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Modeling the Course and Consequences of Parenting Self-Efficacy During Infancy and Early Childhood: Improving Estimates with an Adoption Design Chelsea M. Weaver 1 , Daniel S. Shaw 1 , Leslie D. Leve 2 , Lauretta M. Brennan 1 , Katherine L. Rife 1 , Emily M. Russell 1 , and David Reiss 3

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Modeling the Course and Consequences of Parenting Self-Efficacy

During Infancy and Early Childhood: Improving Estimates with an Adoption Design

Chelsea M. Weaver1,Daniel S. Shaw1,Leslie D. Leve2, Lauretta M. Brennan1,Katherine L. Rife1, Emily M. Russell1, and David Reiss3

1. University of Pittsburgh, 2. Oregon Social Learning Center, 3. Yale Child Study Center

9 Month PSE

18 Month PSE

27 Month PSE








Slope (-)




9 Month Biological Mothers’ Depression

27 Month Externalizing Problems (AM report)

9 Month AM’s Depression


18 Month AM’s Depression


18 Month Externalizing Problems (AM report)

Figure 1. Latent growth curve model of adoptive mothers’ (AM) parenting self-efficacy (PSE) from ages 9 to 27 months, maternal depression at 18 months, and children’s externalizing problems at 27 months. Note that race, child gender, AM education, adoption openness, and number of adopted children were included as covariates, but are not represented in the model for parsimony.

Results Cont.

Introduction and Study Goals


In order to address reporter-bias, the same two LGMs were fit using adoptive father-reports of children’s internalizing and externalizing problems. Both models were good fits to the data based on all fit indices, χ2 (26) = 48.57, p < .05; CFI = .96; TLI = .93, RMSEA = .05; SRMR = .04 and χ2 (26) = 40.73, p < .05; CFI = .98; TLI = .95, RMSEA = .04; SRMR = .04, respectively. There were no significant effects between (1) AMs’ PSE and AF reports of children’s socioemotional adjustment, (2) AMs’ PSE and 18 month AMs’ depression, and (3) AMs’ nor BMs’ depression and children’s adjustment. Also, all covariates were not significant in both models.

  • Parenting self-efficacy (PSE) has been positively linked to children’s adjustment Coleman & Karraker, 2003) and negatively associated with maternal depression Bor & Sanders, 2004).
  • Very little work has charted the longitudinal course of PSE; however, research suggests that PSE increases during early childhood (Weaver et al., 2008).
  • To date, there has been no work examining (1) the effect of PSE among adoptive mothers (AMs) on their levels of depression or adopted children’s adjustment.
  • The adoption design of the current study allows for the assessment of environmental effects of PSE free of the gene x environment interaction in terms of its effect on children’s adjustment.

Goals of the Current Study

  • Model the trajectory of AMs’ PSE over the child’s first two years
  • Test whether higher initial levels of, and/or more rapid change in, AMs’ PSE predicted both (1) lower levels of AMs’ depression and (2) lower levels of children’s later internalizing or externalizing problems while accounting for the effect of biological mothers’ (BM) initial level of depression on children’s outcomes.
  • If evidence suggests AMs’ depression as a potential mediator of the relationship between PSE and children’s socioemotional adjustment, the indirect effect will be tested while accounting for the direct effect of BMs’ depression.

Latent Growth Model (LGM) of Adoptive Mothers’ PSE

To model growth in PSE, an unconditional (LGM) was fit to the data using Mplus Version 4.0 (Muthén, & Muthén, 1998). We found that AMs’ PSE significantly declined from 9 to 27 months (b = -.46, SE = 0.08, p < .01). Fit indices were inconsistent, with some indicating a good fit of the model to the data (χ2 (1) = 12.51, p = .00; CFI = .96, TLI = .88, RMSEA = .18, SRMR = .02). There was significant variation around the intercept and slope parameters, allowing for these parameters to be extended to covariates.

Conditional LGM of PSE, Maternal Depression, and Children’s Socioemotional Adjustment

Two LGMs were estimated to test the effects of AMs’ PSE and both AMs’ and BMs’ depression on internalizing and externalizing problems each at 27 months. Each model using internalizing and externalizing problems as outcomes were good fits to the data according to most fit indices, χ2 (26) = 63.20, p < .05; CFI = .94; TLI = .89, RMSEA = .06; SRMR = .05 and χ2 (26) = 72.49, p < .05; CFI = .93; TLI = .86, RMSEA = 0.07; SRMR = .05, respectively.

Less rapidly declining AMs’ PSE predicted fewer AM-reported internalizing and externalizing problems at 27 months, after controlling for autoregressive effects of adjustment at 18 months (b = -1.26, SE = 0.57, p < .01 and b = -2.08, SE = 0.79, p < .01, respectively).

There was a trend for an effect of higher PSE at 9 months predicting lower externalizing problems at 27 months(b = -.35, SE = 0.19, p < .10; see Figure 1).

All covariates (race, child gender, AM education, adoption openness, number of adopted children) were not significant in both models with the exception of a strong effect of 9 month depression on concurrent PSE (b = -0.19, SE = 0.04, p < .05).

Because there were no significant effects between PSE and AMs’ 18-month depression or between AMs’ 18-month depression and children’s adjustment, there was no evidence for mediation; thus, indirect effects were not tested.


Participants were drawn from the Early Growth and Development Study, an ongoing, longitudinal, multi-site study of 359 adopted children (43% female), including yokes of birth parent(s), adoptive parents, and adoptive children triads recruited from 47 states in the US. All adoption placements were domestic and each baby was placed within 3 months postpartum with a non-relative adoptive family. The measurement framework and participant demographics are presented in Table 1. Note: Because maternal PSE was the main construct of this study, 12 same-sex male couples were omitted from all analyses; same-sex female couples were retained (n=8).


We found that PSE significantly declined from 9 to 27 months; however, previous longitudinal work found that PSE increased from ages 2 to 4 (Weaver et al., 2008). Given the differing developmental stages, PSE may start higher in infancy, decline as children reach toddlerhood, and increase once mothers learn to successfully navigate their mobile children. An alternative explanation is that the developmental course of PSE in adoptive mothers may differ from that of biological mothers.

Longitudinal work is needed to carefully chart the course of PSE from infancy through early childhood among both adoptive and biological mothers.

The relationship between AMs’ PSE and AM-reported children’s outcomes did not hold when using AF reports, suggesting that there may be a bias in maternal perceptions of children’s adjustment depending on her level of PSE.

We did not find relationships between maternal depression and changes in PSE or children’s adjustment. This may be due, in part, to the overall low levels of depressive symptomatology in this low risk sample.

  • Overall, the findings of the current study help shed light on the developmental course of PSE and raise important questions about this process in adoptive families that necessitates further research.