Objective: To examine the effect of maternal depressive symptoms on child problem behavior trajectories and how the father's positive involvement may modify this association.
Design: Secondary data analysis using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
Setting: A nationally representative household sample of men and women from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
Participants: The study sample includes 6552 mother-child dyads interviewed biennially between January 1, 1992, and December 31, 2002; children were 0 to 10 years old at baseline. Intervention Past-week maternal depressive symptoms in 1992.
Main outcome measures: Maternal self-reports of child internalizing and externalizing behaviors were assessed repeatedly using a modified Child Behavior Checklist.
Results: Linear growth curve models indicate that the adverse effects of maternal depressive symptoms on child problem behavior trajectories become negligible after controlling for the father's involvement and other covariates, including the child's age, sex, and race/ethnicity; the mother's educational level; maternal age at child birth; number of children; poverty status; urban residence; and father's residential status. Positive involvement by the father was inversely associated with child problem behavior trajectories. The effects of maternal depressive symptoms on child problem behaviors varied by the level of the father's positive involvement.
Conclusion: When the father actively compensates for limitations in the depressed mother's functioning, the child's risk of problem behaviors may be reduced.