"We often talk about families in terms of mothers, fathers, and children," Joy Piontak says. "Or we talk about the marital status of the mothers. Families are often a lot more complex than we imagine them to be, though. And that complexity can affect mothers' well-being." (Credit: george ruiz/Flickr)

Living with grandparents can be depressing for new moms

Married and single mothers living in a multi-generational household in their baby’s first year may suffer higher rates of depression, a new study shows, but the reverse is true for unmarried women who live with a romantic partner.

The findings hold true for rich, poor, and middle class women—but vary by race. Latina single mothers fare especially poorly in multi-generational households. Latina single mothers were six times more likely to experience depression if they lived in multi-generational households in their child’s first year of life than if they did not.

The variance between subgroups may partly reflect differing expectations and stigmas, says lead author Joy Piontak, a research analyst with the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy.

For instance, married couples commonly expect to maintain a separate household. Cohabiting couples don’t always face the same expectations, as other researchers have noted.

“There’s a strong expectation that married couples will be economically self-sufficient,” Piontak says. “Those are strong cultural values. So there could be a stronger sense of failure among married couples if they have to live with their parents.”

Still, Piontak cautions that she can’t say for certain what causal relationship is at play. Living with grandparents may worsen depression for single and married mothers. Or, depressed single and married moms may be less likely to move out from a multi-generational household.

Families are complex

Also, no information was available regarding relationship quality within the households. Such data could shed further light on how household composition may affect mental health, Piontak says.

Published in the Journal of Family Issues, the study drew upon a nationally representative sample of nearly 3,000 married, single, and cohabiting mothers, and is unusual in its focus on multi-generational families. While single mothers have captured a great deal of scholarly and popular attention, three-generation households remain little-examined.

Yet such households are quite common. Some 7.8 million children, or 11 percent of all US children, live in multi-generational households. Such living arrangements are even more common among certain subgroups. For instance, nearly half of all children born to single mothers spend some time living with their grandparents.

“We often talk about families in terms of mothers, fathers, and children,” Piontak says. “Or we talk about the marital status of the mothers. Families are often a lot more complex than we imagine them to be, though. And that complexity can affect mothers’ well-being.”

Source: Duke University

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  1. Cathy Jacobs

    Well just heard about this study on NPR and had to Google it. When my first child was born my newly retired MIL just moved in for several months due to a child care gap. It seemed like a generous and loving offer and we were too shell-shocked to think of any reason to object. She completely took over my household that summer and has returned every summer since to stay with us anywhere from six to twelve weeks at a time. Usually without asking first or waiting for an invitation before booking her trip. I almost left my husband over this last year. Supposedly things will change, she is still coming this summer but will look for an apartment of her own for next year. We shall see what transpires. I like her just fine. She’s a decent and well meaning soul. I like that she is a loving grandmother to my children. I just cannot stand her taking over and running my household for weeks upon weeks at a time. And yes, I am depressed. I no longer look forward to the summer the way normal people do because I know my life will become complicated to the extreme until she finally leaves town again.

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