Maternal Mental Health and Child Adjustment Problems in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Families Experiencing Economic Disadvantage

Parents living in low-income contexts shouldered disproportionate hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic with consequences to maternal mental health and child adjustment. The current study uses a sample of first-time mothers (N=147) of young toddlers, all living in low-income contexts, to examine the roles of pre-pandemic and COVID-19-specific risk and individual resilience factors in the prediction of changes to maternal mental health coinciding with the onset of the pandemic. Maternal mental health symptoms, in turn, were examined as predictors of child adjustment problems across 6 months of the pandemic and as a potential mechanism conferring pandemic risks to children. While pre-pandemic cumulative contextual risk (i.e., low income, single-parent status, adolescent parent status, financial instability) did not predict changes in maternal mental health from prior to during the pandemic, COVID-19-specific health risks predicted changes in maternal mental health from before the pandemic, as well as across 6 months of the pandemic. Regarding individual resilience factors to changes in maternal mental health, pre-pandemic self-compassion predicted better maternal mental health during the pandemic, as did COVID-19-specific appraisal and coping strategies. In turn, maternal mental health predicted children’s early pandemic levels of adjustment problems and changes in adjustment problems across 6 months of the pandemic, with maternal mental health serving an indirect pathway of COVID-19-specific health risks to children’s adjustment. The fndings highlight pathways of risk and resilience during a global health crisis and point to targets for interventions in community level crises to promote maternal and child mental health.