A longitudinal investigation of change in maternal depression, parenting practices and child attachment

Natashia Milagros Robbins, Purdue University


The current research employed a quasi-experimental design and the analytic technique of growth modeling to longitudinally examine the relationships between change in maternal depression, change in parenting, and change in child attachment over a two-year period. Based on the theoretical understanding of maternal depression, its impact on parenting, and literature linking these with child attachment, it was hypothesized that along with alleviation of depression, parenting and child attachment would improve. It was further hypothesized that these changes would be predicted in part by key demographic variables and treatment versus control group membership. The sample included 172 mothers and their children (ages 7-16) recruited from three metropolitan areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest regions of the United States for a larger multi-site study designed to examine the impact of treatment for parental depression on child outcomes. Participants included mothers entering treatment for depression, as well as a semi-matched non-depressed control group. Depressed mothers received prescribed treatments for depression (not provided through this study) including medication and/or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Data from measures of depression, parenting, and attachment were gathered from mothers and children pre-treatment, mid-treatment (2 months), post-treatment (4 months), and follow-up (10 months, 16 months, and 22 months). The results only partially supported initial hypotheses. Lower income mothers in the treatment group had the highest initial levels of depression. When mothers' parenting was less strong at the start of the study, so was child attachment. Initial levels of parenting were the lowest among mothers with older children, and older children in the treatment group evidenced the lowest initial levels of child attachment. While maternal depression generally improved over the course of the study, parenting worsened on average. When parenting worsened, so did child attachment. However, when parenting remained stable, child attachment improved over time. Children in the treatment group evidenced more of a decrease in attachment over time than children in the control group. A discussion is included regarding the implications of this research and application of the findings. ^




Margaret Keiley, Purdue University, Volker Thomas, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Health Sciences, Mental Health|Psychology, Social|Psychology, Developmental|Psychology, Clinical

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