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Talk to any parent and they will tell you that on the fly problem-solving, multi-tasking and stopping what you are doing and shifting focus on a dime,  and keeping lists of things in mind while navigating your day is a core part of parenting. These skills reflect executive functions and while we have often looked at their development in children and their impact on child outcomes, only recently have we started to examine how they impact on parenting outcomes and the experience of parenting stress.

Few studies have examined these relations in samples of mothers with problematic substance use.

We had a sample of 61 mothers in substance use treatment who were parenting a child three years of age or under complete tasks assessing three primary executive functions (updating, inhibition, shifting) and reported on the severity of their substance use and parenting stress. Controlling for socioeconomic risk, inhibition was significantly related to mothers perceptions of herself in the parenting role and of stress in the parent-child relationship. Substance problem severity was only significantly associated with household indicators of parenting stress. These findings underscore the importance of exploring models that include multiple individual and contextual variables to understand parenting stress, and that specificity of measurement of parenting stress and executive functions is needed.

We are continuing to analyze this data and complete follow-up data collection with women to better understand their experience of parenting stress during the time of the COVID19 pandemic.  We look forward to sharing outcomes shortly. Stay tuned!

Thanks to all of the mothers, children and agencies who helped with this study!

Victoria Ingram, Karen Milligan, Karen Urbanoski, Maternal substance use, executive functions, and parenting study