Maria's PhD thesis examines the impact of partner violence on parenting stress

08 December 2022

The findings of CQUniversity's Dr Maria McDade's PhD thesis into mothering and partner violence' aims to help service providers and mothers to better understand and respond to their needs and reduce 'parenting stress'.

Dr McDade's thesis' titled 'Keeping Mum – Breaking the Silence on Parenting Stress' found the complexities of mothering in the context of partner violence was multi-faceted.

"As highlighted in the media' violence against women is a global problem and one which has a lifelong impact on the victim'" she said.

"My preliminary research indicated that while maternal parenting stress was generally recognised throughout the literature there was no real research examining it in detail in the context of intimate partner violence."

Her research involved in-depth examinations of the parenting stress of mothers who have experienced violence and abuse from their partners.

"Parenting stress is a particularly useful topic to examine when considering recovery as parenting stress is one of the most consistent predictors of child functioning and more importantly acknowledges the difficulties mothers experience as a result of the actions and behaviours of abusive and violent partners'" she said.

One of the key findings of her preliminary research was that the current interventions weren't really reducing maternal parenting stress as expected.

"This is really important when we think about recovery for both mothers and their children as continuing high levels of parenting stress can have an ongoing impact on the continuing recovery of both mothers and their children'" she said.

Other findings included that the lack of perpetrator accountability' family court processes' and the lack of essential services all further contributed to maternal parenting stress.

"We then looked at both maternal parenting stress and child behaviour in detail. The findings of this were really interesting as we found that mothers reported differences in their experience of parenting stress which corresponded with differences in child behaviour problems'" she said.

"These findings highlight how important it is to understand the experiences of mothers and their children to be able to provide the right support."

Dr McDade's research also showed the benefits of CQU's flexibility and remote-learning applications as she relocated from Townsville to Sydney and then Wodonga while working on her thesis.

"The topic itself is confronting' and at times very personal – the reality is that one in three women experience violence and abuse; we all know someone who is struggling with this and that was really tough'" she said.

"I'm also an army wife and my husband was posted to a different location four times during the thesis' but I am very lucky I had brilliant and wonderful supervisors and the support of my family.

She said she hoped to replicate and extend her research to better understand the findings and more importantly to design the most appropriate responses to support mothers.

"It's important that the findings are made available to all sectors involved in responding to intimate partner violence so that coordinated and integrated knowledge and responses are implemented' particularly in Family Law reform' perpetrator programs and interventions for mothers and their children.