This study explores the relationship between personality and parental confidence among mothers of school-aged children. The relationships between personality and parenting competence and also between parental confidence and parenting competence are established in the literature, but the relationship between personality and parental confidence is little explored. One hundred twenty-one mothers of school-aged children were surveyed regarding their demographics and parenting confidence, and they also completed the 16PF personality measure. Hierarchical regression analysis found that higher Dominance, Self-Control, and Independence predicted higher maternal confidence, whereas higher Apprehension and Anxiety predicted lower maternal confidence. Black mothers had higher levels of parental confidence overall than mothers of other ethnicities. These results are discussed in the context of understanding parenting behaviors and designing parenting interventions.
- parental confidence
- parental self-efficacy
How does a woman come to the awareness that she is a “good mother”? Surely her confidence in her own ability to take care of, discipline, and forward the interests of her children is part of the equation. Indeed, without some level of confidence, would one even be able to label oneself as “good” at parenting? Another part of the equation may be her habitual tendencies, in the form of personality traits, that lend themselves to attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that confirm (or deny) the mother’s confidence in herself. This article will explore the relationship between parental confidence and personality traits among mothers of school-aged children.
The existing literature features many definitions of parental confidence or parental self-efficacy. These concepts derive from Bandura’s (1977) seminal work on self-efficacy, with parenting self-efficacy being a domain-specific type of general personal efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined by Bandura (1997) as, “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (p. 3). Although perhaps once considered unique concepts, parental confidence and self-efficacy are joined by contemporary definition in that parental confidence, broadly writ, includes self-efficacy beliefs. Badr (2005) defined parenting confidence as, “the perception mothers have about their ability to care for and understand” their children (p. 164). Similarly, Coleman and Karraker (2000) defined parental self-efficacy as “parents’ self-referent estimations of competence in the parental role or as parents’ perceptions of their ability to positively influence the behavior and development of their children.” (p. 13). These definitions, like most, emphasize cognitive components, such as “belief” in one’s ability or the “perception” that one can handle the many tasks associated with caring for a child. However, parenting competence can include additional factors, such as knowledge about parenting techniques and children’s development and the ability to emotionally manage one’s reaction to difficult child behaviors (Bornstein, Cote, Haynes, Hahn, & Park, 2010; Coleman & Karraker, 1998). For the purpose of this study, parental confidence is defined as the parent’s belief that her knowledge base and her behavioral, emotional, and practical skills are sufficient to meet the tasks of parenting.
Parental confidence has been found to be related to parenting behaviors in that increasing confidence is related to more effective and satisfying parenting, which in turn affects child behavior (Jones & Prinz, 2005; Morawska, Winter, & Sanders, 2009; Teti & Candelaria, 2002). A higher sense of parenting confidence has been related to sensitivity and positive interaction (Bohlin & Hagekull, 1987), children’s self-efficacy and school success, especially in disadvantaged families (Ardelt & Eccles, 2001), and limit setting and lower levels of harsh discipline (MacPhee, Fritz, & Miller-Heyl, 1996), whereas lower parental self-confidence has been related to lenient and over-reactive parenting (Gross, Sambrook, & Fogg, 1999). The mediational role of parental efficacy has been studied, whereby parents with children with behavioral disturbances used less aversive discipline if they were high in self-efficacy (Day, Factor, & Szkiba-Day, 1994) and parents’ behavior was indirectly affected by children’s externalizing behavior via parental efficacy (Meunier, Roskam, & Browne, 2011).
These findings also suggest there are contextual factors that are essential to a full understanding of parental confidence. For parents, these contextual factors can include ethnicity, financial status, neighborhood, social support, work–family conflict, and other factors. Parenting contexts can be promotive of parental confidence or can undermine parental confidence. Ethnicity is one particularly interesting parenting context that has been found to be related to parental confidence, particularly for African American parents. In a longitudinal study of almost 400 parents of adolescents, Glatz and Buchanan (2015) found that higher levels of parenting efficacy were reported by African American parents versus White parents, but that these levels declined over time. Similarly, Hill and Tyson (2008) found that at initial assessment when the children were in Kindergarten, African American mothers reported higher parenting efficacy than White mothers, even considering multiple contextual factors. However, these ethnic differences were no longer discernable by the time the children were in fourth grade. Other studies have found that higher self-efficacy among African American parents is related to more developmentally promotive strategies and risk-minimizing strategies toward adolescents (Ardelt & Eccles, 2001; Elder, Eccles, Ardelt, & Lord, 1995). Findings related to ethnicity are not only limited to African American parents, however. Mexican immigrant mothers, compared with European American mothers, have reported higher levels of parenting self-efficacy, although parenting self-efficacy for this population may diminish as acculturation increases (Ceballo & Hurd, 2008; Izzo, Weiss, Shanahan, & Rodriguez-Brown, 2000). Using a large sample of mothers living in the United Kingdom, just more than half of whom were of Pakistani origin and the remainder White British, researchers found that the mothers of Pakistani origin reported more parental confidence overall (Prady, Kiernan, Fairley, Wilson, & Wright, 2014).
Other contextual factors are also important to understanding parenting confidence. For example, children provide a key daily context for parenting confidence. Coleman and Karraker (2000) found that mothers with more emotional and less sociable children reported lower parenting self-efficacy, whereas mothers with higher income, more education, and experience with children other than their own had greater self-efficacy. Social support, particularly that from a spouse or family member, has also been suggested as a central concept in the development and maintenance of parenting confidence (Ardelt & Eccles, 2001; Merrifield & Gamble, 2013; Schlabach, 2013). Cohen, Holloway, Domínguez-Pareto, and Kuppermann (2015) found that mothers who received more emotional support from their spouse reported greater parenting self-efficacy. Interestingly, this was particularly salient for Latino mothers compared with White mothers. In a study of 175 married or cohabitating couples, Merrifield and Gamble (2013) found that positive relationship maintenance strategies were related to higher parenting self-efficacy, whereas activities that undermine coparenting strategies were related to lower parenting self-efficacy.
Personality has been shown to have profound influence on parenting behaviors; indeed, some argue that it precedes both parenting cognitions and behaviors (Bornstein, Hahn, & Haynes, 2011). Personality traits such as agreeableness, emotional stability, and openness to experience have been linked to family interactions that facilitate warm and supportive relating (e.g., deHaan, Deković, & Prinzie, 2012). Extraversion can lead to a more engaged, active parenting style (Prinzie, Stams, Deković, Reijntjes, & Belsky, 2009). These traits improve a parent’s ability to recognize and respond to their child’s different behaviors, which yields positive interactions between the parents and their children. All of these items are important facets of parenting because having a predominance of either the positive traits, such as emotional stability or agreeableness, or the more negative traits, such as neuroticism, greatly affect parents’ facility in negotiating parenting tasks.
A meta-analysis by Prinzie et al. (2009) established a link between Big Five personality constructs and parenting. The authors propose three dimensions of parenting that are related to individual differences in children’s development: (a) warmth versus rejection, (b) behavioral control versus chaos, and (c) autonomy support versus coercion. The results showed that higher levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness and lower levels of neuroticism were related to emotionally and behaviorally positive parenting. These parents were warm, consistent, and responsive. Parents with higher levels of agreeableness and lower levels of neuroticism were more likely to engage in autonomy support. These parents are less likely to be frustrated or angry with their children’s autonomy bids and are more likely to see their children’s independence in a positive light.
Because parental confidence and parental personality have been established as independently related to parenting competence, it is worthwhile to explore how these two concepts are related to each other. Specifically, this exploratory study is designed to investigate how mothers’ personality traits, as measured by the 16PF instrument, are related to her self-reported confidence in her parenting.
The participants were 121 mothers with children aged between 6 and 18 years (e.g., school-aged children). Participants were recruited from the Psychology Subject Pool of an urban open-admissions university and from a small snowball sample obtained by student research assistants from within their communities. Because this university and community are especially diverse, the sample reflected this trend, and participants reported their ethnicities as Black (31.4%, n = 38), Hispanic (31.4%, n = 38), non-Hispanic White (31.4%, n = 38), and other ethnic identification (i.e., biracial, Asian American) (5.8%, n = 7). The average age of the participants was 35 years (SD = 7.8; range = 19-54). The average income of the respondents was about US$43,700, and the median income was about US$35,000. About 12.5% (n = 15 of 120) of the mothers had a high school diploma, whereas 84.1% had at least some college (n = 101); four respondents provided idiosyncratic responses, like trade school. About 23% (n = 28 of 120) of the mothers were single, 55.8% (n = 67) were married, 12.5% were divorced, 7.5% (n = 9) were separated, and one was widowed. Respondents had an average of two children, ranging from one to six children, with a modal number of children of one.
This study has a cross-sectional design, utilizing a paper-and-pencil questionnaire.
This portion of the survey included common measures of social address (including age, income, marital status, education, and ethnicity). Participants were also asked about their children, including number of children and age of children, and their current living situation.
Parental Confidence Index
The survey packet contained a Parenting Questionnaire, composed of 21 questions rated on a Likert-type scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Topics assessed include the parent’s perception of self as a parent, the parent’s perception of the child, and behavioral, emotional, and social problems the child may experience. For the purposes of the present study, only those questions relating to parenting confidence were used. A summative index composed of the five variables from the parenting questionnaire specifically addressing parenting confidence was constructed. Examples of questions that compose the parental confidence index include “I am a confident parent” and “I get frustrated when I have to discipline my child” (reverse coded). The parental confidence index had an acceptable level of reliability, considering the brevity of the scale (Cronbach’s α = .65). A lower score (closer to 5) means that the parent is less confident in her parenting skills. A higher score (closer to 25) means that the parent is more confident in her parenting skills. The mean of the index was 17.05 (SD = 3.04), with a range of 10 to 25.
16PF Personality Inventory
The 16PF is a standardized self-report personality measure that is routinely used in research (Cattell, Cattell, & Cattell, 1993). It has 185 multiple-choice items, which result in 16 bipolar personality dimensions (primary factor scales), five global factors, and 3 validity scales. The 16PF global factors describe personality at a broader level, such as anxiety, independence, and self-control, whereas the primary factor scales describe specific and foundational personality dimensions. Participants rate statements on a three-choice scale, with the middle choice always a “?” (symbol). The 16PF requires only a fifth-grade reading level, and was normed on a large, representative U.S. sample.
A correlational analysis was conducted between the parental confidence index and both the primary personality factors and the global factors. The results indicated that the personality factor of Apprehension (r = −.29, p < .01) and the global factor of Anxiety (r = −.22, p < .05) were negatively correlated with the mother’s parental confidence. Thus, as apprehension and anxiety increase, the level of parental confidence decreases (and vice versa). The Apprehension and Anxiety factors are conceptually and statistically intertwined, as the Apprehension factor is statistically located on the Anxiety global factor. There are some conceptual distinctions, however, as the Apprehension personality factor appears to be inclined toward worry or dread about what “may” happen in the future, whereas the global Anxiety factor trends toward a reactive state of tension, vigilance, and emotional distress. The findings regarding Apprehension indicate that mothers who are indecisive, hesitant, and unsure tend to demonstrate low confidence in their parenting ability. Mothers who are high in Anxiety tend to be restless, nervous, and worrisome, and this is also related to lack of confidence in their parenting.
The personality factors of Dominance (r = .33, p < .01), Emotional Stability (r = .23, p < .05), Perfectionism (r = .21, p < .05), Rule Consciousness (r = .20, p < .05), and Social Boldness (r = .18, p < .05) were positively related to mothers’ parental confidence. Mothers who demonstrate the personality factor of Dominance are demanding, prefer to be in control, and are decisive, while mothers high in Emotional Stability are more likely to approach life in a mature, adaptive, and consistent manner. It is important to note that Dominance does not imply “domineering,” but rather a more hierarchical and resolute approach to parenting. Mothers who report a tendency toward Perfectionism are neat, structured, and organized, and those higher in Rule Consciousness are very concerned with propriety, adherence to moral rules, and exhibiting proper behavior and mannerisms. On the contrary, mothers who are Socially Bold are adventurous, resourceful, and imperturbable. Women with each of these personality dimensions are more likely to be confident in their parenting. Rule Consciousness and Social Boldness may seem conceptually opposite, but they are each related to an important global factor also correlated with confidence (rule consciousness to Self-Control and social boldness to Independence).
The global personality factors of Independence (r = .24, p < .05) and Self-Control (r = .20, p < .05) were positively correlated with maternal parenting confidence. The global factor of Independence is related to people’s drive, attentiveness, controllingness, and openness to change. The personality factors of Dominance and Social Boldness are located on the Independence global factor. Mothers high in Self-Control tend to be composed, determined, non-indulging, and restrained. The personality factors of Perfectionism and Rule Consciousness are located on the Self-Control global factor. People high in these factors of independence and self-control tend to be more confident in their parenting.
Two hierarchical regression analyses were performed with the parental confidence index as the dependent variable. A dummy variable for ethnicity, with ethnicities other than Black as the excluded category (in other words, Black = 1, and all other ethnicities = 0), was created. In the first model, the ethnicity dummy variable was entered first, and then the six individual 16PF scales that were significantly related to parental confidence (Dominance, Apprehension, Rule Consciousness, Emotional Stability, Perfectionism, and Boldness) were entered as a group. In the second model, the ethnicity dummy variable was entered first and the three 16PF global factors that were significantly related to parental confidence (Anxiety, Self-Control, and Independence) were entered as a group. Table 1 provides a summary of the regression results, including standardized regression coefficients for each predictor variable.
The two-step regression model for the 16PF scales accounts for about 28% of the variance in parental confidence. Regression Model 1 indicates that other ethnicities are significantly different from Black in predicting parental confidence, with Black mothers being significantly more confident. Black ethnicity predicts about 5% of the variance in parental confidence overall. Model 2 indicates that, even after taking ethnicity into account, the personality factors of Dominance and Apprehension are significant predictors of parental confidence and Rule Consciousness is a marginal predictor of parental confidence. The personality factors of Emotional Stability, Perfectionism, and Social Boldness were not significantly predictive of parental confidence. These results indicate that Black mothers tend to be higher in parental confidence overall, and that women who are more demanding, proper, and rule-oriented and less indecisive and hesitant are more confident in their parenting.
Similarly, the two-step regression model predicting parental confidence from the 16PF global factors accounts for about 22% of the variance in parental confidence. Model 4 indicates that after controlling for ethnicity, the global factors of Anxiety, Independence, and Self-Control are significant predictors of parental confidence, with Independence having the greatest effect by a small margin over the other two global factors. Thus, women who are driven and self-motivated, who practice self-restraint, and who are not worrisome or nervous are likely to be higher in parental confidence.
The picture that emerges from the current study is that mothers who are more decisive, consistent, organized, and self-motivated tend to be more confident in their parenting. Conversely, mothers who are typically anxious, uncertain, and overly cautious are less likely to be confident parents. The specific findings regarding Dominance are particularly interesting. The trait of dominance goes hand-in-glove with how the tasks of parenting are structured in Western society. Within the context of Western parenting mores, the trait of dominance as it pertains to parenting may include expecting children to get things done, to maintain an adequate physical environment (i.e., to clean their rooms or pick up their toys), and to be independent and autonomous (Bornstein, 2013). This reflects the fact that some parents are more comfortable with a high degree of control over their children’s routines; this encourages order and discourages chaos. It is important to note that in the context of parenting, dominance does not necessarily imply “domineering;” whereas domineering parenting implies overbearing or tyrannical control, dominance in parenting implies hierarchical influence and authoritative control. Decisiveness is also a hallmark of the Dominance trait; the ability to make and stand by rules is a indicative of both consistent parenting and being confident in one’s own decision-making capacity. The Dominant mother is able to take charge, lead, and be responsible for her decisions about the children, allowing her to take on the role of an authoritative figure.
A confident mother not only is able to trust in her own instincts but is also not afraid to solicit advice when needed. This is exemplified in the finding regarding Independence; these mothers are independent in thought and action. Combined with low Apprehension and Anxiety, this allows the mother to take control of and follow through with her decisions instead of “second guessing” herself. High self-control also enables the mother to prioritize her responsibilities, and again combined with low apprehension and anxiety, allows her to take care of herself and her children confidently while minimizing intrusive and worrisome thoughts and behaviors. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to some, confident mothers are also comfortable receiving the advice of others. They are able to receive advice in such a way as to retain those items which will benefit the child or the parenting endeavor and are not worrisome about discarding advice that is not useful.
The findings related to ethnicity are not unexpected. Black mothers were higher in parenting confidence overall, which may be an expected finding within the urban environment from which the sample derived. Ardelt and Eccles (2001) found that “parental efficacy beliefs are more predictive of promotive strategies among Black mothers than among White mothers” (p. 965). These authors attribute this, at least in part, to the economic, social, and safety issues endemic in the urban environment for Black families; confidence becomes an important positive coping strategy for these mothers. Although the present findings add to our understanding of ethnicity and parental confidence, a limitation of this study is that it does not address contexts in addition to ethnicity that might be important, such as the role of economic hardship or social support (both intra- and extra-family) in parental confidence. In addition, it seems particularly important that future studies investigating this topic include a longitudinal component, so that the development and maintenance of parental confidence, within its various contexts, can be studied over time.
Although exploring the link between parental confidence and personality is interesting and necessary, a limitation of this study concerns the measurement of parental confidence. Although it encompasses behavioral, emotional, and cognitive aspects of parenting confidence, as a five-item measure it may not be as generalizable as a larger assessment of the concept might be. A future direction for research on this issue might include a more comprehensive measure of parental confidence.
Implications for Parenting Education
The findings of this study have implications for parenting education. If, as some have argued, personality is antecedent to parenting cognition and behavior, then, of course, personality must be a consideration when designing appropriate interventions among those with parenting challenges (e.g., Bornstein et al., 2011). Jones and Prinz (2005) noted that parental self-efficacy also could be “an appropriate target for prevention and intervention efforts” (p. 341). Sofronoff and Farbotko (2002) found that parental competence improved among parents receiving interventions based on nurturing parental efficacy. With the relationship between parental confidence and specific personality traits found in this study, we have an additional item to consider when designing parenting interventions. For example, parents with low dominance characteristics may also be low in confidence; it is likely that introducing activities that activate dominance schemas, like fostering increased expectations and orderly behaviors from children, may also serve to increase parenting confidence when met with success. Similarly, activities designed to decrease anxiety and apprehension through experiences of success with the tasks of parenting may be met with increased confidence in the parenting role.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by an Organized Research Grant from the University of Houston Downtown.
- © The Author(s) 2016
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Susan M. Henney is a professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown. Dr. Henney’s research focuses on parenting, with particular emphasis on public parenting behaviors, she also studies adaptation, with a concentration on the experiences of birthmothers, and volunteerism, with an emphasis on involuntary forms of volunteerism.