The Psychology of Spirituality & Familiy Relationships
For Better Findings - Can Relational Spirituality Help Parenting?
- Yes, relational spirituality can be a resource. “For better” refers to specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors about parenting that can help the parent-child relationship and offspring. We and other researchers have begun to publish peer-reviewed, scientific studies that directly measure specific spiritual resources for parenting during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood. These studies involve families who are involved in organized religion about the same as other Americans who have similar types of families (single or married parents). Below are five examples.
- Sanctification of Pregnancy - seeing a pregnancy as sacred
- Sanctification of Parenting - seeing a parent-infant bond & parenting during childhood as sacred
- Spiritual Resources in Coping with Pregnancy Stress - seeking spiritual strength from God, self & others in coping with the stressors of pregnancy
- Spiritual Resources in Coping with Parenting Stress - seeking spiritual strength from God, self & others in coping with the stressors of parenting
For Worse Findings - Can Relational Spirituality Harm Parenting?
- Yes, relational spirituality can be a problem. "For worse” refers to specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors about parenting that can harm the parent-child relationship and offspring. We and others have begun to publish peer-reviewed, scientific studies that directly measure specific spiritual problems for parenting for families who are involved in organized religion about the same as other Americans who are in similar types of families (single mothers or married mothers & fathers). Below are two examples.
- Spiritual Struggles in Coping with Pregnancy Stress -having conflict with God, self, or others in coping with the stressors of pregnancy
- Spiritual Struggles in Coping with Parenting Stress-having conflict with God, self, or others in coping with the stressors of parenting
General Findings on Involvement in Organized Religion for Pregnancy & Parenting?
- Considerable scientific evidence indicates that higher involvement in organized religion is relevant for pregnancy & parenting, much like religion is relevant to the lives of individuals, at least in the US. (See Defining Religion and Spiritualty).
- Approximately 104 peer-reviewed scientific studies were published from 1999-2009 on the role of faith for having children and being a parent. About 24 of these studies involved unstructured interviews with parents, most of whom were highly engaged in a religious community (qualitative data). Another 80 of the studies asked highly structured questions via surveys with community or nationally representative samples of parents, most of whom lived the US (quantitative data).
- About 75-80% of the quantitative studies relied on 1 or 2 general questions about a parent's religiousness. Examples of general questions include how often people say they attend worship services or how important they say religion is to their daily life. The following general findings have been established using broad, single questions about parents' religiousness:
- Pregnancy: Greater religious attendance or importance of religion
- Increases women's intentions become a mother, to delay pregnancy until married, & to bear children.
- Improves prenatal health care by single and married mothers, including decreased smoking & alcohol use.
- Decreases maternal anxiety and depression during pregnancy & thus stress hormones that can impact a fetus.
- Parenting: Infants & children
- Greater religious attendance or importance of religion increases positive parenting with children by married mothers or fathers & single mothers.
- Greater salience of religion to parents or youth increases the quality of parent-adolescent relationships.
- Greater religious attendance decreases the risk of child physical abuse.
- Greater involvement in conservative Christian groups & fundamental beliefs about the Bible are both tied to more frequent spanking of young children. But most conservative Christian parents are within "normal" range compared to how often most American parents spank.
- Greater religious attendance increases time that married fathers spend playing with their infants & children, but not doing child care tasks that mothers traditionally do.
- Major disagreement between parents in general religious beliefs or attendance increases the risk of child adjustment problems.
- Parenting: Adolescents & young adults
- The more parents attend religious services or say religion is personally important, the less often their adolescents display behavioral or emotional problems
- Major disagreement parents and adolescents in religious attendance is tied to more distance and dissatisfaction in their relationship.
- Several limitations exist about findings based on general questions about religiousness.
- We don’t know much about WHY or HOW higher religiousness is tied to parenting.
- General questions about religiousness make it impossible to untangle specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors focused on parenting that can be helpful or harmful for traditional and non-traditional families. For example, a therapist who learns that a parent attends a theologically conservative or progression church twice a month would have few clues about specific spiritual beliefs the parent holds about parenting that could be part of the problem or the solution.
- For more on general findings on religious involvement and parenting, see http://www.changingsea.net/essays/Mahoney.pdf or readings at bottom of this page
- For more information on relational spirituality, see Current State of Science and Relational Spirituality Framework.
Additional Suggested Readings
- Mahoney, A. (in press). The spirituality of us: Relational spirituality in the context of family relationships. K. I., Pargament, J. J. Exline & J. W. Jones, (Eds.) APA handbook of psychology, religion, and spirituality: Vol I. American Psychological Association.
- Mahoney, A. (2010). Religion in families 1999-2009: A relational spirituality framework. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 805 – 827.
- Mahoney, A., LeRoy, M., Kusner, K., Padgett, E., & Grimes, L. (2013). Addressing parental spirituality as part of the problem and solution in family psychotherapy. D. F. Walker & W. Hathaway (Ed.) Spiritually oriented interventions in child and adolescent psychotherapy.pp. 65-88. American Psychological Association.