The relationship between depression, parenting and child functioning : what about fathers?
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
For the last few decades, fathers have become much more involved in childcare (Lamb, 2010), which has had many benefits, but also means children are more exposed to the emotional conditions of their fathers, such as depression. Despite the increased involvement, paternal depression and its relationship to child functioning is still understudied and many questions remain. In addition, increased paternal involvement could mean that fathers may have become more prone to experiencing parenting stress. As for depression, parenting stress in fathers has yet to be examined in depth, and it is unclear what determines stress in fathers and how this differs from mothers.
This thesis aimed to study a NZ sample of fathers to explore the effects of paternal depression on parenting behaviour and parenting stress and to examine its relationship to children’s emotional, behavioural, cognitive and physical functioning. The relationship was tested in a community sample and a clinical sample of parents of infants who were born in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and controls. In addition, the determinants of parenting stress were studied and gender role differences identified.
The results showed that paternal depression was related to child emotional and behavioural functioning but this result did not apply to the clinical sample tested in this thesis and only applied to the youngest or only child in each family in Study 2. Paternal depression was not associated with poorer child cognitive or physical functioning. Maternal depression was not related to child functioning on any domain. A significant relationship was identified between depression and parenting behaviour and parenting stress. Depressed fathers reported the usage of dysfunctional parenting behaviours significantly more often, and psychopathology in either parent was associated with greater parenting stress levels. Fathers experienced similar levels of parenting stress than mothers. Depression and anxiety were the strongest predictors of parenting stress in fathers and mothers, followed by marital satisfaction, social support and work. Child functioning did not predict stress in parents.
The results showed that paternal depression can have an impact on their children’s emotional and behavioural functioning. Future studies need to examine the relationship between paternal depression, parenting and child functioning over time, in a larger sample of NZ fathers, including further variables such as expressed emotions. The recognition of paternal depression needs to be improved in clinical practice, for example by using gender-sensitive assessment tools. Moreover, fathers seem to be more similar than different to mothers when it comes to the experience of parenting stress and thus, parenting support should be offered to both parents.