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Love matters - romantic connection affects children's futures

Partner love affects children's futures
Photo: Partner love affects children's futures
When children arrive in a marriage, the relationship changes, time spent together often takes a backseat to the demands of parenting. But it might be time to prioritise connection with a new study showing that parental love is key to positive outcomes for children’s futures.

The Chitwan Valley Family Study, co-authored by researchers at the University of Michigan and McGill University in Quebec, used unique data from 151 neighbourhoods in Nepal. 

The survey asked spouses, ‘How much do you love your husband/wife … very much, some, a little or not at all.’ The researchers then followed the children of these couples for 12 years to document their educational achievements and marital behaviours.

The researchers found that the children of parents who reported loving each other ‘very much’ or ‘some’ stayed in school longer and married later in life.
Lead author Sarah Brauner-Otto, director of the Centre on Population Dynamics at McGill University, said family isn’t just another institution.

“It’s not like a school or an employer. It is this place where we also have emotions and feelings.

“Demonstrating and providing evidence that love, this emotional component of family, also has this long impact on children’s lives is really important for understanding the depth of family influence on children,” says Ms Brauner-Otto.

“In this study, we saw that parents’ emotional connection to each other affects child-rearing so much that it shapes their children’s future,” said co-author and U-M Institute for Social Research researcher William Axinn.

“The fact that we found these kinds of things in Nepal moves us a step closer to evidence that these things are universal.”

Dan Auerbach, a psychotherapist, says previous studies have shown the significance of the parent-child relationship, but his study is novel in examining the consequences of parental connection.

“We know that those kids with parents who can tune into their emotions and can help them manage their emotions do much better in the longer term.

“But this study is unique in that it is looking at the parent’s perception of their own relationship and how their perception of love between them has an impact on their kids.

“It makes sense that parents who perceive their connection as loving are both those who are getting an emotional benefit of being in that union and are also those who can then transfer those benefits onto their kids.”

So, is all hope lost if you’re in a tumultuous relationship? Mr Auerbach says we know from outcome students into relationship counselling that the level of distress a couple experiences when they begin therapy, doesn’t negatively impact their chance of success.

“Many couples who are in a tumultuous relationship are fighting for the health of the relationship and, as long as there is no partner-violence, that can be a good sign regarding their level of commitment to each other.

“Often, the hardest couples to reunite are those where there is no longer any conflict, but the couple has become totally disconnected, and there is a total loss of interest in each other.”

If parents are in a stressed and fractured relationship, or if they find it hard to manage their children’s feelings, children will act this out through their own emotional volatility, explains Mr Auerbach.

“It’s never too soon to start working on your relationship repair, and with proper guidance, it is amazing what is possible.

“Years of distress, anger, or disconnection can be resolved once parents take the lead and understand that a lot of their children’s distress is an expression feeling emotionally unsafe or unregulated.”

The family unit is influential in shaping how children deal with emotions, and parents play a significant part, says Mr Auerbach.

“Families live in emotional systems, which means that the emotions of one person have an impact on the others in the system. Kids are especially vulnerable to those emotions. They are still learning how to process their own feelings and look to their parents for help with this.”

Parents with mental health issues or those simply struggling in their relationship or life should seek support.

“As a parent, it’s really important to get good support for yourself so that you can come back into the family relationship already having had some of your own needs met.

“Think of your own well-being as essential to have the resources to manage your kids’ feelings. If you’re already overloaded, overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, it’s going to be a lot harder to tune into and soothe your children.

“Rather than being hard on yourself about the difficulties you’re having, it’s really critical to show yourself some self-compassion and seek out the sort of support that’s going to work for you.”

The researchers don’t know why parental love impacts children’s futures in this way. But they speculate that when parents love each other, they tend to invest more in their children, leading to children remaining in education longer.

Also, parents who report loving each other create happier homes so children may be less likely to escape into their own marriages. Children may also view their parents as role models and take longer to seek happy marriages.

“The result that these measures of love have independent consequences is also important,” says Mr Axinn. “Love is not irrelevant; variations in parental love do have a consequence.”


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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.