Parenting stressors and morning cortisol in a sample of working mothers.
ABSTRACT The cortisol awakening response (CAR) is a normative rise in cortisol levels across the 30 minutes post awakening. Both the levels and the degree of change in cortisol across this time period are sensitive to the perceived challenges of the day and are thought to prepare the individual to meet these tasks. However, working parents of young children may be under unique strains at this time as they attempt to simultaneously care for their children while also preparing themselves for the workday ahead. In these analyses we examined the contributions of both work and parenting stress on maternal cortisol levels and awakening responses, and how these relationships differed on workdays compared with nonworkdays. To do this, saliva samples were collected from 56 working mothers (25% single) with a child between the ages of 2 and 4 years old (mode = 2 children), at awakening and 30 min postawakening. Samples were collected on 4 consecutive days-2 nonworkdays followed by 2 workdays. Analyses revealed mothers reporting higher levels of parenting stress had higher average a.m. cortisol on workdays compared with nonworkdays. Further, mothers reporting a combination of high job strain and high parenting stress had significantly higher cortisol levels and steeper CAR increases on workdays compared with nonworkdays. Findings are discussed by integrating knowledge from the fields of parenting stress, work-family, and stress physiology. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).