The same traits and skills that make someone a good romantic partner and spouse make one a better parent, too, according to a British study that says nurturing and caregiver qualities help forge strong family relationships.
The findings were recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, a journal produced by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
"We wanted to see how romantic relationships between parents might be associated with what kind of parents they are," said lead author Abigai Millings in a written statement. Among the factors they examined, looking at 125 couples who have children age 7 or 8, was what they called "caregiving responsiveness," or the ability to understand what other people need. "In romantic relationships and in parenting, this might mean noticing when the other person has had a bad day, knowing how to cheer them up and whether they even want cheering up."
She added that it's "not just about picking you up when you're down, it's also about being able to respond appropriately to the good stuff in life."
The researchers identified a "common skill set" that's the foundation of caregiving across different types of relationships for moms and dads. And those who are good at it in one relationship tend to be good at it in others, they said. But they were also surprised to find that how someone cares toward a partner "does not relate to how your partner behaves as a parent."
It builds on evidence that couple relationships are important to other interactions, according to PearHaven.com, a website that says it's designed to promote long-term romantic relationships, particularly by offering dating suggestions. PearHaven.com noted several examples of the interaction between other relationships and romance. For example, a Canadian study found that one's relationship with their mom impacted romantic relationships. And several well-publicized studies, including one by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Child and Families in 2006 that is often cited, have noted how important fathers are to a child's healthy development.
That study found that a father's involvement with his children has lasting impact on a child's cognitive ability, educational achievement, psychological well-being and social behavior, among others.
"A father who has a good relationship with the mother of his children is more likely to be involved and to spend time with their children and to have children who are psychologically and emotionally healthier," said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and one of that study's authors. "Indeed, the quality of the relationship affects the parenting behavior of both parents."
Another recent study, this one from Brigham Young University, showed that fathers are key to teaching children to hang in and complete projects, reach goals and overcome challenges. The findings, which link persistence to higher engagement in school and less delinquency, among other things, were published in the Journal of Early Adolescence.
The new British research does not explain what causes caregiving toward a partner to be mirrored in caregiving toward children or vice versa. "It might be the case that practicing being sensitive and responsive — for example, by really listening and by really thinking about the other person's perspective — to our partners will also help us to improve these skills with our kids," Millings said. "But we need to do more research to see whether association can actually be used in this way."
She also noted that single parents can have great relationships with their children. That has prompted her team to explore how caregiving and parenting relate in different family structures. They are exploring whether it is possible to design a self-help program so people can improve their own relationships.
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