London - Putting your child first can make you happier, a study has found. It challenges the myth that parents who are highly involved in their children’s lives must be sacrificing their own well-being.
The team of psychologists said labels such as “helicopter parents”, “tiger moms” or “little emperors” undermine parents who place their children at the centre of family life, and assume that parents’ needs come last.
In reality, by focusing on maximising their children’s happiness, they enjoy life and their role as parents more, they claimed.
Study leader Dr Claire Ashton-James, of VU University in Amsterdam, said there was little research to support the assumption that investing time in your children came at some personal cost.
Her findings, however, seemed to back up the notion that investing financial and emotional resources in others leads to greater happiness than investing in yourself. Ashton-James said: “In short, when it comes to parental well-being, you reap what you sow.”
Together with psychologist colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Canada, Ashton-James conducted two studies with 322 parents who had at least one child of 18 years or younger living at home.
In the first study parents were asked to complete a child-centrism scale to gauge their parenting style. This included the degree to which they agreed with statements such as, “The happiness of my children is more important to me than my own happiness”.
They were also given a survey to measure the happiness and purpose they experienced from having children by responding to statements such as, “My children make my life meaningful”.
The researchers found child-centric parents were significantly more likely to report higher levels of happiness and a greater sense of purpose derived from having children.
Parents taking part in the second study were asked to retell their previous day’s activities and report how they felt during each one. The results found more involved parents had stronger positive feelings, weaker negative feelings and felt their lives had more meaning during childcare.
The report was published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science.