The overall aim of this doctoral dissertation is to contribute to build a more comprehensive understanding of parenting practices in families in which children have behavioural problems. The intention is to broaden our understanding of parenting as situated (i.e. to understand parenting stress in the context of the parenting situation) and to offer tools for clinical practice. The quality of parent –child relationships may improve if interventions are based on the investigation and identification of various aspects of parenting stress, coping, and important environmental influences in daily life.
From the very start, salutogenic thinking has permeated the whole research process of this dissertation, from research questions about coping, the research design, to the analytical focus and the results. Viewing health as a continuum made it necessary to go beyond the clinical and comparison groups in three out of four studies. The argument pursued in this dissertation is that improved knowledge of coping from a salutogenic perspective might contribute to a new understanding of family interaction and improve competence in family treatment. Existing theory and evidence from the stress and coping literature say little about contextual and situational influences, or about parents’ reflexive thinking or meaning-making concerning their experiences with their sons.
This dissertation used cross-sectional data and a mixed-methods research design. Sixty-four parents of boys with behavioural problems constituted the clinical group, and 128 parents of boys with fewer or no problems constituted the comparison group. The collection and analysis of quantitative data were followed up with the collection and analysis of qualitative data. Altogether, 192 parents completed questionnaires including measures of family demographics, parental resources, parenting practices, and social support in relation to parenting stress. All these parents were also interviewed according to the Life Mode format.
The first aim was to explore the construct validity and reliability of the Nijmegen Child-Rearing Situation Questionnaire (NCSQ), parenting stress subscale section (i) used in this dissertation. The NCSQ seems to cover key aspects of parenting stress domains applicable to child-rearing practices. With some deviations, the present data yielded a reasonable good fit to the structural requirements of the model in the clinical group, but a poor fit to the comparison group. A two-factor model meets the need in clinical practice to give nuance to the parenting stress concept in terms of relational and situational stress. The second aim was to test the differences between the clinical and comparison groups and to examine predictors of parenting stress. Parents in the clinical group scored significantly higher on parenting stress and lower on social support and sense of coherence (SOC), comprehensibility dimension. The most noteworthy findings were the prevalence of various risk factors in the clinical group. The parents in the clinical group had less education and less support, a larger proportion was single and unemployed, and more of them struggled with their sons. There were no differences between the groups in terms of coping strategies. The most important predictor of parenting stress was having a boy with behavioural problems. Coping resources (the comprehensibility dimension of SOC) and coping practices (reappraisals/passive strategies) were also important predictors of parenting stress. By introducing social support, parental resources, and strategies into the analysis, the strength of the predictor “having a child with problems” was reduced. The third aim was to explore parental meaning-making in parent – child interactions and challenge the conventional interpretation of avoidance coping as dysfunctional, in contrast to active coping, and to analyse avoidance actions as they occur in normal family processes. All parents used avoidance actions in many ways; these actions must be understood in their context – i.e., where and why they were used – to understand whether or not they are appropriate in a particular situation. The fourth aim was to explore and analyse parenting as situated and to challenge an unbalanced focus on problem behaviour and diagnosis in child and family practice. In treatment, a better and more systematic understanding of parenting as situated would make investigations of possible risk and protective factors and of special measures for children more holistic and more firmly grounded in current research findings.
This dissertation challenges existing theories of parenting stress and coping, and challenges mainstream assumptions about normal family functioning. Some proposals regarding methodological refinements, clinical practice, and future research are presented