's when children were 27 months. The authors suggested this may be because fathers typically spend less time in direct contact with their children.

For both mothers and , when their partner said he or she was very satisfied with his or her social support network, symptoms of depression were no longer associated with harsh, over-reactive parenting. Parents' own levels of satisfaction with their did not affect the connection between symptoms of depression and parenting, the researchers found.

The study has implications for practice. "Practitioners should encourage not only depressed parents, but also their partners, to practice self-care so they have adequate support and can help create a warm, sensitive rearing environment for their young ," suggests Daniel Shaw, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, who coauthored the study.

Explore further: Harsh parenting linked with poor school performance in kids with ADHD

Related Stories

Harsh parenting linked with poor school performance in kids with ADHD

January 25, 2018
The way parents interact with their kids may affect how well children with certain behavioral problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—ADHD—perform in school, according to researchers.

Teenage depression linked to father's depression

November 15, 2017
Adolescents whose fathers have depressive symptoms are more likely to experience symptoms of depression themselves, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.

Mothers' symptoms of depression predict how they respond to child behavior

May 15, 2014
Depressive symptoms seem to focus mothers' responses on minimizing their own distress, which may come at the expense of focusing on the impact their responses have on their children, according to research published in Psychological ...

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 ...

Dads play key role in child development

July 14, 2016
Fathers play a surprisingly large role in their children's development, from language and cognitive growth in toddlerhood to social skills in fifth grade, according to new findings from Michigan State University scholars.

Recommended for you

Suicide risk in abused teen girls linked to mother-daughter conflict

October 18, 2018
Teenage girls who were maltreated as children are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts if the relationship with their mother is poor and the degree of conflict between the two of them high.

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...

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.