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African-American Single Mothers, Parenting Stress, and Religious Coping

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Christina C Downing
Abstract:
U.S. Census Bureau statistics have shown a significant increase in the number of single mother-headed families in the last 40 years. When compared to other racial/ethnic groups, African-American women are observed to have higher rates of single motherhood. For many single mothers, it can be challenging to balance economic, academic, and relational responsibilities alone. Religious coping has been shown beneficial in managing life stressors. Multiple studies have shown African Americans tend to rely on religious practices and beliefs to deal with life's challenges. This study examined whether or not religious coping could account for variations in reports of parenting stress. The study found no relationship between religious coping and parenting stress. Limitations of the study and directions for future research are discussed.

Table of Contents Signature Page ii Abstract iii Acknowledgements iv List of Tables vi Chapter I: Introduction and Literature Review 1 Single Mothers 3 African-American Single Mothers and Social Support 5 Parenting Stress 12 African-American Single Mothers and Parenting Stress 14 Religious Coping 18 African Americans and Religious Variables 21 Religious Coping and Mental Health 24 Purpose of the Study and Hypothesis 26 Chapter II: Methodology 28 Participants 28 Procedure 29 Materials 35 Chapter III: Results 39 Chapter IV: Discussion 46 Study Limitations 49 Future Research 50 References 52 Appendixes A: Introductory Letter to Churches 58 B: Study Announcement Flyer 61 C: Informed Consent 63 D: Demographic Information Form 66 E:RCOPE 69 F: Sample PSI-SF Items 74 G: Original Online Participant Letter 76 H: Debriefing Forms 78 I: Raffle Contact Forms 82 J: Raffle Notification Letters 84 K: Glossary of Abbreviations 86 L: Publication-Ready Article 89 v

List of Tables Table 1 Descriptive Characteristics of Participants 41 Table 2 Cronbach's Alpha for Independent and Dependent Measures 42 Table 3 Correlations Between PSI/SF and RCOPE 44 Table 4 Correlations Between TotStress and Demographic Variables 44 vi

1 Chapter I Introduction and Literature Review Research over the last 40 years has indicated that the number of single mothers in the United States has steadily increased. Garfinkel and McLanahan (1986) cited U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicating that in the 1960s about one in 12 children lived in households headed by mothers; by the 1980s, this number had jumped to one in five. Indeed, such a dramatic change is cause to pay attention to factors linked to or causing such change. Some research has explained the increase in single mothers as a result of an overall lower rate of people getting married. Others have explained the increase in single mothers as a result of a higher divorce rate. Whatever the reason, the prevalence of single mother-headed households is no longer an anomaly within U.S. society. The increased prevalence of single mother-headed households has led to increased interest in the psychological and sociological impact of single mother-headed homes on U.S. society. Early research approached single motherhood as a "crisis" in American culture with mostly negative outcomes reported for both single mothers and their children (Garfinkel & McLanahan, 1986; McLanahan & Sanderfur, 1994). The problems, reported by the researchers, associated with single motherhood were increased familial poverty, lower academic achievement, depression, anxiety, reliance on public assistance, and disproportionate use of community mental health agencies The implication was that single motherhood itself was the root of all these problems. Historically, research on African-American single mothers (AASMs) has focused on child outcomes as a result of living in a single-parent household. Research on children living in single-mother households has found a variety of negative results "linked" to the

2 single status of the mother. These negative outcomes include increased childhood depression, delinquency, and poor academic performance. Similarly, research on AASMs themselves has found negative issues associated with being single. AASMs are reported to have higher incidences of dysfunctional parenting behaviors, depression, and anxiety, as well as an increased risk of developing serious mental illnesses (Cairney, Boyle, Offord, & Racine, 2003; Cairney Thorpe, Rietschlin, & Avison, 1999; Crosier, Butterworth, & Rodgers, 2007). However, it is important to note that not all AASMs have such bleak lives, even though research seems to continue to highlight the many deficits that come with being an AASM. One study that sought to change the perception of AASMs in research is a meta analysis of AASMs by McBride-Murry, Bynum, Brody, Willert, and Stephens (2001). These researchers asserted that single motherhood, though not considered by many to be a desirable family structure, does not have to be prone to the problems emphasized by early research. McBride-Murry et al. highlighted research that shows some of the positive outcomes among AASM families. Dickerson (1995) also expressed a need for a more culturally relevant examination of African-American single-parent families. This model emphasizes that though the single-parent family may be structurally different, the single-parent family can function just as well as the traditional nuclear family. Dickerson asserted that in the African-American culture, extended familial relationships (fictive or kin) have always played a key role in the stability of family and community, which suggests that though the parent may be single, there is a community effort put forth in the family structure that does not put the family in a deficit position. Consequently, some research has suggested

3 that factors such as social support networks and religion help AASMs navigate the challenges of parenting (Brodsky, 2000; Dressier, 1985; Lindbald-Goldberg & Dukes 1985; McBride-Murry et al., 2001; Mowbray, Bybee, Hollingsworth, Goodkin, & Oyserman, 2005). The remainder of this study examines more closely research regarding single mothers, specifically AASMs. This study examines the stressors that affect AASMs, demographic factors influencing the experience of stress, and factors contributing to the resiliency of AASMs. This study also seeks to examine the intersection between religious beliefs and practices and the effect of religious beliefs and practices on the experience of stressful events. Single Mothers Just as different ethnic groups can be comprised of any number of subgroups, so the category of single mother is not a monolithic group. Realizing the diversity among single mothers, Afifi, Cox, and Enns (2006) conducted a large-scale study of women across several marital domains, including married, single-never married, separated/divorced, and widowed. The goal of the study was to examine whether or not certain mental health problems were more prevalent among women of a particular marital status. Results indicated that married women, on average, tend to have fewer mental health problems than both single-never married and separated/divorced mothers. However, when compared to single-never married mothers, separated/divorced mothers showed the highest prevalence of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. One of the explanations offered by the authors to account for these findings was that separated/divorced mothers may experience more chronic stress

4 associated with the adjustment to becoming single mothers. But when single-never married mothers were considered, it was posited that they likely had many years to adjust to being the primary source of income and support for their children, and this experience is new to the separated/divorced mother. The researchers also stated that there could be stress associated with establishing a new identity as a single person after having been part of a married couple. In a study done married and single mothers, Cairney, Boyle et al. (2003) observed single mothers were twice as likely to report experiencing a depressive episode when compared to married women. Nevertheless, as had been previously reported in other research, the authors carefully noteed that single motherhood in and of itself was not the main factor that determined the likelihood of a depressive episode. The authors observed that single mothers reported more life stressors than their married counterparts. As Afifi et al. (2006) found in their study, Cairney, Boyle et al. recognized the importance of social networks and the prevalence of stressful situations as it relates to experiencing a depressive episode. Some of the stressors identified by Cairney, Boyle et al. were less perceived social support, higher chronic stress, and higher occurrence of stressful life events. Cairney, Boyle et al. (2003) also observed certain demographic variables to be associated with increased depressive episodes among single mothers. The authors observed that single young women with less education and lower economic status seemed to experience more depressive symptoms than married women. Previous research has found that low economic status is a highly prevalent problem among single mothers (Garfinkel & McLanahan, 1986; Jayakody & Chatters, 1992). As such, a lower economic

5 status can make it difficult for single mothers to attain/maintain suitable housing, clothing, and childcare for their families. The struggle to meet the basic needs for self and a child (or children) adds to single mothers' experience of chronic stress. When low economic status is combined with limited educational opportunities, it is understandable why the single mother would consistently feel stressed. Education of the mother is directly linked to the economic stability of mother-headed households. Lower educational status usually translates to fewer employment opportunities for single mothers, which in turn typically results in low-wage jobs. Maternal demographic variables have not only been associated with increased maternal stress and depression but also with an overall increased rate of mental disorders and mental disabilities. Crosier et al. (2007) found a prevalence rate of 28.7% of single mothers versus 15.7% of partnered mothers reporting moderate to severe mental disability. In this study, the authors observed that among single mothers, financial hardship and perceived lack of social support were associated with higher rates of mental disability. African-American Single Mothers and Social Support Research specifically examining AASMs has been fairly consistent with the general findings for single mothers. Taylor, Roberts, and Jacobson (1997) examined a meditational model that related various kinds of stress to mother-adolescent interactions. Stressors specifically related to work and family disruption led to more controlling parenting behaviors. The Taylor, Roberts et al.'s model suggests that when work stress or family disruption occur, increases in controlling behaviors can be accounted for via changes in maternal self-esteem (lower maternal self-esteem increases the incidence of

6 maternal controlling behaviors). Taylor, Roberts et al. suggested that work stress and family disruption represent threats to familial stability for single and married mothers. When these threats are perceived, increased control of adolescent behavior may act as the mothers' method of preventing damage to her own self-esteem while also giving the family unit more stability. The work-related stressors that the single mothers may experience included low-paying jobs, family-work time conflicts, and difficulty obtaining adequate childcare. The aforementioned problems can be more difficult to manage when one factors in the idea that single mothers, more often than not, tend to have lower levels of education. In light of the challenges single mothers face, it becomes important to find resources and/or outlets to aid single mothers in coping effectively with the challenges they face. One such resource is social support. In a study by Campell-Grossman, Hudson, Keating-Lefler, and Fleck (2005), social support was broken down into the categories of emotional, tangible, informational, and appraisal support. Emotional support includes listening to the concerns of single mothers and helping them develop positive beliefs about their parenting skills and abilities. Tangible support includes basic needs such as housing, food, transportation, and reliable, affordable childcare. Informational support allows mothers to connect with others in accessing available resources. By connecting with others in their communities, mothers may feel less isolated from those around them. Finally, appraisal support provides the necessary feedback single mothers need to navigate the challenges they face. Appraisal support can reinforce maternal successes while encouraging single mothers to ask about areas in which they may still struggle. The

7 role of social support in the lives of AASMs will be further examined later in this chapter. In addition to social support, resources that assist with addressing specific areas of need are also important. As previously mentioned, Jayakody and Chatters (1992) and Garfinkel and McLanahan (1986) explored the connection between low economic status and stress among single mothers. The researchers found that lower economic status was typically associated with lower educational attainment. Therefore, resources that address the need for higher educational attainment among single mothers may help address the issue of low economic status by putting single mothers in a position to seek out better employment opportunities. Romo and Segura (2010) examined educational programs that assist single mothers at the high school and college levels of education. The researchers found that among high school students, the most effective programs were those that integrated family, school, and community supports. Successful programs at the high school level also included services such as parenting classes, quality childcare, educational/vocational counseling, and reproductive health services. The researchers theorized that the inclusion of all or many of these services addressed issues that may have contributed to young women becoming single mothers in the first place. At the college level, Romo and Segura (2010) found that the primary challenges faced by single mothers included having the funds to attend a vocational school, community college, or 4-year university and having the time to attend classes. With programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), mothers are typically required to engage in 20-30 hours of employment or community service. For TANF recipients in high school, school attendance counts toward this 20-30 hour

8 requirement (Romo & Segura, 2010). However, educational pursuits beyond high school are not typically considered applicable to the 20-30-hour requirement. Thus, a serious time constraint is presented to the single mother who desires to continue her education but is still in need of financial assistance. Romo and Segura found that successful college programs addressed financial needs, time constraints, more personalized case management, and increased educational services (e.g., drop-in study centers). Segura and Romo found that single mothers in comprehensive college education programs showed higher pass rates, increased reregistering to continue working toward a degree, and— among those single mothers who completed the degree program—higher income earning ability. Many single mothers need specialized support to overcome the challenges they face. Social support is a key feature in much of the research regarding AASMs (Brodsky, 2000; Lindbald-Goldberg & Dukes, 1985; Lindbald-Golberg, Dukes, & Lasley, 1988; McBride-Murry et al., 2001). Social support comes not only from community and government institutions, but also from familial relationships. These family relationships are both blood kinship networks and extended kinship networks. Hines and Boyd- Franklin (2005) explained that many of the current trends of kinship and extended kinship patterns in African-American families can be traced back to slavery when the African-American family unit was frequently, and unpredictably, torn apart. As a result, extended kinship networks were created to maintain the family structure during unpredictable times. However, social support is not always a positive experience for AASMs. At times, social support becomes a source of stress for AASMs (Brodsky, 1999; Keating-

9 Lefler, Hudson, Campell-Grossman, Fleck, & Westfall, 2004; Lindbald-Goldberg & Dukes, 1985). Social support becomes stressful for AASMs when it is inconsistent, conditional or inadequate to meet the single mother's needs. In a study by Keating-Lefler et al. (2004), AASMs identified how family members both helped and hindered their success. In one instance, a study participant described the stress of being rejected by her family after having a child and being forced to depend on friends for support. This challenge was further exacerbated by friends who were unable to comprehend or provide the kind of support the mother needed. Similar findings of stressful/inadequate support were found in a study by Lindbald-Goldberg and Dukes (1985), where instances of negative social support were observed among dysfunctional family systems. Examples of positive social support in kinship and extended kinship networks include providing free or low-cost childcare, consistent financial support, and caring about the AASMs' well- being (Brodsky, 1999; Keating-Lefler et al., 2004). When positive social support is available via kinship networks, AASMs are able to cope more effectively with life stressors, succeed educationally, and reduce the severity of mental health disorders (Brodsky, 1999; Lindbald-Goldberg & Dukes, 1985; McBride-Murry et al., 2001). Because of the importance of kinship networks in the lives of AASMs, it has become vital for researchers to consider this factor when studying AASMs. Understanding the need for a more culturally relevant model to conceptualize AASM families, research is beginning to shift in how it views the extended social support networks commonly found in AASM families. One such development in research regarding AASMs is the emergence of the ecological risk/protection model for conceptualizing AASM research (McBride-Murry et al., 2001). This model stresses the

10 importance of examining AASM family structure from a standpoint of functionality, realizing that there are a number of AASM families that are resilient and show beneficial outcomes for both mother and child (Brodsky, 1999; McBride-Murry & Brody, 1999). McBride-Murry et al. (2001) defined resilience as "the ability to recover from negative experiences and situations" (p. 137). Indeed, the previously mentioned research has found that single mothers, specifically AASMs, are susceptible to a number of negative mental health outcomes as a function of economic and other sociodemographic variables. But from the ecological risk/protection model, understanding the factors that contribute to familial stability in the AASM community are key to promoting the well-being of mothers and their children. Examination of familial stability is essentially an examination of resilience of the AASM and by extension her family. Resilience is a term that has had many definitions in research. As described by Kaplan (1999), resilience is in essence the ability for someone to experience one or more life challenges/negative experiences and emerge from that situation with little to no harm. Resilience has been studied among many different groups of people, including sociodemographic groups (e.g., African Americans), individuals with medical illnesses and physical disabilities, and groups who have experienced the same traumatic event (e.g., survivors of natural disasters). Kaplan cited synonyms for resilience have included terms such as hardiness, adaptation, adjustment, invulnerability, and plasticity. Jenkins (2005) explored the concept of resilience among African Americans in the context of the many hardships African Americans have endured in the United States. Jenkins utilized examples from fictional writings to illustrate how African-American

11 authors have captured the creativity of African Americans over the course of history. Two examples explored include author Alice Walker's (1982) character Celie in The Color Purple and the protagonist's father in Ralph Ellison's (1952) Invisible Man. According to Jenkins, both characters represent the tenacity, creativity, and active engagement necessary to overcome adversity. AASMs require the use of these characteristics in order to make a way for their families to survive in the face of modern- day adversities. Brodsky's (1999) research with AASMs identified several key areas related to familial resilience. These areas include neighborhood, parenting, money, family, spirituality, men, friends, and personal time. Although Brodsky's participants acknowledged experiencing stress in one or more of these areas (e.g., money, neighborhood), generally they work together to help single mothers cope with the stressors involved with being single parents. It is interesting to note that several of the areas of resilience are interpersonal relationships. Dickerson (1995) emphasized that in traditional African societies, community support was essential to the survival of the family. Dickerson emphasized that community support is an aspect of modern African- American family structure that has been passed down through the generations. Networks of familial and fictive kinship have traditionally served as a mechanism to promote familial development regardless of whether or not the nuclear unit was intact. That being said, at this point, the focus of the discussion turns to parenting stress in the general population and then, specifically, as it applies to the African-American population.

12 Parenting Stress Stress is a part of many people's daily lives. For many, stress may come from work, family, and even health concerns. When an in-depth examination is given to the stress that single mothers experience, there is a greater likelihood that their stress may be more chronic than the average mother-father dyad. Afifi et al. (2006) found separated/divorced mothers to be at a higher risk for the development of mental health disorders. They theorized that the increased prevalence of poor mental health for these mothers may be a function of the psychosocial stressors that are often experienced by separated/divorced single mothers. Some specific psychosocial stressors include being the primary source of physical and emotional support for children and having to redefine one's identity from being a spouse to being single. An additional stressor that can be a primary consideration for the separated or divorced mother is that of the parent having to learn how to balance supplying a child's basic needs while attempting to meet her own needs. When one thinks of parenting stress and what defines it, ample consideration needs to be given to the challenges faced by parents in finding the balance between meeting a child's needs and meeting personal needs. But researchers also have noted several other areas that single mothers encounter when it comes to dealing with the stress that they face that needs to be considered and studied. Everly and Lating (2002) described parenting stress as a construct involving parental and child behavioral, cognitive, and affective components that combine with familial characteristics and impact the appraisal of the parenting role. The description provided by Everly and Lating is a general description and can be applied to various familial events. Still other research

13 about parenting stress has examined parenting stress in the context of childhood medical diseases and mental health disorders and how relationships are affected. In a study of parents of children with developmental disorders, Trute, Worthington, and Hiebert-Murphy (2008) found parenting stress to be significantly accounted for by spousal stress levels and familial support. Fathers in this study reported lower levels of parenting stress when their spouses had lower levels of parenting stress and they themselves had higher self-esteem. Mothers in the same study reported lower levels of parenting stress when they had high self-esteem and more support from the child's grandmother. Plant and Sanders (2007) found somewhat similar findings in their study of children with developmental disabilities. Maternal social support, child ability, and difficulty in care giving affected the maternal experience of parent stress. Other research has further indicated that maternal depression and childcare competence also affect parent stress (Secco et al., 2006). Secco et al. (2006) found that low levels of maternal depression and increased competence in providing care mediated the effects of stress when caring for a developmentally delayed child. In addition to medical and developmental factors being variables that affect stress, some other researchers pointed to self-efficacy as another factor that can impact maternal experience of parenting stress. Chang and Fine (2007) observed that among mothers with young children, the least amount of parenting stress was endorsed by women with higher levels of self-efficacy. This study assessed level of parenting stress and mental health variables at three points in time for each participant (child age =14, 24, and 36 months). By using the data collected at each point in time, the researchers created parenting stress trajectories indicating the likelihood of a mother's level of parenting stress increasing,

14 decreasing, or remaining the same. Mothers reporting low self-efficacy were higher in maternal depression and more likely to experience an increase in parenting stress or remain at a chronically high level of stress. The aforementioned studies have examined some of the factors that can contribute to the parental experience of stress among single and married mothers. What follows is a discussion of parenting stress as it relates to the AASM. African-American Mothers and Parenting Stress Among the major stressors faced by AASMs, much of the research has shown that one of the major challenges is economic stability. U.S. Census Bureau (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008) figures consistently have shown that single mothers, especially minority single mothers, tend to be among the poorest in the United States. Thus, with decreased available resources, AASMs must find ways to obtain and stretch the few resources they receive to provide for their families. For working mothers, this typically means increasing the number of hours spent on a job, subsequently sacrificing the opportunity to spend quality time with her child. As a result, some mothers have to rely on personal support systems and/or government assistance to survive. Some research, however, has suggested that for a few AASMs who reside in rural communities they may have a greater sense of financial security if they have received a higher level of education (Brody & Flor, 1998). But for the most part, as previously noted, AASMs have to rely on aid from other sources. As previously stated, many AASMs depend on social support and community support in managing daily stressors. Social support can come from family members, friends, neighbors, and community organizations such as religious institutions or other

15 civic groups. In the African-American community, social support via extended kinship and fictive kinship relationships has been an integral component to child rearing for years (Rhodes, Ebert, & Meyers, 1994; Taylor, Casten, & Flickinger, 1993). Research regarding the benefits of social support has been mixed. Social support is typically assumed to be a protective factor for AASMs as they navigate the challenges of parenting. However, some studies have found social support can negatively influence single mothers (Brodsky 1999; Dressier, 1985; Riley & Eckenrode, 1986). Dressier (1985) and Riley and Eckenrode (1986) theorized that social support may be damaging if the AASM is subjected to increased scrutiny by the support system or has needs that exceed what can be provided by the support system. As such, it would be important to keep in mind that social support networks can be helpful if the relationships do not become distressing or a strain on the single mother (Rhodes et al., 1994). Hence, in light of the beneficial nature to the AASM of having positive social support relationships, these types of relationships should be strongly encouraged. The importance of this can be seen in research that was conducted with mentally ill AASMs and Caucasian single mothers. Mowbray et al. (2005) found that AASMs reported reduced symptomolgy when they lived with others in a social support community, as compared to women living alone with their children. Other findings from the same study revealed that when an individual lives with extended family the result will bring about reduced parenting stress and increased parental functioning for African-American participants. Therefore, the research has suggested a pattern of functional and dysfunctional social support appears to explain some of the discrepancy about the benefits of having a

16 social support community. Lindbald-Goldberg and Dukes (1985) found that single mothers of clinically referred families had fewer adaptive social support networks than single mothers from nonreferred families. The researchers also found that less adaptive social support networks affected the coping mechanisms utilized by the single mothers. When faced with a limited number of supportive resources, mothers of clinically referred families had greater difficulty coping with stressors. Though the researchers observed many similarities between functional and dysfunctional support networks regarding number of people within the network and relationship to the mother, they noted some qualitative differences, such as women in nonclinically referred families tended to have more nonfamilial people in their support networks, and they more frequently reported improvement in their relationships with people in the social support network. Also, support relationships with family members were characterized by slightly less frequent contact, and the mothers from nonreferred families lived further away from family members in their support network. However, when there is a dysfunctional pattern of social support, the researchers found the mother's romantic relationships had ambiguous or overly defined roles. Also, mothers reported an overreliance on children not living in the home and an overall lower quality of interaction with her support network. One consistent finding among the research of AASMs is that economic/financial concerns are a common stress for single mothers (Brodsky, 2000; Romo & Segura, 2010), citing U.S. Census data stating 44% of AASMs were living below the 2007 poverty threshold. Furthermore, adolescent girls who become teen mothers are less likely to go to college than women who delay child bearing (Hofferth, Reid, & Mott, 2001). Zhan and Pandey (2004) confirmed that economic well-being is lower for women with

Full document contains 136 pages
Abstract: U.S. Census Bureau statistics have shown a significant increase in the number of single mother-headed families in the last 40 years. When compared to other racial/ethnic groups, African-American women are observed to have higher rates of single motherhood. For many single mothers, it can be challenging to balance economic, academic, and relational responsibilities alone. Religious coping has been shown beneficial in managing life stressors. Multiple studies have shown African Americans tend to rely on religious practices and beliefs to deal with life's challenges. This study examined whether or not religious coping could account for variations in reports of parenting stress. The study found no relationship between religious coping and parenting stress. Limitations of the study and directions for future research are discussed.