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New Research: Put Your Child’s Needs First and Feel Happier

Growing research is pointing to what many people on a community-minded path have already discovered – investing in the wellbeing of others leads to improved wellbeing in oneself. And now, new parenting research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science reveals it is the 'child-centric' parents i.e. those who put their child’s needs before their own, who are enjoying more feelings of fulfillment and happiness from parenthood.

Researchers Claire Ashton-James, Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth Dunn say their findings from two studies contrast with arguments about "the pitfalls of overinvestment in children"  and popular media that claim “prioritizing children’s well-being undermines parents’ well-being."

The first study surveyed 136 parents (with at least one child aged 18 or under living at home). Parents were asked to determine their willingness to allocate time, attention, emotional and financial resources to their children instead of themselves. For example, parents reported the number of times they sacrificed their own desires to accommodate the desires of their children, and the number of times they changed their leisure plans to accommodate their children over the previous two weeks. Parents also rated the overall happiness and meaning they derived from their child care responsibilities.

The Child-Centric Parent

Child-centric parents were classified as those who placed their children at the centre of their lives and had a higher willingness to invest their personal resources in their children rather than themselves. The child-centric parent is described as "motivated to maximise their child's wellbeing even at a cost to their own."

Correlations (links) between child-centric parents and highly involved parenting ‘types’ were also considered by the researchers:

  • helicopter parents (who try to resolve their child’s problems and avoid any possibility of harm);
  • little emperor’ parents (who indulge their child in material  goods), 
  • ‘tiger parents (who have high expectations of achievement from their children); and
  • concerted cultivation’ parents (who schedule extracurricular coaching to give their kids a competitive edge).

The researchers concluded that child-centric parenting may be related to helicopter and little emperor parenting styles, but overall, “child-centrism is a distinct construct from any of those [over-involved] parenting styles.

Feeling Fulfilled by Parenthood

In the second, 186 parents reported on their daily experiences of parenting and happiness while taking care of their children. They reported on positive and negative feelings when recalling a previous day of parenting activities.

Even after controlling for other factors that contribute to how a person feels, such as gender, marital status, economic status and age of the youngest child, more child-centric parents reported positive feelings when taking care of their children. Further, being child-centric positively predicted the level of meaning that parents experienced when caring for their children.

The researchers suggest their findings contribute to emerging evidence that investing financial and emotional resources in others is associated with greater happiness than investing in oneself. They conclude: “In short, when it comes to parental wellbeing, you reap what you sow.”

Image from freedigitalphotos.net