Maternal Work–Family Experiences: Longitudinal Influences on Child Mental Health through Inter-Parental Conflict
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Recent evidence suggests that parents’ negative experiences of combining work and family roles can have harmful effects on children, but little is known about the mechanisms that explain the crossover from the work–family interface to children’s mental health over time. This study tested whether inter-parental conflict mediated the relation between maternal work–family factors (conflict or enrichment) and subsequent child mental health problems across childhood (4–5 to 8–9 years) and adolescence (10–11 to 14–15 years).
Data were six waves from the kindergarten cohort of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, including mother-report of work–family conflict/enrichment and inter-parental conflict, mother- and adolescent-report of internalizing and externalizing problems, and adolescent-report of disordered eating. The final sample consisted of 2158 children and 2181 adolescents.
Results from structural equation modeling indicated that during childhood, inter-parental conflict partially mediated the relation between maternal work–family conflict and child internalizing problems, but not externalizing problems. During adolescence, there was no evidence for mediation, although work–family conflict was associated with higher adolescent-reported externalizing problems; and inter-parental conflict was also associated with elevated mother-reported internalizing and externalizing problems. Both work–family conflict and enrichment were associated with elevated inter-parental conflict during childhood, but not adolescence. There was no evidence for associations between work–family factors and adolescents’ disordered eating, and work–family enrichment was not associated with child or adolescent mental health.
Intervention programs aimed at reducing both work–family conflict and inter-parental conflict over early childhood are likely to benefit children and families most.
KeywordsWork–family conflict Work–family enrichment Inter-parental conflict Internalizing and externalizing problems Disordered eating
Dr. Westrupp was supported by Australian Communities Foundation through the Roberta Holmes Transition to Contemporary Parenthood Program at La Trobe University (Coronella sub-fund). This paper uses unit record data from Growing Up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). The study is conducted in partnership between the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The findings and views reported are those of the authors and should not be attributed to DSS, AIFS or the ABS. LSAC study design and data collection were funded by DSS. We thank all parents and children who took part in the study.
AV: designed and executed the study, completed the data analyses, and wrote the paper. IK: collaborated with the design and writing of the study. MF: contributed to the statistical analyses and writing of the results. EW: collaborated.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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