Background Studies show a strong relationship between maternal mental health and child socio-emotional development. This literature is based on examinations of dyadic relationships, where maternal mental health is hypothesised to have a direct effect on children’s development. However, household dynamics are complex, with other household members having an effect both on the mother and the child. Furthermore, the child’s characteristics can also have a feedback effect on their career’s outcomes.
Methods In this paper, we employ a multilevel structural equation model with cross lagged effects to understand the reciprocal effects of maternal mental health, child socio-emotional development, and quality of parental relationship. Analyses were conducted on longitudinal data from the Millennium Cohort Study, a prospective national birth cohort of children born in the UK 2000–2001. The Millennium Cohort Study has a wealth of information on the socioeconomic background of the household, and has collected data on the mother’s mental health (Kessler 6), the quality of the parents’ relationship (Golombok-Rust), and the children’s socio-emotional development (SDQ). Our results relate to households with two continuously partnered parents, with complete data on the three key variables, producing a sample size of 6570 households. In this work we look at data relating to age 3 and 5 years.
Results Child socio-emotional development at age 3 has an influence on maternal mental health when their child is age 5 (standardised β = 0.03 [95% CI 0.001, 0.05]) and maternal mental health at age 3 has an influence on child socio-emotional development at age 5 (0.07; 0.05–0.10). Quality of the parental relationship at age 3 has an influence on maternal mental health when their child is age 5 (0.04 [0.02, 0.06]) but does not influence child socio-emotional development at age 5. Neither child socio-emotional development nor maternal mental health at age 3 influence the quality of the parental relationship when their child is age 5.
Conclusion We find complex significant relationships between maternal mental health, child socio-emotional development and quality of parental relationship. This points to the need to consider all household members in order to properly capture household dynamics and to understand drivers of parental and child wellbeing.
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