Why does depression have such a profound effect on parenting? What are the mediators and moderators of the relationship between depressed mood and parenting behaviour.

Depression is a mental health disorder that effects 1 in 10 people. It involves symptoms of low mood, loss of self worth, adheonia, guilt and loss of motivation in life. This can be severly harming in parenting for several reasons such as these symptoms mediating negative parenting behaviours already associated with negative child outcomes. Parents with mental health issues are just as likely to become parents, despite the decreased desire to be parents. Therefore finding mediators and moderators of profound parenting effects on parenting such as depression is vital to inform interventions. First of all to understand mediators several theories have been proposed in order to ascertain the wider picture of how these behaviours interact. First of all Bronfennbrenner proposed an ecological theory encompassing all environments that a child will come into contact with and the interaction of these, however this was largely untestable and therefore Belsky devised a new theory. This suggested that there are parental characteristics, child characteristics and contextual factors. It is said that parental characteristics and contextual factors are the most important and therefore these shall be discussed in this essay. However in critique of these theories Goldman has expressed that there is no all encompassing theory and therefore other mediators may be influential and these shall also be discussed.

First of all it is said that parenting style is the proximal mediator as this is the way that parenting behaviours are delivered in means of practices. Parenting style incorporates 3 types as described by baumrind, authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. These interact with outcomes in many different ways and are dependent on parental goals and culture. If a parent is particularly independent focussed then the best style is authoritative and if they are collectivist then permissive is the best, this is demonstrated in American and Japanese cultures. McKaron and Blissett  have found that depressed parent are much more likely to take on authoritarian and permissive parenting style and therefore being low in warmth and high in responsiveness. However, how damaging this is for children is dependent upon the parent’s goals and also the culture. It also depends on the other spouse and there mental health. It has been found that mothers increase externalising behaviour through being more authoritarian however other researchers explored this further and found that it was only of consequence if the father was more punitive as a result of depression and the mother would become more authoritarian through this. This is a clear example of how depression can have a profound effect however the effects must be explored more deeply to truly understand the cause. Therefore in this example an intervention could be undertaken to help the father become less punitive and to also help the mother be more responsive and only this together would reduce externalising behaviours in the children. Furthermore this research highlights the fact that depression can be transmitted intergenerationally through symptoms expressed from mood to parenting behaviour.

Parental characteristics such as negative affect can have a huge bearing on parenting due to the way it translates in cognition, behaviour and goals. Negative attributions have been shown to have a real effect on the way children are parented. For example parents were asked to either place responsibility on their children for mess or no responsibility. In the clear up process it was monitored how these are translated into behaviour. This responsibility was shown to induce much harsher parenting of the child. Furthermore negative mood has a bearing on childrens outcomes. Infants are much more likely to recognise negative faces and when children are 5-7 years old they are biased to recognise negative faces due to their exposure. This can have a bearing on their emotional regulation development in later life posing a real profound effect of mood to parenting behaviour. It has been found that age and SES can be a buffer to this system by Lovejoy (2000) for example older children have more ways to cope and are less dependable on their parents. Furthermore those with higher SES are less likely to have stressors such as economic support which is a mediator for negative parenting behaviour due to preoccupation and higher priorities. Depressed parents are more likely to have higher stressors and so finding things that stop mediation between mood and parenting behaviour is also key for intervention as parents of younger children can be given more care and helped with finances. Another mediator of negative mood is perfectionism, it has been found that when a parent has depression or anxiety they are much more likely to be a perfectionist and through this be harsher when a child shows less than desired behaviours therefore becoming controlling and increasing the chance of the child having depression. This highlights the profound effects that depression has on outcomes through mediators from parental mood to parenting behaviour.

A final mediator is symptom severity. It is not yet clear in the literature whether depressive symptoms make parenting worse or whether it is depression itself. It is known that parents with depression are guilty of Non-contingent interaction. This means that they have less responsive and less sensitive interactions and when they do it is very rare an unexpected making their children always on high alert which can be very stressful for the child. This is shown through increased cortisol in children’s saliva. This expressed cortisol can have profound effects on development especially in the brain and development of the amygdala and other stress response areas. This effect is shown to be heightened when the infants are avoidantly attached, showing a reciprocal process. The parents become more dismissive in their parenting behaviour, causing the infant to be avoidantly attached and therefore making it harder for the parent to parent well, this could be then translated by the parent as the child hating them and therefore the process continues. Another mediator of the interaction is marriage hositility. It was found that mothers and fathers had different effects dependent on marriage hostility. Mothers were much more likely to provoke externalising behaviours and fathers were more likely to induce internalising behaviours, perhaps there is a gender genetic effect here.

In the literature it is also shown that there is both a genetic and environmental intergenerational effect as there is less oxytocin in a babies brain when they have depressed parents making them vulnerable to depression in later life. Furthermore it is shown that even when the parents are not biologically related, a depressive environment can pose threat to these mediators such as negative affect causing cognitive and educational delay even without a genetic component. Therefore with both there are profound effects on parenting and the outcomes of these children. However, it has been found that interventions are successful through using these mediators specifically parenting style and coping mechanisms, (compass 2010).

Overall it is shown that depression has a profound effect on parenting due to genetic and environmental factors that pose threats to outcomes of these children. Through looking at mediators it is found that perfectionism, coping and parenting styles all mediate parental mood to adverse parenting behaviour. Therefore through using these mediators well informed interventions have been designed and have been successful in stopping adverse outcomes and even the intergenerational transmission of internalising or externalising problems such as depression.


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