Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 2025–2036 | Cite as

Parental Attachment Dimensions and Parenting Stress: The Mediating Role of Parental Reflective Functioning

  • Liesbet NijssensEmail author
  • Dries Bleys
  • Sara Casalin
  • Nicole Vliegen
  • Patrick Luyten
Original Paper


Research suggests that parental reflective functioning—the parent’s capacity to envision the mind of his/her child—may play an important role in the intergenerational transmission of attachment and reflective functioning. Studies also suggest the importance of this capacity for the transition to parenthood, and particularly parents’ capacity to deal with parenting stress. This study focused on the potential mediating role of PRF dimensions in the relationship between parental attachment dimensions (attachment anxiety and avoidance) and parenting stress, using data from a 1-year longitudinal study in biological first-time parents (N = 106). Structural equation modeling showed that parents’ use of prementalizing modes of reflecting upon their child (PM) fully mediated the relationship between attachment anxiety and three parenting stress dimensions (marital relationship, role restriction, and social isolation) across a 1-year interval, while attachment avoidance was indirectly related to these parenting stress dimensions through PM. Further, PM partially mediated the relationship between parental attachment anxiety and avoidance and a fourth dimension of parenting stress, lack of trust in parental competence. In addition, multi-group analyses revealed some interesting gender differences. Implications of these findings for the conceptualization of the relationship between parental attachment, PRF, and parenting stress are discussed.


Parental reflective functioning Parenting stress Attachment Psychopathology Intervention 


Author Contributions

L.N. designed and executed the study, analyzed the data, and wrote the first draft of the paper. D.B. assisted with the data analyses and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. S.C. and N.V. collaborated with the design and writing of the study. P.L. designed the study, assisted in data analyses and in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.

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. This study was approved by the Ethics Committee of KU Leuven (Belgium).

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 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liesbet Nijssens
    • 1
    Email author
  • Dries Bleys
    • 1
  • Sara Casalin
    • 1
  • Nicole Vliegen
    • 1
  • Patrick Luyten
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesKU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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