Life stress, maternal optimism, and adolescent competence in single mother, African American families

J Fam Psychol. 2010 Aug;24(4):468-77. doi: 10.1037/a0019870.


Although research demonstrates many negative family outcomes associated with single-parent households, little is known about processes that lead to positive outcomes for these families. Using 3 waves of longitudinal data, we examined how maternal dispositional optimism and life stressors are associated with parenting and child outcomes in 394 single mother African American families. Confirming prior research, we found that mothers' childhood adversities, current economic pressure, and internalizing problems were associated with lower levels of maternal warmth and child management and with lower child school competence. Extending previous studies, we found that maternal optimism was a positive resource, predicting lower levels of maternal internalizing symptoms and higher levels of effective child management and moderating the impact of economic stress on maternal internalizing problems. These findings highlight the need for further investigation of processes and resources that promote positive outcomes for African American mother-headed families and single mother families in general.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Georgia
  • Humans
  • Iowa
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Single Parent / psychology*
  • Single-Parent Family / psychology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*