Life has a lot of ups and downs, we all know this, but a recent study in Psychological Science found that men who grew up in warm, supportive, home environments proved to have stronger relationships and a better ability to manage emotions. This is leading many researchers to wonder if gaining the skills needed to manage the roller coaster of life are actually acquired in childhood.
The study was in two parts. It started in 1938, and according to Scientific American, “researchers enrolled male Harvard students and inner-city Boston teens and used lengthy interviews to rate the quality of the boys’ family environments. Different researchers then followed up with the men in midlife to assess how successfully they were able to manage negative emotions.”
The new researchers met with these men who were originally part of the 1938 study, who are now in their 80s, to determine their level of attachment to their partners. Regardless of socioeconomic status, these researchers found that men raised in warmer, gentler family environments used better strategies to cope with negative emotions not only in midlife, but also in old age. They were also much more securely attached to their partners.
This study only looked at men, and it only suggests that a warmer childhood can result in better relationships later in life. It is not scientific fact, however, just a correlation, but a correlation that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Anyone who grew up in a broken or abusive home can likely relate to these findings. My father left when I was 9, and spent the next 10 years in and out of jail for alcohol and drug-related charges. He died when I was 19. Through most of my teens, I struggled with anger issues, and during my 20s, I had a difficult time with attachment because I assumed that the people in my life were only temporary because that’s all I’d ever known.
However, I like to think that I’m breaking the cycle. I now have a strong marriage and three children, and I feel confident that my children live in a warm, loving home.
While I think that some readers with a background similar to my own might read a study like this and feel rather hopeless, what I think might be the better option is to use it as further reasoning to become more dedicated to the marriage and family you have. Obviously, creating a happy and warm home can have a much more lasting impact than we realize, and studies like this ought to make us sit back and think about our families and make what changes we can to help reassure our children that we do, in fact, love them, and that we are there for them, no matter what.
And I know that there are single parents out there reading this and feeling like perhaps all hope his lost because you are doing twice the work as anyone with an active partner. However, I don’t think that is the case. I think that there are many very warm, stable, loving homes created by single parents. In fact, I spent most of my teen years living with my grandmother. She was a widow. It was just her and me. When I think back on those few short years, I feel nothing but warmth and support from that woman. She was amazing.
Going back to the Psychological Science study, Scientific American reports that the creators of this study give this advice to parents based on their research results, and I think it confirms what I wrote above:
“[T]here are many ways to overcome having a less than idyllic childhood, such as actively working on developing warmer, more stable relationships as an adult or learning how to use healthier strategies to deal with negative emotions. The bottom line is, how we take care of children is just so vitally important.”
It’s pretty difficult to be a parent and not see how important the parent-child relationship is. This study simply backs up something we probably already assumed. But rather than casting it aside with a “well, obviously,” I think all parents should reflect on these findings and realize how important (even in the hustle and bustle of daily life) demonstrating your love for your children truly is.