The Importance of Family Functioning to Caregiver Adaptation in Mothers of Child Cancer Patients: Testing a Social Ecological Model

Johanna Shapiro, PhD, Myriam Perez, MSIV, and M. James Warden, MD

This study was designed to investigate associations between family relationships, personal-psychological caregiver adaptation (ie, depressive symptomatology, sense of burden), and ability to function within the health care system (perceived doctor-parent relationship) in mothers of child cancer patients. Data were collected through a survey of a sample of 29 mothers whose children were diagnosed with some form of childhood cancer, mainly leukemia. Family functioning was positively related to both caregiver adaptation and doctor-parent relationship. Mothers who reported decreased maternal depression and burden were significantly more likely to report respectively improved spousal relationships and improved spousal communication. Mothers reporting more positive doctor-parent relationships also described themselves as having improved relationships with spouse and child, and improved spousal communication. Maternal well-being and doctor-parent relationship were not directly related. By suggesting that both intrapsychic and instrumental maternal adaptation are influenced by positive relationships in the family, this study provides support for the social ecological model of stress. The possibility that family factors exert a direct influence on both caregiver intrapsychic well-being and instrumental skills argues for the importance of their being carefully considered in any models evaluating caregiver adaptation.

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