Re-examining the "cycle of abuse": Parenting determinants among previously maltreated, low-income mothers

Louisa C. Michl-Petzing, Elizabeth D. Handley, Melissa Sturge-Apple, Dante Cicchetti, Sheree L. Toth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Multidomain approaches toward understanding the transmission of harsh caregiving across generations have been largely overlooked in the literature. To address this, the current study examined how maternal and child factors may operate as mediating mechanisms in the association between maternal history of child maltreatment and maternal caregiving behaviors. In particular, we tested the relative roles of maternal depression, maternal efficacy beliefs, and child behavioral difficulties as explanatory variables in these associations. Participants (N = 127) were drawn from a community sample of mother-child dyads from socioeconomically disadvantaged, ethnically diverse backgrounds. Mother-child dyads were assessed at baseline, when the children were approximately 12 months old, with follow-up visits occurring when children were 26 and 37 months of age. Findings did not support a significant direct effect of childhood maltreatment on mothers' subsequent harsh or responsive parenting behavior. However, analyses demonstrated a significant indirect effect of childhood maltreatment history on later responsive parenting behaviors via maternal depression. Results also supported a significant indirect effect of childhood maltreatment history on later harsh parenting behavior through child behavior problems. Although mothers' childhood maltreatment history significantly predicted lower levels of maternal efficacy, results did not support a mediating role of maternal efficacy beliefs in the association between maltreatment history and subsequent parenting behaviors. Identifying specific factors that potentially disrupt the intergenerational pattern of maladaptive parenting can serve to guide prevention and intervention efforts aimed at facilitating more positive, responsive parenting strategies within high-risk families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)742-752
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This data was previously disseminated in its original form as a dissertation that was successfully defended in August of 2017. The dissertation was subsequently published through ProQuest under the title “Explanatory Mechanisms Linking Childhood Maltreatment and Subsequent Parenting Behaviors: A Developmental Psychopathology Perspective.” We acknowledge and greatly appreciate funding support by the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant R01-MH67792) and the Spunk Fund.


  • Child behavior problems
  • Child maltreatment
  • Maternal depression
  • Maternal efficacy
  • Parenting

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