Women with children by multiple partners are more likely to experience stress and depression compared with mothers whose children share the same father.

Paula Fomby at the University of Michigan looked at 3,366 families included in the Fragile Families Child and Wellbeing Study. The families included children who were born between 1998 and 2000 in a number of US cities.

Fomby compared mothers who went on to have another child by a new partner within the next three years with mothers who had another child with the same partner or who had no further children.

Mothers with multiple partners were likely to receive less social support and less child support from the biological father. Children were likely to have less contact with their biological fathers, and the relationship between the mother and the biological fathers was likely to be poorer.

Mothers with children conceived by multiple partners were more likely to be depressed both around the birth of the child and two years later. A mother of a three-year-old with another child by a different partner was 43% more likely to have had a major depressive episode in the past year compared to women who had no further children.

Fomby found that depression around the birth of the child correlated with the degree of involvement of the biological father. Two years later, the main correlation was with what Fomby calls “boundary ambiguity” in the family, such as the presence of the new partner’s earlier children in the household and family activities involving both biological and step-father at the same time.

The impact of children by multiple partners on how the mother reports feeling unable to cope with parenting was less pronounced than for depression – no difference to other mothers when the first child was three, but a small but significant impact two years later, compared to other mothers whose stress diminished over the two years.

About one-third of births in large US cities are to mothers who have a child by another partner.

Header photo: Jaroslav A. Polák. Creative Commons.

References

Fomby P (2016), Motherhood in complex families, Journal of Family Issues 39.1