Spiritual Resources in Coping with Parenting Stress: Spiritual Harmony with God, Self, and Others

Overview on Spiritual Resources in Coping 

  • In 1997, Pargament published The Psychology of Religion and Coping:  Theory, Research, and Practice which documented the power and prevalence of religious and spiritual involvement in the coping process.  Since that time, hundreds of studies have examined the rich and complex roles of spirituality and religion when individuals are faced with major life traumas and transitions.
  • Terminology. Much of the research on spiritual resources is referred to as “positive religious coping,” but we and other researchers have begun to use the term “spiritual resources in coping" instead. Why? 
    • Because people who avoid organized religion have been found to rely on spiritual coping resources in times of trouble. 
    • Because people can draw on religious resources to pursue goals that they do not view as spiritually significant.
  • See Defining Religion & Spirituality for more on our approach to defining religion & spirituality.

What systematic empirical research has been done on Spiritual Resources in Coping with Parenting Stressors? 

  • Despite considerable research on spiritual resources on other topics, scarce systematic research has focused directly on spiritual resources to cope with parenting infants, children, or adolescents. Nevertheless, the Relational Spirituality Framework highlights that people may turn to spirituality to respond to parenting stressors. Parenting stressors include having a child with a difficult temperament or developmental, emotional or behavioral difficulties; parent-child conflict; poor parenting preparation and skills; & insufficient economic or social supports.  
  • Prior quantitative studies on spirituality and coping with parenting stressors has relied heavily on indirect measures, such as frequency of religious attendance or overall importance of religion in daily life, to gauge whether low income or unmarried women turn to and benefit from specific spiritual resources to handle parenting. Yet in qualitative interviews, many parents report using faith to cope with parenting stressors. To encourage more in-depth research on specific spiritual resources to cope with parenting stressors across diverse families, we draw on research on spiritual resources with non-family stressors.

How do we define & measure Spiritual  Resources in Coping with Parenting Stressors? 

  • For the purposes of this web site, spiritual resources refer to seeking harmony with God/Higher Power, and within oneself and other people about spirituality and religion during stressful times.
  • In this web site, we distinguish three types of spiritual resources in coping: 
    • Divine coping resources - seeking harmony with God/Higher power   
    • Internal/Intrapsychic struggles-  seeking harmony within the self about spirituality & religion
    • Interpersonal/Communal struggles - seeking harmony with other people about spirituality & religion (family members, friends, clergy, community members, or the larger culture) 
  • Researchers have used various approaches over the past 20 years to define spiritual resources to cope with stressful life events. See Constructs & Our Measures for a helpful summary of different approaching to thinking about & assessing spiritual resources.
  • In our transition to parenthood study, we focused on Divine Spiritual Resources in Coping to handle parenting stressors during infancy rather than Internal or Interpersonal Spiritual Resources.

How do we measure Divine Spiritual Resources in Coping with Parenting Stressors?

  • We define Divine Spiritual Resources seeking harmony with God when coping with parenting stressors. To unpack this definition, it is useful to define harmony. We define harmony as agreement in feeling or opinion. An individual may experience harmony internally or with others when faced with stressors that threaten his or her most important goals and/or block pathways to reach those goals. When problems arise, a strong sense of harmony internally and with others can help people rework their goals or offer useful methods to help them reach their goals despite obstacles. 
  • Much like people can be in harmony internally or with other people, individuals can be in harmony with God when problems arise. Parenting stressors can threaten cherished goals in life. An individual may seek harmony with God in interpreting why the parenting stressors have occurred and in trying to respond to the parenting problems. Seeking harmony in one's relationship with God can lead to behaviors, emotions, and thoughts that are adaptive and helpful in some parenting situations.  
  • In our transition to parenthood study, we used the following three sub-scales (three items each) from Pargament’s R-COPE to assess divine spiritual resources to cope with parenting stressors during infancy. These nine items were mixed in with items from other sub-scales from the R-COPE. See Constructs/Our Measures for more information about the history and development of the R-COPE and Spiritual Resource Sub-scales. 
  • 3 Subscales from the RCOPE on Divine Spiritual Resources
  • Instructions: The following statements describe specific ways that people might cope with stressors when being the parent of an infant. As you think of the stressors you have faced in parenting, how much do you use each of the following things to cope? To cope with parenting, I have…
  • Benevolent reappraisal subscale - redefined the stressor as a potentially beneficial part of God's larger plan
    • Saw my situation as part of God’s plan.
    • Tried to find a lesson from God in the event.
    • Tried to see how God might be trying to strengthen me in this situation.
  •  Collaborative Religious Coping - seeking control through a partnership with God in problem solving
    • Tried to put my plans into action together with God.
    • Worked together with God as partners.
    • Tried to make sense of the situation with God.
  •  Active Religious Surrender — an active giving up of control to God in coping
    • Did my best and then turned the situation over to God.
    • Did what I could and put the rest in God’s hands.
    • Took control over what I could, and gave the rest up to God.
  • Spiritual resources are most commonly measured by the 7-item Positive Religious Coping subscale from the Brief RCOPE (Pargament, Feuille, & Burdzy, 2011). See Constructs/Our Measures for all items on the Brief RCOPE & longer scales to more fully assess spiritual resources struggles.

How do Divine Spiritual Resources in Coping with Parenting Stressors during Infancy help or harm?  

  • To our knowledge, our transition to parenthood study represents an initial effort to examine how much married, first-time parents rely on spiritual resources to cope with parenting stressors, and if they benefit from these spiritual resources. We are still conducting analyses and will post findings at a later date.

How do Spiritual Resources in Coping with Parenting Stressors during Childhood or Adolescence help or harm?  

  • See Mahoney 2013 for summary of available data, which is scarce. Most studies on faith and parenting under stressful circumstances have not directly assessed specific forms of spiritual resources to cope with parenting stressors. Instead most researchers assume that the more parents are involved in a religious group or using pray, then the more they are turning to faith to cope with parenting difficulties. However, in our clinical experience, parents often compartmentalize their spirituality from parenting difficulties. 

Additional Suggested Readings

  • Mahoney, A. (in press). The spirituality of us: Relational spirituality in the context of family relationships. K. I., Pargament, J. J. Exline & J. W. Jones, (Eds.) APA handbook of psychology, religion, and spirituality: Vol I. American Psychological Association.
  • Mahoney, A. (2010). Religion in families 1999-2009: A relational spirituality framework. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 805 – 827.
  • Mahoney, A., LeRoy, M., Kusner, K., Padgett, E., & Grimes, L. (2013). Addressing parental spirituality as part of the problem and solution in family psychotherapy. D. F. Walker & W. Hathaway (Ed.) Spiritually oriented interventions in child and adolescent psychotherapy.pp. 65-88. American Psychological  Association.
  • Pargament, K. I. (1997). The psychology of religion and coping: Theory, research, practice.  New York: Guilford Press.
  • Pargament, K. I., (2007).  Spiritually integrated psychotherapy:  Understanding and addressing the sacred.  New York: Guilford Press.
  • Pargament, K. I. (2011).  Religion and coping: The current state of knowledge.  S. Folkman (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of stress, health, and coping (pp. 269-288) New York:  Oxford University Press.