To test a model linking economic hardship, parenting stress, and nonresident fathers’ involvement in single mothers’ family life during Black boys’ early childhood (3–5 years of age) to harsh parenting and behavior problems in middle childhood (9 years of age).
Parenting stress among single mothers heading low‐income Black families is poorly understood. Most of the research on the effects of stress in the parenting role and outcomes for mothers and children has focused on middle‐class White samples. Boys are of primary interest in this article because of evidence, based largely on studies of economically disadvantaged, two‐parent, White families, that boys may be more negatively affected than girls by aspects of family conflict that include harsh and coercive parenting.
Using data from a subsample of unmarried Black mothers and nonresident biological fathers with a 3‐year‐old son (n = 748) from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a nationally representative data set, and survey interviews with mothers when the children were 3, 5, and 9 years of age, we examined relationships between and among mothers’ economic hardship, depressive symptoms, parenting stress, father involvement, harsh parenting, and child behavior problems when the children were 3, 5, and 9 years of age. Latent variable structural equation modeling and effect decomposition were estimated.
Economic hardship was linked indirectly to harsh parenting through mothers’ depressive symptoms and parenting stress, both of which were related directly to increased harsh parenting. Fathers’ involvement was associated directly with mothers’ reduced economic hardship and reduced parenting stress when children were 3 to 5 years of age, and reduced levels of harsh parenting at 9 years of age. Harsh parenting during middle childhood, in turn, was associated directly and positively with boy’s behavior problems at 9 years of age.
Nonresident Black fathers’ sustained involvement may buffer adverse consequences of stressful conditions on single mothers’ parenting. This is important because studies have found that children growing up in households without the involvement of both biological parents are at greater risk for negative developmental and well‐being outcomes than their counterparts who grow up in households in which both biological parents are involved.
The most important scientific and policy implications of our results are that intervention approaches that focus on honing relationship and coparenting skills between unmarried nonresident, Black, biological fathers and the mothers of their children early on should be a high priority. Studies have found that although these couples are typically optimistic about their future together early in the relationship, most are no longer in a romantic relationship by the time the child is 5 years old.