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Keywords:

  • depression;
  • adult survivors of child abuse;
  • parenting;
  • child psychiatry abstract

Background

Independently, maternal depression and maternal history of childhood abuse confer risk for impaired parenting. These associations may be compounded when depressed mothers with histories of childhood abuse are faced with the challenge of parenting offspring who themselves struggle with mental health problems. This study examined the relationships among maternal history of childhood abuse, maternal depression, and parenting style in the context of parenting a psychiatrically ill child, with an emphasis on examining maternal emotional abuse and neglect. We hypothesized that maternal childhood emotional abuse would be associated with maladaptive parenting strategies (lower levels of maternal acceptance and higher levels of psychological control), independent of maternal depression severity and other psychosocial risk factors.

Method

Ninety-five mother-child dyads (children ages 7–18) were recruited from child mental health centers where children were receiving treatment for at least one internalizing disorder. Participating mothers met DSM-IV criteria for major depressive disorder. Mothers reported on their own childhood abuse histories and children reported on their mothers’ parenting.

Results

Regression analyses demonstrated that maternal childhood emotional abuse was associated with child reports of lower maternal acceptance and greater psychological control, controlling for maternal depression severity, and other psychosocial risk factors.

Conclusions

When treating psychiatrically ill children, it is important for a child's clinician to consider mothers’ childhood abuse histories in addition to their history of depression. These mothers appear to have additional barriers to effective parenting.