Examining the effects of maternal chronic illness on child well-being in single parent families

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maternal chronic illness, internalizing behavior, externalizing behavior, single-parent families


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Objective:Chronicillnessishighlyprevalentamongadultswithchildren.Itisthereforeimportantto understand how parental illness may or may not have an impact on affected families. Findings thus far have suggested that differences between children with and without a sick parent are minimal, but there are individ- ual and familial moderators of outcome. It is unclear whether these results are generalizable to single-parent families. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether maternal chronic illness affects multiple aspects of child functioning in a large, ethnically diverse sample of single-parent families compared to those not affected by illness. Potential moderators of differences, including maternal distress, parenting variables (ag- gravation and warmth), functional impairment related to illness, and demographic characteristics were also tested. Methods: Using data from the Child Development Study (CDS), 812 mother-child pairs were studied. Mothers completed measures of child internalizing, externalizing, and positive behaviors, while children com- pleted a measure of depression. Results: The results indicated that overall there were no differences between children with or without a sick mother on the measures of well-being. Higher symptom levels among both cohorts were associated with maternal distress and aggravation in parenting only. However, children with a sick mother were more likely to have a consultation due to emotional difficulties. Conclusion: Several areas for future work on how illness affects single-parent families were identified such as prospectively studying ill- nesses with a variable course and determining which protective factors promote resiliency for children in this difficult situation.

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