Maternal distress and parenting during COVID-19: Differential effects related to pre-pandemic distress?

Ann LOW, Yue YU, Lit Wee SIM, Jean Francois BUREAU, Ngiap Chuan TAN, Helen CHEN, Yang YANG, Bobby CHEON, Kerry LEE, Marian BAKERMANS-KRANENBURG, Stella TSOTSI, Anne RIFKIN-GRABOI

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Distinguishing whether and how pre-existing characteristics impact maternal responses to adversity is difficult: Does prior well-being decrease the likelihood of encountering stressful experiences? Does it protect against adversity’s negative effects? We examine whether the interaction between relatively uniformly experienced adversity (due to COVID-19 experience) and individual variation in pre-existing (i.e., pre-pandemic onset) distress predicted mothers’ pandemic levels of distress and insensitive caregiving within a country reporting low COVID-19 death rates, and strict nationwide regulations.

Method: Fifty-one Singaporean mothers and their preschool-aged children provided data across two waves. Pre- pandemic onset maternal distress (i.e., psychological distress, anxiety, and parenting stress) was captured via self-reports and maternal sensitivity was coded from videos. Measures were repeated after the pandemic’s onset along with questionnaires concerning perceived COVID-19 adversity (e.g., COVID-19’s impact upon stress caring for children, housework, job demands, etc.) and pandemic-related objective experiences (e.g., income, COVID-19 diagnoses, etc.). Regression analyses (SPSS v28) considered pre-pandemic onset maternal distress, COVID-19 stress, and their interaction upon post-pandemic onset maternal distress. Models were re-run with appropriate covariates (e.g., objective experience) when significant findings were observed. To rule out alternative models, follow up analyses (PROCESS Model) considered whether COVID-19 stress mediated pre- and post-pandemic onset associations. Models involving maternal sensitivity followed a similar data analytic plan.

Results: Pre-pandemic maternal distress moderated the association between COVID-19 perceived stress and pandemic levels of maternal distress (β = 0.22, p < 0.01) but not pandemic assessed maternal sensitivity. Perceived COVID-19 stress significantly contributed to post-pandemic onset maternal distress for mothers with pre-pandemic onset distress scores above (β = 0.30, p = 0.05), but not below (β = 0.25, p = 0.24), the median. Objective COVID-19 adversity did not account for findings. Post-hoc analyses did not suggest mediation via COVID-19 stress from pre-pandemic to pandemic maternal distress.

Conclusions: Pre-existing risk may interact with subsequent perceptions of adversity to impact well-being. In combination with existing research, this small study suggests prevention programs should focus upon managing concurrent mental health and may highlight the importance of enhanced screening and proactive coping programs for people entering high stress fields and/or phases of life. Copyright © 2023 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Article number374
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


Low, A., Yu, Y., Sim, L. W., Bureau, J. F., Tan, N. C., Chen, H., Yang, Y., Cheon, B., Lee, K., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M., Tsotsi, S., & Rifkin-Graboi, A. (2023). Maternal distress and parenting during COVID-19: Differential effects related to pre-pandemic distress? BMC Psychiatry, 23, Article 374.


  • Risk factors
  • Mental health
  • Maternal sensitivity
  • COVID-19
  • Stress
  • Adversity
  • Pre-existing conditions


Dive into the research topics of 'Maternal distress and parenting during COVID-19: Differential effects related to pre-pandemic distress?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.