URJHS Volume 7

URC

The Stress of Single Mothers and its Effect on Quality Child Care

Salome Bronnimann
The Master’s College


Abstract

Research indicates that single mothers experience excessive stress and that the stress is a result of the need to provide financially for the family concurrently with caring for the home in ways traditionally handled by both men and women, acquiring new skills, and parenting. A review of the literature demonstrates that stress has a direct impact on the child. However, results about its effect on the mother’s ability to provide quality child care were mixed. The purpose of this study was to determine whether single mothers experience stress and, if so, whether or not the stress affects their ability to provide quality child care. Pursuant to this study, a survey instrument that employed a six-question Likert-type scale was distributed to the single mothers of children attending preschools in the Santa Clarita Valley as well as to students attending The Master’s College. The results of the study indicated that the single mothers in Santa Clarita Valley appear to successfully provide adequate child care in spite of the stress they face, contrary to the perception of the students at The Master’s College.

Introduction

Single mothers juggle many responsibilities including financial provision, house keeping, and parenting (Rani, 2006). In addition, they lack a supportive spouse to turn to for counsel, cooperation, and comfort. The stress in the mother’s life and the way she deals with it also impacts her child. Current research suggests that professional help is sought for mental health reasons by single-parent mothers two to three times more often (Cairney, Boyle, Lipman, and Racine, 2004). Even the relatively privileged single mothers “found it difficult to manage (and got little support for) the traditional female tasks of cooking, cleaning, and caring for children” (Nelson, 2004, ¶ 1). Single mothers may be exposed to enormous stress due to the need to provide the financial needs of the family concurrently with caring for the home including those responsibilities traditionally assumed by men, acquiring new skills, and raising a child, all at the same time. This study investigated the potential stress of single-mothers and its effect on their ability to provide child care.

General Stressors for Single Mothers

Single mothers have a dual responsibility in their households. “You’re a working mom and you’re tired beyond belief. You rush to get to work on time, race to pick up the kids at day care, and juggle an endless list of household chores before falling into bed at midnight” (Hittner, 1998, p. 1). This is life for many women today in the United States. “Compared to two-parent households, lone parents have not only reduced money but also half the adult time resources available” (Craig, 2005, p. 522).

Stress may also result from various social pressures. Most immediately, conflict with the child’s father, in addition to not having a supportive husband, is an ongoing reality for many single mothers. Studies suggest that depressive symptoms of single mothers are associated with mother/nonresident-father relationship (Jackson & Scheines, 2005). Sometimes, the father does not acknowledge his offspring, and they go to court; many are freshly divorced and have a hostile relationship; yet others constantly fight over child support (Tharps, 2005). Even seeking a new relationship with a man is a challenge for single mothers. There is guilt, Tharps says, in even “contemplating a social outing without the kids” (p. 5). On the other hand, she may not want a new relationship while people around her urge her to seek one.

Social pressure may also include those of general societal expectations. That is, the society expects single mother families to be “more susceptible to problems than are two-parent biological families” (Lansford, Ceballo, Abbey, & Stewart, 2001, p. 8). Haleman’s research showed that “public discourses about single motherhood are manifested in their daily lives through expectations based on family form, welfare participation, and race” (Haleman, 1998, Abstract). Mothers subject to this pressure potentially develop feelings of inferiority, aggression, and restlessness due to their single status (Rani, 2006).

The greatest challenge of all may be economical. “Sixty percent of the children living with their mothers are in poverty” (Hargreaves, 1991, p. 23), and many of these mothers are young and never-married without high school education nor the expected parenting skills. Even a middle class single mother is confronted with financial uncertainty due to divorce and/or a lack of child support from the child’s father (Tharps, 2005). The drastic decline in income upon divorce is displayed in the US Census Bureau research: “In 1992, the median family income for two-parent families was $42,064; for families with no father present it was only $17,221” (Sroufe, Cooper, & DeHart, p. 62). They are not even able to simply devote themselves to work and/or higher education in order to increase earnings due to their responsibilities to attend to their children (Craig, 2005).

Effects of Stress

“Single mothers experience more stressful life events than do married mothers” (Rani, 2006, p. 3). Single mothers are affected by all of the above stressors, in addition to the stress of normal life and parenting. Stress can weaken the mother’s immune system when CRH, a hormone that makes one more focused and ready to spring into action, is over secreted (Hittner, 1998). Therefore a single mother who juggles many responsibilities more readily falls sick, creating an additional strain. Unfailingly, a study of various family structures has found that “single mothers had somewhat lower well-being than did married mothers” (Lansford, Ceballo, Abbey, & Stewart, 2001, p. 8).

The mother’s stress will also affect the child, both directly and indirectly. Studies reveal that parenting stress leads to a stricter disciplinary style and less nurturing behaviors toward the child (Crnic & Greenberg, 1987). Mothers who are dissatisfied with their employment status “enjoy their children less, are less confident as parents, and have more difficulty controlling their children” (Sroufe, Cooper, & DeHart, 1996, p. 60). These parental behaviors mediate stress into negative influence on the development of the child. Moreover, a recent study shows that parenting stress has a direct impact, independent from parenting practices, on preschool children’s social competence (Anthony, et al., 2005). The mother’s stress is reflected in the children’s “loneliness, withdrawal, regression, and fear of loss of the remaining parent. Socially too they showed either aggression or withdrawal symptoms” (Rani, 2006, p.3).

Providing Quality Child Care

Quality child care means, consistent response to signals, being available for communication, and alleviating stress (Sroufe, et al., 1996). This practice then creates a base for mother-child attachment, enabling the child to have confidence in the presence of other caregivers. In a recent study of quality mother-child relationship, a survey was conducted asking children “how often the mother praises the child, criticizes the child, how likely the child would be to go to the mother if he or she had a major decision to make or was feeling depressed” (Lansford, et al., 2001). The same study also measured the mothers’ time with children both for quantity and quality, as well as parental monitoring of children for how well the mother knew about the child’s life. These standards show that providing consistent quality child care requires availability and significant time commitment.

Admittedly, single mothers face significant difficulty in providing quality child care for their children. Rani (2006) found that a combination of parenting single handedly, financial tension, and strain of over load often lead to neglect of children. “Time poverty is the flipside of sole mothers’ employment” (Craig, 2005, p. 522). Craig’s research was conducted in Australia and its applicability to the United States is unknown, but its results are noteworthy. This study categorized a mother’s time committed to child care as being either a primary activity or secondary activity for the mother. No significant difference in time commitment was found between married and single mothers in providing child care as a primary activity. However, as a secondary activity, not requiring active involvement with the child but constricting the mother from certain tasks, single mothers were found to commit more time to child care. These mothers compensated for the lack of time provided by a father by cutting down both outside work and house work, and by spending time supervising the children while engaging in other tasks (Craig, 2005). On the other hand, a study in India revealed conflicting results: “The [single] mothers did not have time to spend with children and faced problems in disciplining the children” (Rani, 2006, p. 8).

Additionally, the absence of a father aids in the difficulty of providing appropriate discipline. A father’s approach to child rearing differs from that of a mother ( Hamilton, 1977 ) and seems to promote achievement motivation. That may be why children raised apart from their fathers tend to “exhibit lower academic performance than those raised with their fathers” (Swihart & Brigham, 1982, p. 62). Furthermore, a boy models and identifies in his father more than in his mother. A father ’s involvement is invaluable in a girl’s life also as it promotes discipline and sex role learning (Hamilton, 1977). It appears that the absence of the father deprives children of numerous learning opportunities.

The single mother lives with the competing priorities of earning money and providing caring services to their children (Craig, 2005). According to Tharps, “the secret of being sane… is reaching out for help” (2005, p. 6). For example, a rotation schedule with other neighborhood mothers frees up time for everyone (Calizaire, 2005). Sharing residence reduces the cost of living in addition to creating a family-like community looking after each other and the children (Dickinson, 2001). Simply being able to share thoughts with someone else who is in a similar situation can prove to be extremely helpful. Even if the woman is unable to find this within her social realm, online sites and magazines can be a source of encouragement and connection with other single mothers. Grandparents of the child, especially grandmothers who live nearby, have also played an important role in the life of single mothers. It has been estimated that one-third of single mothers live in their parents’ home at some point, the length of that stay averaging almost two years (Bianchi, 1995). Life is made easier by the loving care and aged wisdom grandmas can provide as well as help with cooking, chauffeuring, and pitching in with daily tasks (Miller, 1996).

Method

The purpose of this study was to determine the potential stress of single mothers and its effect on child care. The following research questions were explored:

  1. Are single mothers stressed?
  2. Does single mothers’ stress affect their provision of quality child care?

These research questions provided the focus of this study.

Method of Data Collection

The survey instrument used in this study was designed to determine the potential stress of single mothers and its effect on child care. A personal data sheet requested demographic data in addition to the responses to the six survey questions. The survey instrument was distributed to single mothers of children attending St. Stephens Nursery, Rise & Shine Preschool, and Santa Clarita Little People during the months of March and April of 2006. The selection of preschools was dependent on the institution’s willingness to participate, as well as the presence or absence of single mothers. The instruments were returned to each facility and were placed in an envelope to be collected by the researcher. A rephrased survey was also distributed to students at The Master’s College attending a night class or relaxing in Sweazy Dormitory Lounge on April 18, 2006. The instruments were returned to the researcher the same evening. All of the above institutions used for data collection are located in Santa Clarita, California.

Statistical Procedures

STATPAK was employed to examine the data; the desired scale of measurement was ordinal. In the ordinal scale of measurement, the data are described in a ranked or dated set of values (Joseph & Joseph, 1986). The One Dimentional Chi-Square statistical test was utilized to analyze the results because it measures the variance of nominal or ordinal data, the discrepancy between frequencies actually observed in the sample of subjects measured, and frequencies expected according to the stated hypothesis. The 0.05 level of significance was used to test the results of the study. Data retrieved from the demographic portion of the survey instrument were reported in percentages and figures.

Results

The first sample group for this study consisted of single mothers of children attending St. Stephen’s Nursery, Rise & Shine Preschool, and Santa Clarita Little People in March and April, 2006. Sixty-four copies of the survey instrument were distributed; ten were returned, and ten were used in this study. This sample will be referred to as group A in the following narrative. The second sample group consisted of students at The Master’s College who were in a night class or in Sweazy Lounge on April 18, 2006. Thirty copies of the survey instrument were distributed; twenty-five were returned, and twenty-five were used in this study. This sample will be referred to as group B in the following narrative. The data collected from the 35 subjects will be discussed in subsequent sections, commencing with the reporting of the demographic findings. Table 1 summarizes the survey responses.

Table 1
Summary of Responses to Survey Questions

SURVEY QUESTION

SCALE NUMBER

TOTAL RESPONSES

COMPUTED

CHI-SQUARE VALUE

TABLED

CHI-SQUARE VALUE

 

1

2

3

4

5

No Response

 

 

 

Group A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

3

0

1

1

0

5

10

1.6000

5.991

2

0

1

2

2

4

1

10

2.1111

7.815

3

0

0

0

4

5

1

10

0.1111

3.841

4

0

0

0

0

10

0

10

5

1

7

0

0

2

0

10

6.2000

5.991

6

0

1

1

5

3

0

10

4.4000

7.815

Group B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

0

0

7

10

8

0

25

0.5600

5.991

2

0

13

9

3

0

0

25

6.0800

5.991

3

0

6

9

10

0

0

25

1.0400

5.991

4

0

0

13

9

3

0

25

6.0800

5.991

5

4

15

4

2

0

0

25

16.7600

7.815

6

0

0

3

9

13

0

25

6.0800

5.991

 

Group A

The survey indicated that 80 percent of the subjects had supportive friends nearby and 20 percent did not. Ten percent had no meals with their children; ten percent had one; ten percent had four; thirty percent had five; ten percent had seven; ten percent had eleven; ten percent had fourteen; ten percent had sixteen.

Group B

The survey indicated that the sample was 32 percent male and 68 percent female. Seventy-six percent knew one or more single mothers personally and twenty-four percent did not.

Research Question One

What factors contribute to a single mother’s stress? Questions 1, 5, and 6 of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this Research Question.

The computed Chi-square value (1.6000) for survey question number one, group A, is less than the tabled Chi-square value (5.991) at the 0.05 level of significance; therefore it can be concluded that the variance in the results is not statistically significant. Additionally, 50 percent of the subjects answered that “there is a father figure in their children’s life.” Since the computed Chi-square value (0.5600) for survey question one, group B, is less than the tabled Chi-square value (5.991) at the 0.05 level of significance, the variance in the result is not statistically significant. However, the survey results show that all subjects perceive that single mothers feel pressured about not having a father figure in their children’s life at least sometimes. This finding aligns with the research conducted by Haleman who said, “public discourses about single motherhood are manifested in their daily lives through expectations based on family form, welfare participation, and race” (1998, Abstract).

Because the computed Chi-square value (6.2000) for survey question five, group A, is greater than the tabled Chi-square value (5.991) at the 0.05 level of significance, the results are statistically significant. It can be concluded from the tallied data that subjects rarely find time to relax. This finding aligns with the research conducted by Craig (2005) who found that lone parents have reduced money and about half the adult time resources. The computed Chi-square value (16.7600) for survey question five, group B, is greater than the tabled Chi-square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, so the results are statistically significant. It can be concluded that subjects perceive single mothers rarely find time to relax. This finding aligns with the research conducted by Hittner (1998) who found working mothers spend their time rushing to get to work, to pick up kids and day care, and carry out an endless list of household chores before going to bed at midnight.

The computed Chi-square value (4.4000) for survey question six, group A, is less than the tabled Chi-square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, so the variance in the results is not statistically significant. Because the computed Chi-square value (6.0800) for survey question six, group B, is greater than the tabled Chi-square value (5.991) at the 0.05 level of significance, the results obtained are statistically significant. It can be concluded that subjects perceive single mothers always feel tired. This finding aligns with the research conducted by Hittner (1998) who found single mothers are tired all the time.

Research Question Two

What are the issues a single mother faces in providing quality child care? Questions 2, 3, and 4 of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this Research Question.

The computed Chi-square value (2.1111) for survey question two, group A, is less than the tabled Chi-square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, therefore the variance in the results is not statistically significant. Because the computed Chi-square value (6.0800) for survey question two, group B, is greater than the tabled Chi-square value (5.991) at the 0.05 level of significance, the obtained results are statistically significant. It can be concluded that subjects perceive that single mothers rarely read to their children. This finding aligns with the research conducted by Craig (2005) who found single mothers compensate for the lack of time provided by a father chiefly by spending time supervising the children while engaging in other tasks.

Because the computed Chi-square value (0.1111) for survey question three, group A, is less than the tabled Chi-square value (3.841) at the 0.05 level of significance, the variance in the results is not statistically significant. The computed Chi-square value (1.0400) for survey question three, group B, is less than the tabled Chi-square value (5.991) at the 0.05 level of significance, so the variance in the result is not statistically significant.

All subjects agreed that they always praise their children (Survey Question 4 , group A ). This finding deviates with the research that reports parenting stress leads to less - nurturing behaviors toward the child (Crnic & Greenberg, 1987). Inadequate statistical information prevents One-dimensional Chi-square analysis for this survey instrument item. The computed Chi-square value (6.0800) for survey question four , group B, is greater than the tabled Chi-square value (5.991) at the 0 .05 level of significance, so the obtained results are statistically significant. There fore , it can be concluded that subjects perceive that single mothers occasionally praise their children. This finding deviates with the research by Crnic and Greenberg as stated above.

Findings

The results of the One-dimensional Chi-square statistical test for the survey questions 1, 5, and 6 suggest that selected single mothers in the Santa Clarita area rarely find time to relax. The findings also suggest that selected students at The Master’s College perceive that single mothers feel pressured about not having a father figure in their children’s lives more than “sometimes,” that they rarely find time to relax, and that they always feel tired. The results for survey questions 2, 3, and 4 suggest that selected single mothers in the Santa Clarita area always praise their children. They also suggest that selected students at The Master’s College perceive that single mothers rarely read to their children and that they sometimes praise their children.

Discussion

Within the stated purpose and findings of this study, the following conclusions appear warranted:

  1. Single mothers are stressed.
  2. Single mothers are perceived to be stressed.
  3. Single mothers’ stress does not appear to affect their provision of quality child care as often as it is perceived.

Many single mothers were under stress and lacked the time to invest in their children. However, the majority of single mothers in the Santa Clarita area seemed to provide adequate child care in spite of the stress they constantly experience. The Master’s College students are aware of the stress that accompanies being a single mother. They also assumed a lack of quality child care in these families.

This study revealed that there was great variance in the quality of child care provided in each of the single mother families, suggesting that there may be other factors that contribute to the inability of mothers to provide quality child care. A constant theme appeared to be a lack of time. It is imperative that these women identify individuals who will assist them in their responsibilities, thus potentially enabling them to spend more time with their children.

References

Anthony, L. G., Anthony, B. J., Glanville, D. N., Naiman, D. Q., Waanders, C., & Shaffer, S. (2005). The relationships between parenting stress, parenting behaviour and preschoolers’ social competence and behaviour problems in the classroom. Infant and Child Development, 14, 133-154.

Bianchi, S. M. (1995). The changing demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of single parent families. Marriage & Family Review, 20(1-2), 71-98.

Calizaire, C. (2005, October). How she does it. Working Mother, 28(8), 25-29.

Craig, L. (2005, Summer). The money or the care: A comparison of couple and sole parent households’ time allocation to work and children. Australian Journal of Social issues, 40(4), 521-540.

Crnic K, & Greenberg M. (1987). Maternal stress, social support, and coping: Influences on early mother-child relationship. In C. Boukydis (Ed.), Research on support for parents and infants in the postnatal period (pp. 25-40). NJ: Ablex.

Dickinson, A. (2001, May 28). The single life. Time, 157(21), 92.

Haleman, D. L. (1998). “That’s not who I am”: Contested definitions of single motherhood (Doctoral dissertation, University of Kentucky, 1999). Dissertation Abstracts International, 59, 3317.

Hamilton, M. (1977). Father’s influence on children. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Inc.

Hargreaves, M. B. (1991). Learning under stress: Children of single parents and the schools. NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Hittner, P. (1998, March). When stress makes you sick. Better Homes and Gardens, 76(3), 76-80.

Jackson, A., & Scheines, R. (2005, March). Single mothers’ self-efficacy, parenting in the home environment, and children’s development in a two-wave study. Social Work Research, 29(1), 7-20.

Joseph, M.L., & Joseph, W. D. (1986). Research fundamentals in Home Economics. Redondo Beach: Plycon.

Lansford, J. E., Ceballo, R., Abbey, A., & Stewart, A. (2001, August). Does family structure matter? A comparison of adoptive, two-parent biological, single-mother, stepfather, and stepmother households. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(3), 840-852.

Miller, L. (1996). Two times three. The American Enterprise, 7(6), 75.

Rani, N. I., (2006, Winter). Child care by poor single mothers: Study of mother-headed families in India. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 37(1), 75-95.

Sroufe, L. A., Cooper, R. G., & DeHart, G. B. (1996). Child development: Its nature and course (3 rd ed.). New Baskerville: Clarinda company.

Swihart, J. J., & Brigham, S. L. (1982). Helping children of divorce: Practical suggestions for parents, relatives, friends & teachers. Il: InterVarsity Press.

Tharps, L. L. (2005, May). The single mom’s survival guide. Essence, 36(1), 307-315.

Appendix A
 

A Survey for Single Mothers

I am conducting research for a class at the Master’s College on stress and stress management of single mothers. Please take a moment and fill out this survey entirely and accurately to the best of your ability. Your answer will be a great assistance to my research. I highly appreciate your participation!

Salome Bronnimann

Respond to each statement.

1 – Never 2-Rarely 3-Sometimes 4-Often 5-Always


1. I feel pressured about not having a father figure in my children ’ s
life.

1    2    3    4    5


OR □ There is a father figure.

2. I read to my children daily.

1    2    3    4    5

3. My children have an established bed time.

1    2    3    4    5

4. I have praised my children in the last week.

1    2    3    4    5

5. I find time to relax.

1    2    3    4    5

6. I feel tired.

1    2    3    4    5

7. I have supportive friends nearby.

YES    NO

8. I had meals with my children _______ times during the past week.

Please Return Anonymously.

Thank you


Appendix B

A Survey Concerning Single Mothers

I am conducting research for a class on stress of single mothers. Please take a moment and fill out this survey entirely in a way that best reflect your knowledge or beliefs concerning single mothers of young children. Your answer will be a great assistance to my research. Please simply return this sheet through campus mail within a day or two. I highly appreciate your participation!

Salome Bronnimann

Circle appropriate response.

1 – Never 2-Rarely 3-Sometimes 4-Often 5-Always

1. Single mothers feel pressured about the absence of a father figure.

1    2    3    4    5

2. Single mothers read to their children daily.

1    2    3    4    5

3. The children of single mothers have an established bed time.

1    2    3    4    5

4. Single mothers praise their children throughout the week.

1    2    3    4    5

5. Single mothers find time to relax.

1    2    3    4    5

6. Single mothers feel tired.

1    2    3    4    5

7. Specify your gender.

MALE    FEMALE

8. Do you personally know any single mothers?

YES    NO

Please Return Anonymously.

Thank you

 

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