The aim of the present study was to expand the existing literature by testing the association between maternal exposure to ACEs and subsequent parenting attitudes that may present an increased risk for child maltreatment.
Methods: The current study used a diverse, urban sample of young women (N = 329; mean age = 26.3 years), recruited as part of the Longitudinal Infant and Family Environment (LIFE) study at a large, urban university hospital. The participants completed self-report measures of the ACEs Questionnaire (10 items) and the Adult Adolescent Parenting Inventory-2 (AAPI-2). Latent class analysis (LCA) was used to identify groups of women with similar patterns of ACEs exposure. Associations between the class memberships and parenting attitudes were examined via a general 3-step maximum likelihood approach, controlling for maternal race/ethnicity, age, educational attainment, marital status, family income, postpartum depression (PPD) symptoms, and infant birth order.
Results: Three classes, characterized by distinct patterns of maternal ACEs, were identified: (1) Low ACEs (63%), (2) High parental separation/divorce (20%), and (3) High multiple ACEs (17%). Women in the High multiple-ACEs class reported higher-risk parenting attitudes than those in the High parental separation/divorce and Low ACEs classes. Specifically, women in the High multiple-ACEs class reported (1) greater inappropriate expectations of children than those in the High parental separation/divorce (p = .026) and Low ACEs (p = .003) classes, (2) greater lack of empathy towards children’s needs than those in the High parental separation/divorce class (p = .003), and (3) greater belief in the value of corporal punishment than those in the Low ACEs class (p = .006).
Conclusion: We found that high exposure to multiple types of ACEs was related to increased levels of child maltreatment risks, reflected in potentially abusive and neglecting parenting attitudes and practices. Maternal childhood experiences and child discipline attitudes should be assessed during prenatal checkups, which can help identify women at risk of poor parenting and facilitate timely maltreatment prevention efforts. Preventive interventions targeting parental attitudes and behaviors among mothers exposed to ACEs may decrease the risk for current maltreatment as well as further perpetuation of risk in the next generations.