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The impact of psychological flexibility on family dynamics amidst the COVID-19 pandemic: A longitudinal perspective (Pages 97-113)

Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science (JCBS)

Volume 26, October 2022, Pages 97-113


Jennifer S. Daks, Jack S.Peltz, Ronald D.Rogge



Health risks associated with contracting COVID-19, stay-at-home orders, and pandemic-related economic and social hardships created unique challenges for individuals throughout the pandemic, and in particular for families whose daily routines were disrupted at the start of the pandemic. This study applied a contextual behavioral science lens to Family Systems Theory to examine the impact of COVID-19 stressors on family and individual functioning.


A sample of 742 coparents (86% married/engaged; 84% Caucasian; 71% female; M = 40.7 years old, SD = 8.1; Mincome = $82,435, SDincome = $27,604) of school-aged children (5–18 years old) completed a baseline survey from late March to late April 2020. Of the initial sample, 556 coparents completed weekly diaries for 8 weeks.


Mediation models were tested within a multilevel path modeling framework to evaluate both the stable, between-family differences (i.e., at level 2) and the within-family changes from week to week (i.e., at level 1). Across both levels of the model, parent psychological inflexibility was robustly linked to poorer functioning across all levels of the family system, showing direct links to a majority of the processes assessed. The results further supported a top-down spillover cascade in which parent inflexibility was proximally linked to greater COVID-19 related stress and parent depressive symptoms, which were proximally linked to poorer romantic functioning (greater negative conflict, lower satisfaction), which were proximally linked to poorer family functioning (greater coparent discord and family chaos), which were proximally linked to poorer parenting (greater angry/reactive parenting), which was proximally linked to greater child distress. Multi-group models suggested that the results were largely stable across (1) parent race (white vs non-white), (2) family size (1 child vs 2 or more), (3) child age (less than 10 years old vs 10 or older), (4) parent age (under 40 vs. 40 or older), (5) perceived COVID-19 risk, (6) parent gender (mothers vs fathers), (7) household income groups (less than $100k vs $100k or more), and (8) perceived economic stress/uncertainty (low vs high). However, a handful of moderated effects emerged from those multi-group models suggesting that fathers might be slightly more prone to negative spillover effects across the family systems and that wealthier families might have experienced the stress of new demands (e.g., homeschooling, remote working) as more disruptive.


Results highlight the crucial role parental psychological flexibility and inflexibility play in families managing the stress of COVID-19, as well as key mechanisms for how those stressors may either reverberate or become dampened throughout the family system.

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