Dissertation Defense Announcement

School of Social Work

University of Minnesota

Dissertation Defense Announcement

Examining the effects of fathers’ social support on parenting stress and potential for violence against women and children 

Ericka Kimball

Wednesday, July 11, 11:30am-12:00pm

Room 280, Peters Hall

All Faculty, Students, Staff and Others Invited


Parenthood is a life-changing event that requires preparation and understanding of a child’s needs. Since parenting skills are often acquired and not instinctual (Lamb, 1986), it is important to understand the process of how men learn to become parents. Men are often taught not to be caregivers (Parke & Beitel, 1986), resulting in a lack of experience in the role of caregiver and making them feel less skilled and less confident in their ability to parent (Lamb, 1986). Furthermore, men who were exposed to domestic violence as children may learn to use violence to solve conflict, deal with stress, and maintain control over another person (Straus, Gelles, & Smith, 1990). This may lead to an increased risk for perpetration of violence against women and children (Black, Sussman, & Unger, 2010; Margolin, Gordis, Medina, & Oliver, 2003; Stith et al., 2000; Wareham, Boots, & Chavez, 2009).

A review of literature provides the empirical underpinnings on the risks of parenting stress and child exposure to domestic violence and the benefits of social support. Using social learning theory and ecological systems theory as a guide, a conceptual framework was developed that provided a testable model of social support’s effects on parenting stress and the risks for violence against women and children. A national study of fathers was conducted to test this model. Participants were asked about their history of exposure to domestic violence in childhood and the type, amount and use of social support. They also completed three standardized measures on parenting stress, child abuse potential, and propensity for abusiveness.

The results of the study affirmed the protective nature of social support in reducing parenting stress and risks for violence against women and children. There were significant differences in parenting stress, child abuse potential, and propensity for abusiveness between fathers who reported exposure to domestic violence in childhood and those that did not report exposure. The availability of social support did have an effect on the level of parenting stress among non-exposed men but had no effect on parenting stress among exposed men. Surprisingly, those men reporting exposure who also reported higher use of their social supports had significantly lower scores on the parenting stress measure than those who had reported less utilization of social supports.

This research highlights the importance of assessing for and encouraging the use of social support in social work practice. Additionally, public policies need to be developed that actively encourage fathers beyond the focus on economic support. Finally, further research is needed to gain a better understanding of how exposure to domestic violence during childhood affects people throughout their lifespan.