Depressed and Non-Depressed Mothers and the Emotional Scaffolding of Their Children

Kristina M. Reigstad, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota

Abstract

Negative effects of maternal depression have been identified in children from infancy to adolescence (Goodman & Gotlib, 1999), and maternal depression may inhibit mothers’ abilities to provide emotional scaffolding, i.e., the structuring of a child’s emotional experience (Baker, Fenning, Crnic, Baker & Blacher, 2007). Based on a study titled “The Role of Emotion in the Development of Psychopathology in Adolescence” conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (Klimes-Dougan, Kendziora, Zahn-Waxler, Hastings, Putnam, Fox, Suomi, & Weissbrod, 1997), the current study investigated two important concepts related to emotional scaffolding, specifically, putting one’s own needs aside in the service of meeting the developmental needs of one’s child (e.g., egocentrism and dissolution of generational boundaries). Mothers of adolescent participants ages 11 to 16 (N = 204) were the focus of this study. Concepts were measured within the context of interactions between mothers with and without elevated depressive symptoms and their adolescents through analysis of written narratives and observational data. As predicted, results of this study indicate that mothers who exhibit more symptoms of depression are characterized by higher degrees of egocentrism when interacting with their adolescent offspring, particularly with their adolescent daughters. Mothers’ narrative descriptions of poorly differentiated parent-child relationships are likely to be provided by mothers who are exhibiting elevated levels of depressive symptoms. Additionally, the results suggest that the emotional scaffolding constructs assessed in this study are partially related.