U. WARWICK (UK)—New research shows that while money can’t buy happiness, a mother who is happy in herself does a better job of parenting, regardless of financial circumstances.
And the good news is that when parents find a way to improve their well-being, their parenting improves, even when the amount of money they have available for the family doesn’t change.
Lead researchers Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown of the University of Warwick and Andrea Waylen of the University of Bristol used data from the Bristol-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), also known as the Children of the 90s study, and found that money is not the key ingredient when it comes to successful parenting.
Questionnaires were sent out to more than 11,300 parents living in the South-West when their children were aged eight months.
They were contacted again, shortly before their children’s third birthday (at 33 months old) when information was collected from 9,687 parents. The data was used to explore which factors most influence parenting in early childhood.
Parenting was measured by the mother’s report of enjoyment, confidence, pleasure, fulfillment with respect to caring for the child, dislike of the child’s crying and surrounding mess, and lack of time for herself.
Details of the research appear in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development.
“We know from other research that if you look at two families with the same levels of income the mum who is ‘happier in herself’ will be the more successful parent,” says Stewart-Brown.
“What our study did was to follow up those same families again. Results showed that those mums who became ‘happier in themselves’ compared to their own rating from two years earlier were also caring for their toddlers in ways which are more beneficial for children’s well-being and development.
“What strengthens this finding is that we also found the converse; when mum’s reported that their well-being had declined their parenting had also taken a turn for the worse.”
“When we looked at poverty we did not find that parents whose financial circumstances improved were parenting in a more beneficial way when their children were 33 months old.”
Waylen adds, “Poverty is obviously a key issue that already attracts a great deal of research and a raft of policy interventions—and rightly so. However, there is much less concern for parent’s mental health.
“Policies are needed to address both issues but our research suggests that the gain for children from policies to support parent’s mental health is likely to be of more benefit to children.”
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