Inside the Black Box of Interactions Between Programs and Participants: Re-conceptualizing Subgroups for Fatherhood Program Evaluation. D. Stress and Coping


An individual's behavior can be affected by the presence of stressors in the environment, and whether those stressors are perceived as threats and are a source of distress (Glanz and Schwarz 2008). Reviewed studies examined objective measures of stressors experienced by fathers and families as well as subjective measures of fathers' psychological states, parenting stress, financial stress, overall distress, and measures of coping strategies.

About 40 percent of the studies (26 of 64) reviewed examined predictors related to stress and coping (see Table VI.1).

·      Most studies (21 of 26) examined parenting outcomes, and 13 found a significant association.

·      Seven studies investigated father well-being outcomes, and all seven found significant associations.

·      Five examined partner relationship outcomes, and all five found significant associations.

·      None of the studies we reviewed examined the effects of fathers' stress and coping on employment or child support outcomes.

Appendix Table E.4 provides a list of the specific variables examined in each study and whether a statistically significant relationship was found for each fatherhood outcome. Findings are summarized below.

1. Predictors of Parenting Outcomes

Life stressors. Only one study examined the association between life stressors and parenting using multivariate analysis. Rienks (2011) examined whether experiencing stressful events in the past year was related to father involvement but did not find a significant association.

Other specific stressors. Goodman et al. (2008) conducted multivariate analysis to test whether "role overload" or the feeling of having too many demands on one's time could partially explain associations between work environments and parenting, but did find any evidence to support their hypothesis.

Financial stress. A statistically significant association between financial or economic stress and parenting was found in four multivariate studies. For example, Gonzales et al. (2011) found that fathers with higher levels of perceived economic hardship demonstrated lower levels of warm parenting, controlling for concurrent measures of family income and neighborhood risk. However, one multivariate study did not yield a significant result. Flouri and Buchanan (2003) used data on a sample of more than 7,000 intact families from England, Scotland, and Wales to examine whether family financial difficulties as measured by reliance on free school meals or a health visitor's assessment of the family's financial condition was related to teachers' reports of father involvement (that is, how often the father spent time with the child or took an interest in the child's education) at ages 7, 11, and 16. Controlling for child and family demographic characteristics, child behavioral problems and math achievement, and earlier father involvement, the authors found that financial difficulties were not significantly associated with concurrent father involvement in any of the time periods.

Parenting stress. Two multivariate studies examined parenting stress as a predictor of parenting. In a sample of 468 French Canadian families, Paquette (2000) found that higher levels of parental stress were more typical of authoritarian fathers (who were unresponsive to children's needs and wishes and frequently resorted to control to ensure obedience and respect for authority) or authoritative fathers (who were generally sensitive and responsive to children's needs, were affectionate and set clear limits while also allowing children to be autonomous), compared to permissive or stimulative fathers. Bronte-Tinkew and colleagues (2010) used data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being study and found that parenting stress and aggravation was inversely related to concurrent father engagement, controlling for several demographic characteristics, including father's age, race, depression, marital and employment status, substance use, education, and poverty level. Additional analyses revealed that the negative association between parenting stress and parenting was particularly pronounced for fathers with household incomes below the poverty line.

Depressive symptoms or psychological distress. The relationship between depression or distress and parenting was examined in five multivariate studies. Three of the five found a statistically significant association. In a sample of 215 families, Conger and colleagues (1995) found that stress-related paternal depression was significantly associated with poor disciplinary practices by fathers of sixth and seventh grade boys. Cabrera et al. (2009) analyzed data from a sample of Mexican American families with 9-month-olds in the Early Child Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort and found that fathers with higher levels of depressive symptoms were less engaged in such caregiving activities as feeding or bathing their children. Coley and Hernandez (2006) found a direct association between father's psychological distress and less father involvement with their preschool-aged child, as well as an indirect relationship through a significant association between father psychological distress and elevated father-mother conflict which was also negatively related to father involvement. Two other studies conducted multivariate analyses but did not find a statistically significant association. Rienks et al. (2011) did not find a significant difference in the involvement of fathers with anxiety and depression. Similarly, Bronte-Tinkew and colleagues (2010) did not find evidence of differences in father engagement of fathers with more depressive symptoms compared to those with fewer symptoms.

Well-being. One multivariate study explored the relationship between fathers' feelings of well-being and parenting. Dechman (1994) found that fathers who reported being happy were more likely to have a warmer and less directive relationship with their 5- to 11-year-old child, controlling for fathers' age, education, and average number of hours spent at work.

Coping. Our review uncovered one study that used multivariate and longitudinal analysis to investigate the association between fathers' coping strategies and parenting. Roggman and colleagues (2002) found that fathers who reported using a wider array of coping strategies ("talk to relatives" or "participate in church or other spiritual activities," for example) when they have a problem were rated as more highly engaged with their infant child based on subsequent assessments conducted by home visitors while the family was enrolled in Early Head Start. Two studies used multivariate methods to assess coping as a predictor. Sloper and Turner (1993) found that fathers of children with disabilities whose coping strategies were less reliant on wishful thinking demonstrated better adaptation to their child's disability. Rienks et al. (2011) examined whether fathers' perceptions of their coping efficacy (i.e., how well they cope with stress) was related to how well they felt they performed parenting tasks ("encouraging your children to succeed in school," "spending time with your children doing things they like to do," for example) over the past 12 months but did not find a statistically significant relationship.

2. Predictors of Partner Relationship Outcomes

Parenting stress. Bronte-Tinkew and colleagues (2010) found that parenting stress and aggravation was inversely related to relationship supportiveness, controlling for several demographic characteristics, including father's age, race, depression, marital and employment status, substance use, education, and poverty level. This negative association was particularly pronounced for fathers with household incomes below the poverty line.

Depressive symptoms or psychological distress. Two multivariate studies examined the relationship between depression or psychological distress and the quality of couple relationships. For example, Bronte-Tinkew et al. (2010) found that fathers with more depressive symptoms exhibited lower levels of relationship supportiveness.

3. Predictors of Father Well-Being Outcomes

Life stressors. Four multivariate studies found a statistically significant association between life stressors, such as problems with housing, unemployment, substance abuse, health problems, crime, or other family crises, and father well-being. For example, in a sample of low-income nonresidential fathers participating in a Responsible Fatherhood program, Anderson et al. (2005) found that those who reported more stressors also reported more concurrent depressive symptoms, controlling for urban versus rural residence, social support, and co-parenting conflict. Using a slightly different measure of father well-being, Boyce et al. (2007) found that expectant fathers who experienced more stressful life events were more likely to be distressed, controlling for personality traits and personal history (attachment to own parents in childhood).

Financial stress. Whitbeck and colleagues (1997) found a significant concurrent relationship between economic pressure and emotional distress. Specifically, fathers who reported facing more economic pressures in the form of difficulties paying their bills or covering expenses had higher levels of emotional distress as rated by an independent observer.

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