The Relationship Between Identity Development, Parenting Quality, and Child Functioning: Testing An Expansion of the Process Model of Parenting With a Comparative Sample of Adult and Adolescent Mothers
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Identity achievement has been described as a critical developmental task of adolescence, but has seldom been discussed in the context of adolescent parenthood. Little is known about how teen mothers negotiate identity development, nor about the role that the latter plays in parenting quality and child functioning. In order to address these gaps in the literature, the present study proposed an adaptation to Belskys (1984) process model of parenting, in order to understand the unique role of identity development in the differential parenting experiences of adolescent and adult mothers. Data were collected from 95 participants, comprising 42 adolescent mothers (younger than 20 years of age) and 53 adult mothers (older than 24 years of age), and their children (younger than 42 months of age). A third sample of 14 former adolescent mothers were included in some comparisons where indicated. Results suggest that adolescent mothers follow a unique developmental sequence that deviates from that of adult mothers as well as that of non-parenting adolescent peers. Identity commitment, a component of identity achievement, emerged as a protective mechanism for young mothers and their children, while identity exploration emerged as a risk factor. Identity commitment was found to mediate the relationship between maternal age and parenting quality, and moderate the relationship between perceived stress and parenting quality. Results of structural equation modeling indicate that resilience in parent characteristic variables, in particular, delayed childbearing age and identity achievement, are heavily shaped by the contextual environment in which they emerge. Furthermore, results elucidate a pathway through which sociocontextual factors exert their influence on infant functioning. Taken together, the findings from the present study reveal a number of risks that unfold within the context of early parenthood. Poverty, trauma, and limited social support pose tremendous developmental barriers that are intensified by the experience of adolescent parenting. However, identity commitment may help young mothers calibrate stress and adjust to the demands of parenting. Several implications for clinical prevention and intervention, theory, and policy, are discussed.