Parents’ Happiness Linked to Their Least-Happy Child’s

When their little ones are growing up, parents are quick to feel responsible for their children’s mistakes. According to new research, it’s a habit parents can’t seem to grow out of.

A study led by Karen Fingerman, a UT Human Development and Family Sciences professor, reveals that parents’ psychological well-being and happiness is linked to their least happy child’s—no matter how happy or well-adjusted their other children might be.

After interviewing 633 middle-aged adults about their grown children, the researchers found that, despite having other successful offspring, it only took one child with serious life problems to affect the parents’ health.

“It could be the case that parents empathize with their children’s distress, they are embarrassed that their relationships with these grown children suffer, or that grown children who have problems may place excessive demands on the parents,” Fingerman says.

One child’s major life crises, such as divorce or unemployment, can result in symptoms of depression and increased worry for the parents.

Consequently, relationship quality between an unhappy child and his parent is seriously degraded. According to Fingerman, that relationship quality is directly tied to parental well-being.

Fingerman speculates parents are especially sensitive to a child’s failure simply because that indicates failure on their part: it seems to reflect the effectiveness of their child-rearing skills.

The full study has been published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

Illustration by Mala Kumar


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