Living

Does stress make meanies out of moms?

Juggling the responsibilities of work, home, and raising young children—it’s no wonder why many women are stressed to the hilt. Add nagging money worries or depression to the modern woman’s daily cocktail and you’ve got a fairly potent anti-relaxant formula on your hands.

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Masterfile

Juggling the responsibilities of work, home, and raising young children—it’s no wonder why many women are stressed to the hilt. Add nagging money worries or depression to the modern woman’s daily cocktail and you’ve got a fairly potent anti-relaxant formula on your hands. 

But how does chronic stress affect a woman’s parenting skills? 

One study (via Globeandmail.com) suggests that consistent levels of stress make some mothers more likely to be insensitive, impatient and even neglectful with their children. 

The study, by psychology researchers at the University of Rochester in Buffalo, drew upon observations of the behaviour of more than 150 mothers and their toddlers (the children were from 17 to 19 months of age). 

To test how stress impacts parental behaviour, the researchers created a mildly stressful situation for both mother and child. They separated the two briefly, putting the child with a “stranger”, before reuniting them for a playtime session, which was videotaped. 

When mother and child were together the researchers observed that the stressed mothers generally behaved in one of two ways—they were either “hyperactive” or “hypoactive”. Basically, they were either too attentive or borderline indifferent. More importantly, these emotional attitudes had a physical component. Hooked up to an electrocardiograph monitor (ECG), the women’s heart rates showed different levels of anxiety and/or calm. 

What made one mother indifferent and another little too attentive? It seems there are certain factors that influence these dispositions. One of those factors is economics. Mothers who lived in poverty appeared to fall into the “hypoactive” category. Once reunited with their toddlers, their heart rates remained steady—even when their children showed signs of distress. While the children played, these mothers also showed an obvious lack of interest as well. 

Depression was another factor, and one that increases the tendency to be a hyperactive parent. Researchers noted that women who also showed signs of depression had elevated heart rates overall, were rougher physically, spoke more sharply and were more hostile with their children. 

While the study doesn’t offer any suggestions for how to combat the affects of either poverty or depression on the mothers, or their children, the information may be helpful in determining how communities can assist mothers who are dealing with high levels of chronic stress. 

Mothers dealing with one or both factors on their own also might find comfort in learning that they’re not alone in their struggles and that stress, rather than being a bad person, is the real villain.