Methods: Data were drawn from the Building Strong Families (BSF) project, a longitudinal multisite study examining relationship and parenting among low-income, racially-diverse, unmarried couples (n=5,102) when their child was 15 (T1) and 36 months old (T2). Analyses used MPS measured by 12 items assessing stressful daily events associated with parenting at T1. MD and MCO were measured by mothers’ reports of experiencing depressive symptoms in the past week (10 items) and perceptions of fathers as coparents (10 items) at T1. CBP was assessed using 26 items from a modified version of the Behavior Problem Index (BPI) at T2. Covariates included sociodemographic factors, multiple-partner fertility, relationship quality, alcohol/substance use, fathers’ reports of engagement activities with child and parenting stress at T1. Moderated mediation model analyses were performed in PROCESS macro for SPSS (2013) to yield significance tests of the moderation effects of MCO and mediation effects of MD.
Results: MPS was positively associated with MD (B=.25, p<.001) and CBP (B=.08, p<.001). Bootstrapped mediation analyses showed indirect effects of MD in the relationship between MPS and CPB (indirect effect=.24; 95%CI: [.014, .028]). Moderation analyses identified a significant negative effect of MCO on the relationship between MPS and MD (B=-.06, p<.01). The moderated mediation analyses indicated that the indirect effect of MPS on CBP through MD was moderated by MCO (B=-.01; 95%CI [-.0094, -.0008]). Specifically, in families where mothers perceived fathers as good coparents, the effects of MPS on CBP via MD were diminished by showing that higher mothers’ perceptions of CO reduced the association among the risk triad of MPS, MD, and CPB.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings add to growing knowledge of family systems especially under stress by providing evidence of a potential mechanism for reducing children’s behavioral problems related to maternal parenting stress and depression. Findings suggest that mothers’ perception of fathers as coparents may be a useful target for intervention as a possible buffer to maternal parenting stress and its impact on maternal depression and children’s behavioral problems. Further longitudinal study is needed to examine the directionality of the relationship between coparenting and parental stress, and its influence on children’s various developmental outcomes.