Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 12, pp 3897–3908 | Cite as

Family Imprisonment, Maternal Parenting Stress and Its Impact on Mother-Child Relationship Satisfaction

  • Kirsten L. Besemer
  • Susan M. Dennison
Original Paper


Parental imprisonment, and more recently other close family imprisonment, has been associated with long-term harms to children. A number of researchers have proposed that parenting stress caused by family imprisonment could impact on caregivers’ ability to offer a secure parent–child relationship after a close family member is imprisoned. Such relationship problems might then mediate further harms to children. The Family Stress-Proximal Process (FSPP) model conceptualises family imprisonment as an ongoing stressor that influences relational processes in families. Using HILDA, a nationally-representative Australian survey, we test key aspects of this theoretical model for women affected by close family imprisonment. We demonstrate that recent close family imprisonment does indeed significantly increase risks of high maternal parenting stress. Women affected by this high parenting stress are also significantly more likely to report feeling less satisfied with their relationship with their child one year later. Nonetheless, only a third of women experiences high parenting stress after close family imprisonment. And, women who experience close family imprisonment without high parenting stress do not have a greater risk of subsequent relationship dissatisfaction. We conclude that the prevention or reduction of parenting stress in families affected by close family imprisonment could have a protective effect on subsequent mother-child relationships.


Parenting stress Family imprisonment Maternal bonding Parent-child relationship Prison 



This paper uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Project is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS), and managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research Melbourne Institute. The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the author and should not be attributed to either DSS or the Melbourne Institute.

Author Contributions

KLB: Conducted the data analysis and wrote the paper. SMD: Supervised manuscript development and edited draft and final manuscripts.


The second author was supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship. Views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Australian Research Council. Where quoted or used, they should be clearly attributed to the authors. Susan Dennison was supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT0991557).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Griffith Criminology Institute and School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeBrisbaneAustralia

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