Method: We used data from the 6th grade and age 15 waves of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD). Paternal and maternal depression was measured with the CES-D 20 (α= 0.90) scale in 6th grade. Internalizing behavior (α= 0.86) was assessed at age 15 by the parents with the CBCL focusing on factors such as withdrawal, somatic complaints, and anxiety/depression. Externalized problems were assessed at age 15 (α= 0.91) by the parents and include issues such as delinquency and aggressiveness. Observed parenting behaviors were modeled as mediating variables and included warmth and support (α= 0.78) and hostility (α= 0.79). Exogenous control variables were relationship quality at Grade 6, income-to-needs ratio at Grade 6, child sex, child race, mother’s education, father’s education, and paternal residential status. Structural equation modeling, with maximum likelihood estimation for missing values, was used for our analysis.
Findings: Paternal depression had direct effects on internalizing (β= .10) and externalizing behavior (β= .09), while maternal depression had no significant direct effects. Paternal depression also had direct effects on parental warmth, hostility, and monitoring. However, only paternal hostility was associated with internalized behavior (β= .13) and both paternal hostility (β= .19) and monitoring (β= .07) were associated with externalized behavior. Maternal depression only had indirect effects through warmth, hostility, and monitoring for internalized behavioral problems. Mother’s parenting had no effect on externalized problem behavior.
Implications: Our results show that the effect of parental depression on children depends, in part, on the parent with depression. Paternal depression, unlike maternal depression, had direct effects on children’s behavioral outcomes and also worked through hostility and monitoring, but not warmth. Meanwhile, maternal depression only had indirect effects on children through parenting behaviors. These results highlight the importance of understanding depression through a gender-specific lens, highlight the importance of fathers for the family system, and underscore the importance of better depression screening and help-seeking interventions for fathers.