Researchers discover stress during the first year of a relationship can influence the way in which mothers raise their kids years later.
Social workers from Rutgers University found that economic and psychological abuse during the initial year of a relationship with the child’s father increases the chance that the mother will become depressed and spank their child by year five.
The Rutgers team, which studied the impact of intimate partner violence (IPV) and the effects of such violence over time on women, also determined psychological abuse experiences during the first year of the relationship had a significant effect on the level of mothers’ engagement with their children in the fifth year.
The findings specifically relate to violence against women since women disproportionately represent survivors and males as perpetrators of physical, sexual and other forms of violence and abuse, including economic, said Judy L. Postmus, the study’s lead author.
“When people think about IPV, they might think of physical or psychological abuse, maybe sexual abuse, but they rarely think about economic abuse,” Postmus said.
“Since the latest recession, however, more attention has been focused on financial matters such as financial literacy and personal finances. There have also been efforts by the federal government to better prepare individuals to understand financial matters. Still, there have been relatively few studies on economic abuse.”
Postmus said economic abuse is considered if a father withholds money, forces his partner to turn over earnings or savings or denies her access to bank accounts or employment opportunities.
Psychological abuse directed toward women includes such behaviors as preventing contact with friends and family and delivering insults and criticism.
Slapping, hitting, kicking and unwanted sexual contact are considered signs of physical or sexual violence.
“Our results indicate that mothers who experienced physical, psychological or economic abuse at year one were more likely to experience a depressive episode in year five,” Postmus said.
In the study, researchers determined mothers who experienced economic abuse were 1.9 times more likely to exhibit signs of depression than mothers who had not suffered abuse.
Similarly, mothers who experienced psychological or physical abuse were 1.4 and 1.8 times, respectively, more likely to show signs of depression.
Economic abuse influenced maternal depression between years one and three.
“It is surprising to find economic abuse more predictive of depression over time than other forms of abuse,” Postmus said.
This association had not been identified in earlier studies and may reflect the current economic downturn.
Parenting at year five was measured in two dimensions: engagement in such parent-child activities as singing, reading or telling stories, playing with toys or taking a child to a playground or on an outing, and the use of spanking as a disciplinary behavior.
Researchers determined that mothers who experienced economic or psychological abuse in year one all reported less engagement in daily parent-child activities (5.1 compared to 5.3 for women who did not experience abuse) and were 1.5 times more likely to spank the child in year five.
“It’s possible that having a partner control access to money or preventing independence through work or school may have a lasting impact on women’s mental health, and feelings of disempowerment may force mothers to resort to spanking as a parenting tactic,” Postmus said.
Researchers caution that additional research is necessary to better understand the relationship between various types of abuse and parenting behaviors, including how the influence of the perpetrator’s actions affects the child and the nature of the perpetrator’s own parenting behaviors.
The study appears online in the journal Children and Youth Services Review.
Source: Rutgers University