Children With Warm Parents Flourish as Adults

What makes a good parent? That’s a complex question, maybe an impossible one. But warmth doesn’t seem to hurt.

A new study from researchers at Harvard University suggests that children who experience more parental warmth go on to flourish in middle age.

In the study, adults across the United States were asked to recall how much maternal and paternal warmth they’d received as children. They were asked questions such as how much love and affection did your mother/father give you?

Ten years later, the researchers checked in to see how these adults were doing. Adults were evaluated on the extent to which they were flourishing, which took into account how well they were doing psychologically, emotionally and socially.

Those who’d reported more parental warmth were flourishing more, the researchers found. The adults who’d experienced more parental warmth as children were also less likely to use drugs and to smoke. This beneficial effect of parental warmth held even after accounting for several other factors such as socioeconomic status and parental drug use.

This finding strengthens the case that warm parenting in childhood has a lasting effect in adulthood, an idea that has been raised by previous research. For example, a study published in August found that perceived parental warmth in childhood was associated with wellbeing and coping skills in adulthood.

According to the authors of the latest study, the results mean that we should consider parenting interventions that address parental warmth as a way of raising society’s overall levels of wellbeing.

As the authors point out, perceived parental warmth in childhood correlated with “functioning across multiple domains of well-being in mid-life.” The implication is that parenting interventions have effects that last far beyond childhood and that, in the words of the authors, there is potential for “targeting parenting practices for prevention and intervention strategies to improve population health and well-being.” Interventions that help parents, then, may improve society’s overall mental and physical health.