Child & Youth Care Forum

, Volume 48, Issue 6, pp 935–953 | Cite as

The Impact of Family Rituals and Maternal Depressive Symptoms on Child Externalizing Behaviors: An Urban–Rural Comparison

  • Juan Bao
  • Clinton G. GudmunsonEmail author
  • Kimberly Greder
  • Suzanne R. Smith
Original Paper



The association between maternal depression and child negative behavior outcomes has been well established in the literature. However, understanding how maternal depression is associated with child behaviors will have important implications for research and intervention strategies.


We used samples from two distinct family contexts: urban, middle-class families (N = 454); and rural, low-income families (N = 240), to compare the impact of family rituals and maternal depressive symptoms on child externalizing behaviors. We also examined the impact of maternal depressive symptoms on family rituals.


Structural equation modeling and multiple group analyses were conducted. Child age, child gender, mother age, mother education, mother partner status, family income, and family size served as control variables. Indirect effect tests and incremental validity tests were performed.


Depressive symptoms were linked to externalizing behaviors in both samples. The impacts of family rituals on child externalizing behaviors were more context-specific. For urban, middle-class families, vacations played a particularly helpful intermediate role. Also, in these families, maternal depressive symptoms were associated with less involvement in religious holidays. For rural, low-income families, involvement in annual celebrations was associated with less child externalizing behaviors, although maternal depressive symptoms did not impact involvement in any family rituals.


Results suggest that family context matters in determining the impacts of maternal depression on the practice of family rituals, as well as the benefits of family rituals for child behaviors, and that certain family rituals can do more than others to reduce child externalizing behaviors (e.g., vacation).


Child externalizing behaviors Maternal depression Family rituals Replication Rural Urban Vacation 



Flourishing Families (FFP) acknowledgement: We thank the Family Studies Center at BYU, the School of Family Life, and the College of Family Home and Social Science at BYU, and we recognize the generous support of the many private donors who provided support for this project. We also thank those families who were willing to spend valuable hours with our team in interviews, and the many students who assisted in conducting the interviews.

Rural Families Speak about Health (RFSH) acknowledgement: This study is based in part on data from the USDA Hatch funded Multi-State Project, “Interactions of Individual, Family, Community, and Policy Contexts on the Mental and Physical Health of Diverse Rural Low Income Families”, known as NC1171 Rural Families Speak about Health. We are grateful to the women who took part in the study and to the Cooperative Extension staff and graduate students who assisted with data collection.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human Development and Family StudiesIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Human Development and Family StudiesIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  3. 3.Human Development and Family StudiesIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  4. 4.Georgia Southwestern State UniversityAmericusUSA

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