Parenting is emotionally evocative, and parental emotions have implications for parenting behavior. We used experience sampling methodology to capture mothers' experiences and emotions in the context of real-world, day-to-day parenting challenges. Mothers (N = 55) of 14- to 24-month-olds participated in 4 phone interviews per day for 6 days in which they reported on their momentary emotions, motivational states (i.e., desire to approach/engage and avoid/disengage), and behaviors (i.e., actual engagement and disengagement). Aims involved examination of (a) whether asking mothers to report on motivational states, in addition to reporting on their actual behaviors, would result in information that could inform the study of emotion regulation; (b) how mothers' self-reported motivational states and behaviors were associated with reports of emotions during parenting challenges; and (c) whether it would be possible to identify patterns of co-occurring motivational states and behaviors that may reflect emotion regulation processes. Results indicated that specific emotions were more consistently associated with reports of motivational states than behavior. Multilevel latent class analysis of motivational state and behavior variables identified 4 distinct classes, some of which indicated maintenance of motivational state, whereas others suggested modulation. The relation of self-reported specific emotions with motivational states and patterns of emotion regulation were also examined, and findings for irritation/anger and concern/worry underscore the importance of studying parental emotions in context. The findings are discussed within the context of the growing literature on parental emotion, including how this body of work has the potential to inform prevention and intervention strategies for high-risk families.
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