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Intimate partner violence and drinking turn mothers into bad parents: study

22 June 2022 - 07:36
New research by the University of Cape Town and Institute for Security Studies shows that having an older child has been associated with less parenting stress, while intimate partner violence and excessive drinking have been linked to mental health outcomes.
New research by the University of Cape Town and Institute for Security Studies shows that having an older child has been associated with less parenting stress, while intimate partner violence and excessive drinking have been linked to mental health outcomes.
Image: Alon Skuy

Intimate partner violence, poor mental health and excessive drinking remain the major drivers of parent stress, which in turn fuels violence in homes in the form of spanking and leads to poor mental health outcomes of children.

A seven-year research study by the University of Cape Town (UCT), the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the Seven Passes Initiative, which assessed the impact of parenting interventions alongside social activation process in the Western Cape rural town of Touwsranten, found such intermediacy reduced parenting stress.

However, the interventions didn’t result in positive parenting.

Surveys were conducted between 2012 and 2019 which assessed child mental health, behaviour and factors that could have a negative or positive impact on aspects of parenting practices such as intimate partner violence, alcohol use and employment of caregivers.

Positive parenting and having an older child had been associated with less parenting stress, and having a male child was associated with negative parenting.

There was an overall 5% decrease in parenting stress between the baseline and the end of the study, while there was a 15% decrease in positive parenting by the end of the study for parents with a male child, and a decrease as children got older (a 16% decrease for each year of child age).

“The paucity of public transport makes it hard for parents to remain involved in their children’s school activities once they are in high school. It was clear, however, that intimate partner violence and parenting stress had a significant impact on the level of positive parenting. There was a 12% decrease in positive parenting in the presence of intimate partner violence and a 28% decrease in positive parenting when parents were highly stressed about parenting,” researchers noted.

Led by senior researcher at the ISS Chandré Gould, researchers noted that while some parents used positive parenting strategies at the beginning of the research, there was less parental involvement such as playing with their children, taking them to activities or attending school meetings. Spanking was fairly prevalent.

As the study progressed and participants gained more confidence in the research, they started opening up about their mental health, drinking and intimate partner violence struggles, with mental health jumping from zero during the first wave of the multiyear survey to 18% in the third wave.

Risky drinking went up from about 14% to 20% during the third wave of the survey while reports of intimate partner violence among parents shifted from 23% to 30% in the third wave of the study.

Parent stress plummeted from 66% at some point to only 12% by the third wave.

At the beginning of the research only about 15% showed signs of depression and  withdrawal, but over time this increased to almost 24% by the third wave.

Researchers believe these fluctuations may represent increasing trust in the confidentiality of the surveys.

Exposure to intimate partner violence, parents’ poor mental health and greater parenting stress were all associated with increases in internalising and externalising behaviours among children such as depression, irritability, physical aggression, depression, bullying and defiance. Among caregivers it resulted in risky alcohol use such as excessive drinking and externalising behaviours.

Senior researcher at the ISS Chandré Gould says there was a 12% decrease in positive parenting in the presence of intimate partner violence.
Senior researcher at the ISS Chandré Gould says there was a 12% decrease in positive parenting in the presence of intimate partner violence.
Image: Supplied

Researchers argue the latest findings confirm the safety and wellbeing of many South African children are undermined by structural and interpersonal violence in their homes and communities.

Attending at least one session of a parenting programme significantly predicted change in the caregivers’ communication networks.

Caregivers who attended one or more sessions of a parenting programme showed greater activity and potential influence within the communication network compared to caregivers who did not attend any sessions.

“This subset of caregivers was more likely to reach out to other caregivers to speak about parenting after being exposed to the intervention. The results indicate that through social networks, the parenting programmes do influence the behaviour of parents who do not attend the programmes,” researchers noted.

The latest study showed parents want support with positive parenting, and it is possible to change parenting styles positively through parenting interventions.

“Parenting programmes bring about an increase in discussion about parenting and a change in parenting practices, even among those parents who do not attend the programme. In particular, it is possible to increase parental involvement and decrease the use of corporal punishment. It is also possible to reduce parents’ stress about parenting.”

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