The emotional pathway to parenthood: Parental mentalizing mediates the association between alexithymia and parental emotion regulation in the transition to parenthood

D. Shai, O. Szepsenwol, D. Lassri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Becoming a parent is perhaps one of the most profound processes in the lives of individuals, and it entails significant psychological, neurobiological, and hormonal changes designed to facilitate successful caretaking. It is considered a highly challenging emotional transitional experience for most parents both as individuals and couples, accompanied with elevated levels of role overload and stress. Therefore, parents’ self emotion-regulation within the parenting context plays an important role in the transition to parenthood. Unfortunately, parents’ own self-regulation within the context of parenting is largely overlooked. The aim of the current investigation was to explore whether parental self emotion-regulation at six months can be predicted from a prenatally measured trait-like capacity for emotional awareness and labeling—alexithymia. Moreover, this study examined the mediation role parental mentalizing may play in this longitudinal association, while accounting for situational emotional functioning in the form of parental depression. Importantly, this mediation model was tested using an APIM model, considering he mutual influences of both partners on the other. The sample involved 104 community-based couples in the transition to parenthood (prenatally and at six-months). Results showed adults’ alexithymia, assessed prenatally, predicted parental mentalizing, which, in turn, predicted the parent's ability to regulate one own self in challenging times of parental distress, above and beyond postnatal depression. Moreover, this study revealed important dyadic associations between both parents, highlighting the importance of examining parental capacities and functioning within a systemic framework. The empirical and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100622
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders Reports
StatePublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all the families who participated in this study and trusted us to watch them play, parent, and love their children. We are thankful to the graduate students who assisted with data collection and data management. This research was supported by grants from the Israeli Science Foundation (No. 1888/14 ) and the FP7-PEOPLE-2012-IEF-Marie- Curie Action: Intra-European Fellowships for Career Development (Grant 300805 ).

Funding Information:
The financial support of the Israeli Science Foundation Marie- Curie Action: Intra-European Fellowships for Career Development was used in this study to support the data collection and analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023


  • Alexithymia
  • Parental emotion regulation
  • Parental mentalizing
  • Parenting
  • Postnatal depression
  • Transition to parenthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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