Little tyrants or just plain tired: Evaluating attributions for caregiving outcomes across the transition to parenthood

Rosemary E. Bernstein, Heidemarie K. Laurent, Jeffrey R. Measelle, Brianna C. Hailey, Jennifer C. Ablow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


There is now substantial evidence that parental attributions for power over negative caregiving outcomes play an important role in the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment. Despite the substantial research and clinical significance of this construct, and the widely held assumption that it represents a trait-like attributional style, there is a lack of empirical support for its long-term stability, especially over the transition to parenthood. The present study examined the stability of 88 at-risk women's perceived power over caregiving failure from the 3rd trimester of their 1st pregnancy to 18 months postnatal. Although results showed no significant change in overall self-reported perceived power over caregiving failure across time, subcomponents that separately assess perceived importance of adult and child factors both decreased over time, driven by increasing external attributions. Examination of subscale scores further revealed consistency in women's attributional style for their own and their child's behavior, and for positive and negative events, over time. Individual differences in these patterns suggested that past and present difficulties interfered with normative shifts such that maternal stress and history of trauma were associated with an increased sense that children control problematic events while decreasing mothers' own sense of control. Research and clinical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)851-861
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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