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Continuity of Paternal Social Support and Depressive Symptoms Among New Mothers

Continuity of Paternal Social Support and Depressive Symptoms Among New Mothers

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Continuity of Paternal Social Support and Depressive SymptomsAmong New Mothers
Leann E. Smith
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Kimberly S. Howard
Columbia University
Centers for the Prevention of Child Neglect
The present study examined trajectories of paternal support and maternal depressive symp-toms over the first two years after the birth of a child. First-time mothers (
582) wereassessed 6 times during the first 24 months of their child’s life. At each assessment theyreported on a number of ways in which their child’s father provided support, and at three of the assessments, their own depressive symptomatology was assessed. Latent growth curvemodels revealed that while higher support was related to lower depressive symptomatology,both paternal support and maternal depression tended to decrease over time. The relationshipsbetween paternal support and maternal depression are complex and suggest the importance of considering the multiple ways that parents influence one another over time.
paternal support, maternal depression, at-risk families, latent growth curvemodeling
The birth of a child is often associated with many newchallenges for a young couple. The additional stresses of parenting have been related to decreases in psychological well-being for new parents in generally stable relationships(Salmela-Aro, Aunola, Saisto, Halmesmaki, & Nurmi, 2006).Theeffects ofthetransitiontoparentingonparentalwell-beingmay be even more profound among unmarried parents. Giventhe dramatic increase in the number of children born to un-married parents in the last several decades (from 5.3 percent in1960 to 36.8 percent in 2005; Hamilton, Martin, & Vetura,2006; Ventura & Bachrach, 2000), it is important for research-ers to understand the correlates of parental well-being and thenature of the interactions that occur between parents as theynegotiate the task of raising a child. This article focuses spe-cifically on the ways that paternal support and maternal de-pression are related to one another during the first two yearsafter the birth of a child in a sample of predominately young,economically-disadvantaged mothers.
Paternal Support
Fathers may provide support to their families and chil-dren in a number of different ways. For instance, fathers canbe involved with their children by having physical proxim-ity, taking financial and emotional responsibility for theirwell-being, and/or engaging in direct activities with theirchildren (Lamb, 1987). Each of these types of support hasbeen linked to positive outcomes for both mothers (Kalil,Ziol-Guest, & Coley, 2005) and children (Downer & Men-dez, 2005; McBride, Schoppe-Sullivan, & Ho, 2005).The support that fathers provide to the mothers of theirchildren can be categorized as either emotional or instru-mental.
Emotional support 
typically refers to help receivedwhen someone acts as a confidant or a “listening ear.” Incontrast,
instrumental support 
usually reflects tangible as-sistance such as providing childcare or transportation. Al-though both types of social support have been demonstratedto be important for new mothers (Kroelinger & Oths, 2000),emotional support may be less likely to be received bymothers who are not romantically involved with the fatherof her child. In contrast, instrumental support—often im-plied within the definition of “father involvement”—is notas explicitly linked to the couple relationship. For instance,the ability to provide economic support to families has beenfound to be an important aspect of paternal identity fordisadvantaged, nonresident fathers (Amato & Gilbreth,1999; Furstenburg, 1995) as well as for married men (Mar-siglio, Day, & Lamb, 2000). In addition to economic sup-port for families, fathers often provide instrumental sup-
Leann E. Smith, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Kimberly S. Howard, National Center for Children andFamilies, Teachers’ College, Columbia University; Centers for thePrevention of Child Neglect. Senior members of the Centers forthe Prevention of Child Neglect include John Borkowski, JudyCarta, Bette Keltner, Lorraine Klerman, Susan Landry, CraigRamey, Sharon Ramey, and Steve Warren.Support for preparation of this manuscript was provided by grantsfrom the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development(R01 HD39456, T32 HD07489, and F32 HD054037). We would alsolike to thank Scott Maxwell for his helpful comments on earlier draftsof this manuscript.Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed toLeann E. Smith, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin, 1500Highland Ave., Madison, WI 53705. E-mail: lsmith@waisman.wisc.edu
Journal of Family Psychology Copyright 2008 by the American Psychological Association2008, Vol. 22, No. 5, 763773 0893-3200/08/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0013581
ports such as diapers and food or assistance with childcare(Marsiglio et al., 2000). Overall, the evidence suggests thatinstrumental support is a central component of father in-volvement that is not necessarily biased toward married orresident fathers.
Support and Depression
A number of studies have examined the effects of pater-nal support in both instrumental and emotional domains inpredicting outcomes such as maternal smoking during preg-nancy, children’s birth outcomes, and breastfeeding (Elsen-bruch et al., 2007; Kiernan & Pickett, 2006). In general,higher levels of support are linked to more positive out-comes for mothers. Paternal support and involvement havealso been related to maternal depression. For example,Malik et al. (2007) examined predictors of maternal depres-sion using a sample of families who participated in EarlyHead Start. They found that lower levels of emotionalsupport from partner and lower levels of relationship satis-faction were predictive of higher levels of maternal depres-sion, though they only examined these relationships at asingle point in time. Jackson (1999) found that amongsingle, African-American mothers, lower levels of instru-mental support were associated with higher levels of de-pressive symptoms. Similar relationships were observedwith a more diverse community sample as well (Mezulis,Hyde, & Clark, 2004).The present study builds on these findings by examiningthe relationship between paternal instrumental support andmaternal depression at multiple times over the first twoyears after the birth of a child. In addition to utilizing alongitudinal perspective, the present study examined bidi-rectional influences. Although previous research has sug-gested a causal link between fathers’ provision of supportand maternal depression (Beach, 2000; Malik et al., 2007),it may be the case that mothers with low levels of depressivesymptoms elicit support more effectively than mothers withhigh levels of symptomatology. For instance, a mother withdepressive symptoms may have a more strained relationshipwith her child’s father, making him less likely to providefinancial supports or help with child care. Conversely, thebenefits of a father providing resources for his child mayease financial burdens on the mother, thus reducing heroverall stress and improving well-being. This type of bidi-rectional influence between mothers and fathers is consis-tent with family systems theory, which suggests that familymembers influence each other in a myriad of ways, evenacross a variety of living arrangements (Scanzoni, Polonko,Teachman, & Thompson, 1989).Although paternal support is related to a number of family and maternal factors across the life span such aschildren’s socioemotional and academic functioning, andmaternal well-being (Downer & Mendez, 2005; Elsenbruchet al., 2007; McBride et al., 2005), social support fromfathers could be especially important for a mother’s well-being in the first few years after giving birth. Borrowingfrom a developmental psychopathology perspective (Cum-mings & Davies, 1994), it may be normative for a newmother to experience depressive symptoms surrounding thebirth of her child. Particularly for women who experiencedtraumatic deliveries, childbirth can be associated with anincrease in depressive symptoms that will likely subsidewith time and do not predict later depression (Fatoye, Olad-imeji, & Adeyemi, 2006). Paternal support is one factor thatpotentially influences the rate at which maternal depressivesymptoms decline after the birth of a child.
Present Study
Although many researchers have identified child, family,and maternal characteristics that are associated with pater-nal support, few have identified a link between paternalsupport and maternal depression and none have explicitlyexplored how these processes interrelate over time. Thepresent study contributes to this literature by examiningthese processes in detail over the first 24 months after thebirth of a child. Rather than simply investigating support atone point and depression at the next, a longitudinal ap-proach allows for a better understanding of the developmen-tal processes at work in the dynamics between new parents.In the present study there were six waves of data concerningprovision of paternal support and three waves of data onmaternal depressive symptomatology. Given the unique na-ture of our sample (primarily young, single mothers) andthat the maternal grandmother often influences both fatherinvolvement and maternal well-being (Kalil et al., 2005),the present study utilized grandmother coresidence and fa-ther coresidence as covariates of support and depressionover time. This longitudinal perspective will provide in-sights into the patterns of change for both paternal instru-mental support and maternal depressive symptoms in isola-tion as well as in combination with each other.The present study tested three specific hypotheses. First,it was expected that paternal instrumental support woulddecrease over time. This is consistent with a research sug-gesting decreases in father involvement over the first yearsof a child’s life among both nonresident fathers (Lerman &Sorensen, 2000; Rangarajan & Gleason, 1998; Seltzer,1991) and residential fathers (Hofferth, 2003). Second, itwas also hypothesized that maternal depressive symptom-atology would decrease over time. Although for somewomen the birth of a child is associated with post-partumdepression (Fatoye et al., 2006), most new mothers do notexperience clinical depression. Even so, depressive symp-toms such as lack of energy and irritability may be morecommon among new mothers (Wisner, Parry, & Piontek,2002). Successful adaptation to parenting is likely con-nected with a decrease in these symptoms of depression.Finally, it was expected that paternal support and maternaldepression would be inversely related such that more pater-nal support would be associated with lower maternal de-pression. Moreover, it was anticipated that the relationshipsbetween paternal support and maternal depression over thefirst two years after the birth of a child would be constantacross levels of maternal age, educational attainment, fatherresidence, and grandmother residence.
Participants were 582 mother-infant dyads from the Par-enting for the First Time Project, a multi-site, longitudinalstudy following primiparous mothers and children from theprenatal period through the third year of life. Mothers wererecruited from hospitals, health clinics, social service agen-cies, and school-aged mothers programs in South Bend, IN,Washington, D.C., Kansas City, KS, and Birmingham, AL.The sample consisted of 338 adolescent mothers and 244adult mothers with a wide range of educational back-grounds. Mothers ranged in age from 15 to 35 years (meanage
21.28) at time of childbirth and were ethnicallydiverse (65% African-American, 16% Caucasian, 15%Latina, and 4% Multi-Ethnic). During the prenatal period,the majority of mothers were single (63%), although manymothers were living with their partner (21%) or married(16%). In terms of educational attainment, 44% of mothershad not completed high school, 25% had a high schooldiploma or equivalency, and 31% had some college orvocational education. Similarly, 30% of fathers had notcompleted high school, 41% had a high school diploma orequivalency, and 28% had some college or vocational edu-cation. Fifty-six percent of mothers were living with theirown mothers when children were 4 months old. Approxi-mately 70% of families reported annual incomes below$20,000 (37% below $10,000) and only 13% earned morethan $40,000 annually when children were 6 months old.Participants were included in analyses if they had datafrom any one of the time points of interest. Full InformationMaximum Likelihood Estimation was utilized to addressmissing data. The 4-, 6-, 8-, 12-, 18-, and 24-month assess-ments had 18%, 27%, 27%, 24%, 29%, and 37% missingdata, respectively, on the father support variable. This levelof missing data is comparable to other longitudinal studiesof high-risk populations (e.g., Hansen, Tobler, & Graham,1990; Kilpatrick, Acierno, Resnick, Saunders, & Best,1997). Participants with missing data did not differ fromthose with complete data in terms of annual family income,
(1, 314)
.05. However, mothers with completedata were older,
(1, 579)
.05, and had highereducational attainment,
(1, 577)
.01, thanmothers with missing data. Subsequently, maternal age andeducational attainment were included as covariates in thelongitudinal analyses.
 Design and Procedure
The present study utilized data gathered from mothersduring their third trimester of pregnancy and when childrenwere 4, 6, 8, 12, 18, and 24 months of age. Multiple effortswere taken to protect the rights of participants in accordancewith IRB requirements. Consent forms were signed at theprenatal assessment, and mothers were informed that theyhad the right to refuse any part or all of the subsequentassessments. For mothers who were younger than 18 yearsof age, parental consent forms were signed in addition toparticipant assent forms. Consent forms were resigned ateach additional interview.During the prenatal assessment, mothers were inter-viewed in the university laboratory. For assessments occur-ring when children were 4, 8, and 18 months of age, motherswere interviewed in their homes. When children were 6, 12,and 24 months of age, mothers and their children wereinvited to come to the university setting. Interviews typi-cally lasted up to two hours; transportation was provided forparticipants when requested. Although the majority of laboratory-based assessments occurred in the university set-ting, in cases where the mother was unable to come to theuniversity, the interview occurred in her home.For the initial interview during the third trimester of pregnancy, each mother provided basic demographic infor-mation about herself and the father of her child, includingage, education level, and father residential status. As part of a larger assessment protocol at each time point (4, 6, 8, 12,18, and 24 months), mothers reported on the amount of support they received from their baby’s father. In addition,at the 6-, 12-, and 24-month measurement points, mothersresponded to self-report items measuring depressive symp-tomatology. At every interview, families were compensatedfor their participation with Wal-Mart gift cards. Participantswere also contacted via telephone between interviews tomaintain rapport and reduce attrition.
Social support from father.
Social support from fatherswas assessed utilizing 6 items drawn from the Life HistoryInterview, an informal interview developed for the largerstudy. For each item, mothers indicated with a yes (coded as1) or no (coded as 0) response whether the father of theirbaby provided support. Items were as follows:Does child’s father provide financial or part-financialsupport?Does child’s father provide diapers, gifts, food, etc?Does child’s father provide help with childcare on aregular basis?Does child’s father visit the child?Does child’s father provide help with transportation?Does child’s father provide by his family helping takecare of the baby?The dichotomous responses for each item were summed,creating a possible range of scores from 0 to 6, with higherscores indicating greater levels of support from fathers.Cronbach’s alphas for the 6 items ranged from .87 to .89across the 6 time points.
The BDI-II (Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996)is a new edition of the widely used Beck Depression Inven-tory (Beck & Steer, 1984) and has items that relate todepression criteria of the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual

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