The relationship of maternal patterns of stress, coping, and support to quality of early infant-mother attachment

Hamilton, Eugenie Bunnell, Department of Education, University of Virginia
Sheras, Peter, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Reeve, Ronald, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Callahan, Carolyn, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Akin, Gib, McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia
Green, Julia H., University of Virginia

The present study was designed to provide information regarding maternal variables of parenting stress, coping styles, and family support which may enhance or diminish a mother's ability to respond sensitively to her child once an initial pattern of infant-mother attachment has been established. An additional aim of the study was to examine whether mothers could be discriminated and correctly classified in terms of their infants' patterns of attachment solely on the basis of a combination of self-report questionnaires.

Subjects were thirty-seven mother-infant pairs comprising a white, predominantly middle-class sample. Mothers completed three self-report measures. The Parenting Stress Index (Abidin and Burke, 1978) indicated the amount and sources of stressors (i.e., child, mother, or situational/demographic factors) a mother was experiencing. The California Psychological Inventory (CPI) (Gough, 1975) and the Family Relationship Index (FRI) derived from the Family Environment Scale (Moos, 1974) were used to identify psychosocial assets. The CPI assessed personality styles which might be used to cope with stress and the FRI indicated the availability of family support. Infant patterns of attachment had been assessed 10 months earlier via the Strange Situation procedure (Ainsworth and Wittig, 1969). Infants ranged in age from 21 to 30 months at the time of the present study.

In the analysis of the data, mothers whose infants had demonstrated a pattern of secure attachment 10 months previously were compared to mothers whose infants had demonstrated a pattern of anxious attachment. It was hypothesized that mothers of anxiously attached infants in comparison to mothers of securely attached infants would experience their two year old children and their maternal role to be more. stressful and their family relationships to be less supportive, and they would show a greater tendency to dissimulate and to exhibit self control and social conformity. None of the research hypotheses were confirmed and few significant differences on individual scales of the dependent measures were found. However, group differences emerged when the pattern of mothers' responses was examined in factor and discriminant analyses. Factor analysis of the. data produced four factors, two of which were principally responsible for differentiating the two groups. A discriminant analysis based on the factor structure correctly classified 75 percent of the mothers in terms of their infants’ attachment pattern (i.e., secure or anxious). Mothers of anxiously attached infants were discriminated primarily by the factor labeled I Interpersonal Autonomy. This group was characterized by self-assurance, self-expressiveness, dominance, and independence in their interpersonal relationships. Mothers of securely attached infants were distinguished principally by the factor labeled Mother Child Stress and to a lesser extent by the factor labeled S-elf Control. This group perceived their children and their maternal role to be stressful or demanding, and they were characterized by internalized values of self control and social desirability in interpersonal relationships.

In discussing the clinical implications of the findings in relationship to Ainsworth's conceptualization of maternal responsiveness, it was suggested that mothers may differ in the degree to which they feel stressed and/or reinforced by their children. Such perceptions may be partially a function of personality styles. Mothers of securely attached infants appear to experience raising a young child as more stressful and, perhaps, as more reinforcing than mothers of anxiously attached infants. Mothers of anxiously attached infants, in contrast, may be more likely to satisfy their own interpersonal needs independently of their relationship with their infant and, thus, may be simply less involved in reinforcing and being reinforced by their infants. The implications of these notions for clinical intervention and future research were discussed.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Mother and child, Parent and child
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: