The Effect of Maternal Anxiety on Parenting and Relationship Stress During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented numerous challenges to mothers and their perceived levels of anxiety, relationship stress, and parenting stress. Research in the past has looked at the effects of pandemics and the effect of such variables on one another but not in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The present study examined 1) whether levels of anxiety, relationship stress during COVID-19, and parenting stress increased from the closure of all states in April/May of 2020, Wave 1, to December of 2020 and January of 2021, Wave 3; 2) whether any increases in anxiety from Wave 1 to Wave 3 were related to increase in relationship stress over the same period; and 3) whether increases in anxiety from Wave 1 to Wave 3 contributed to heightened parenting stress over the same period. Approximately, 298 mothers with children under 3 were recruited through Prolific. During each of the two time periods in this study, each lasting 6 weeks, mothers completed the GAD-7, PSI-4, and Stressful Experiences Related to COVID-19 scales. Four separate regressions, two of which tested bidirectional relationships between the variables, were conducted to see if maternal anxiety levels influenced both the change in relationship and parenting stress. After controlling for household income, it was found that anxiety at Wave 3 predicted increases in mothers’ reported symptoms of relationship stress over the 10-month period. Concurrently, it was found that anxiety at Wave 3 did not predict increases in mothers’ reported symptoms of parenting stress over the same period above and beyond initial levels of anxiety. Bidirectional effects revealed that both relationship stress and parenting stress at time 1 significantly forecasted increases in anxiety from Wave 1 to Wave 3, after controlling for family income. Additionally, once exploring bidirectional effects, it was revealed that the level of mothers’ reported relationship stress during COVID-19 and parenting stress at time 3, predicted above and beyond reports of relationship stress experienced at time 1. The results provided insight into the effects of anxiety on relationship stress and parenting stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and vice versa. Such findings revealed potential future directions for interventions for mothers regarding future, unpredictable pandemics to come.