This study has explored the effects of mothers' marital satisfaction on mothers' parenting flexibility and the mediating role of mothers' experiential avoidance in the context of family factors affecting mothers' parenting flexibility in Chinese preschoolers. A t-test of the scores on each scale for mothers with different family structure characteristics has revealed no significant differences in mothers' scores on marital satisfaction, experiential avoidance, psychological flexibility in parenting, and cognitive dissociation, commitment to action, and acceptance for either mothers living alone with their husbands or living with at least one elderly parent most of the time, in the scores for mothers having only one child or two children, and on either mothers are in the first marriage or remarriage.
This study has showed that the marital satisfaction of mothers of Chinese preschoolers is positively associated with their psychological flexibility in parenting, i.e., the higher the marital satisfaction of mothers, the higher the psychological flexibility of mothers in parenting their preschoolers. The study also implies that the higher the marital satisfaction of mothers of Chinese preschoolers, the less parenting stress they feel (Cai et al., 2021), and the more positive parenting styles they would use in their interactions with their children, such as less control and more acceptance (Shu et al., 2016), which shows higher psychological flexibility in parenting. The crossover hypothesis suggests that the emotions or behaviors of one of the interacting parties in one subsystem of the family (e.g., how mothers feel in the couple subsystem) affect the emotions or behaviors of the other party in the other subsystem (e.g., how fathers behave in the father-son subsystem). Research finds that higher marital satisfaction of mothers motivates their husbands to be more actively involved in parenting (Chen et al., 2014). Mothers are more likely to show higher psychological flexibility in parenting when their husbands' parenting input increases to assist mothers in sharing parenting stress.
This study also concludes that mothers' marital satisfaction indirectly affects their psychological flexibility in parenting through mothers' experiential avoidance. Mothers' marital satisfaction is an important part of mothers' quality of life and is significantly associated with mothers' level of experiential avoidance. The lower the mothers' marital satisfaction, the higher the level of experiential avoidance (Zhou et al., 2018). Mothers tend to regard the negative emotions generated in the parenting process as facts and try to resist and avoid them instead of experiencing and accepting them as objective things, resulting in mothers' lower psychological flexibility in parenting. So, mothers will adopt more ineffective parenting styles in the parenting process and transmit too many negative emotions to children, causing emotional disorders and problem behaviors in children (Wu et al., 2018; Li et al., 2018). After having children, parenting takes up a lot of time that belongs to the couple's interaction, making the positive interaction between the couple decrease. Coupled with conflicts such as parenting responsibilities and parenting conflicts, career development and values conflicts, mothers' marital satisfaction decreases significantly (Cai et al., 2021), and mothers themselves have a lot of negative emotions that are difficult to cope with (Liang et al., 2013). This results in lower psychological flexibility and higher experiential avoidance (Hayes et al., 2006), which will inevitably be carried over into parenting. When faced with changing situations in the parenting process, mothers are constrained by their own thoughts and conceptualized selves in their minds. They unconsciously adopt attitudes such as avoidance and control, failing to better maintain an adequate connection with the present moment. They adopt rigid responses or choices, and respond to the emotions and thoughts that cause them distress in the parenting process with low acceptance. They have difficulty in adopting parenting behaviors that are consistent with their own parenting values, and possess a low psychological flexibility in parenting, resulting in pessimistic parenting quality (Burke et al., 2015).
In traditional Chinese practices, the idea that men manage external affairs while women take care of families influences family relationships. Mothers are usually the primary caretakers of children, and the burden of housework and education rests on their shoulders. Especially during the preschool years, mothers devote much of their time and energy to raising children and caring for their families, while their own needs are compressed and confined without limits. Moreover, mothers in modern society expect to advance in their careers at the same time, so they are often in a situation where family and themselves are out of balance (Cai et al., 2021). Coupled with economic pressure, the pressure of getting along with the older generation, and the pressure of children's education, mothers' own psychological flexibility and parenting psychological flexibility are facing great challenges. However, mothers' parenting psychological flexibility is closely related to children's psychological flexibility and physical and mental health (Williams et al., 2012), as well as to mothers' own quality of life and that of their families (Zhao et al., 2020). In this process, the understanding, emotional support and increased parenting input of husbands are particularly important for mothers and families. More importantly, fathers play an important role in family education, whose nurturing function cannot be replaced by mothers. Therefore, fathers should spend as much time as possible with their children and wives and participate in more family activities, which will not only help their wives relieve physical and mental stress, enhance their marital satisfaction and maintain good psychological flexibility in parenting, but also enhance their happiness as fathers and promote the healthy physical and mental development of their preschool children.
There are still some shortcomings in this study. First, the cross-sectional study design was used, which could not examine the relationship between mothers' marital satisfaction, experiential avoidance, and psychological flexibility in parenting from a developmental perspective, and longitudinal data could be collected at different time points in subsequent studies; second, the data sources in this study were all reported by mothers, and data from husbands' perspectives could be added in the future, so as to explore the relationship between marital satisfaction, experiential avoidance, and psychological flexibility in parenting more extensively and deeply.
This study concludes that:
1. Mothers' marital satisfaction is positively associated with mothers' psychological flexibility in parenting.
2. Mothers' experiential avoidance mediates the relationship between mothers' marital satisfaction and psychological flexibility in parenting.