Access to resources and maternal well-being : examining the role of educational attainment in the relationship between social support and maternal parenting stress at one year postpartum
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The transition to motherhood requires adjustments to new roles and growing demands on time and financial resources. Consequently, this transition can be a time of emotional upheaval and can often lead to increased levels of maternal stress. Research on parenting stress has identified social support as an important resource for coping with the demands of parenting, but, empirical studies also show that access to social support is likely to differ based on one’s socioeconomic status. Consequently, levels and effects of support may differ by maternal educational level. The primary purpose of the current study is to investigate the associations between four types of perceived support, maternal educational attainment and maternal parenting stress. The study sample is drawn from the first year follow-up wave of the Fragile Families and Child Well-being dataset (n=2412) and includes only mothers who were involved with the father of the child at the time of the child’s birth. Fragile Families is a nationally based, longitudinal birth cohort study of approximately 4,800 mothers and their children. Data were analyzed using multivariate regression modeling to investigate direct effects of perceived support and education on maternal stress as well as testing a moderating effect of education on the association between perceived support and maternal stress. The results showed that perceived support from one’s partner significantly lowers maternal stress regardless of the level or type of support (emotional, mothering or instrumental) that the partner provides. Expected support from kin or friends does not have an effect on maternal stress. The effect of perceived support differs by education level for two types of partner support: support of mothering practices and instrumental support. Increased symptoms of depression and fussy child temperament each increase maternal stress levels. Investigation of the direct effect of various types of perceived support on maternal stress indicate that partner support is critical during the first year of motherhood. Results reveal that not all types of perceived support affect maternal stress with the same magnitude. Thus, special attention should be given to the context within a mother is functioning.