Childhood memories of father have lasting impact on men's ability to handle stress

Aug 12, 2010

Sons who have fond childhood memories of their fathers are more likely to be emotionally stable in the face of day-to-day stresses, according to psychologists who studied hundreds of adults of all ages.

Psychology professor Melanie Mallers, PhD, of California State University-Fullerton presented the findings Thursday at the 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

"Most studies on parenting focus on the relationship with the mother. But, as our study shows, fathers do play a unique and important role in the mental health of their children much later in life," Mallers said during a symposium focusing on social relationships and well-being.

For this study, 912 adult men and women completed short daily telephone interviews about that day's experiences over an eight-day period. The interviews focused on the participants' psychological and (i.e., whether they were depressed, nervous, sad, etc.) and if they had experienced any stressful events that day. These events were described as arguments, disagreements, work-related and family-related tensions and discrimination.

The participants, who were between the ages of 25 and 74, also reported on the quality of their childhood relationships with their mother and father. For example, they answered questions such as, "How would you rate your relationship with your mother during the years when you were growing up?" and "How much time and attention did your mother give you when you needed it?" The same questions were asked about fathers. The research controlled for age, childhood and current family income, neuroticism and whether or not their parents were still alive.

Participants were more likely to say their childhood relationship with their mother was better than with their father, with more men reporting a better mother-child relationship than women, according to Mallers. People who reported they had a good mother-child relationship reported 3 percent less psychological distress compared to those who reported a poor relationship.

"I don't think these results are surprising, given that past research has shown are often the primary caregiver and often the primary source of comfort," said Mallers. "It got interesting when we examined the participants' relationship with their fathers and their daily emotional reaction to stress."

Men who reported having a good relationship with their father during childhood were more likely to be less emotional when reacting to stressful events in their current daily lives than those who had a poor relationship, according to her findings. This was not found to be as common for the women in the study.

Also, the quality of mother and father relationships was significantly associated with how many stressful events the participants confronted on a daily basis. In other words, if they had a poor childhood relationship with both parents, they reported more stressful incidents over the eight-day study when compared to those who had a good relationship with their parents.

Mallers theorized why healthy or unhealthy relationships may have an effect on how people handle stress as adults. "Perhaps having attentive and caring parents equips children with the experiences and skills necessary to more successfully navigate their relationships with other people throughout and into adulthood," she said.

She added it was difficult to come up with a concrete theory as to why men's with their father had such an influence on their emotional reaction to stress, especially since this study included adults of all ages who were raised during very different eras in the United States.

"The role of fathers has changed dramatically from the time the oldest participants were children," added Mallers. "We do know that fathers have a unique style of interacting with their children, especially their sons. We need more research to help us uncover further influences of both mothers and on the enduring emotional experiences of their children."

Explore further: The ilk of human kindness: Older women with gumption score high on compassion

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Empty nest syndrome may not be bad after all, study finds

Feb 21, 2008

One day they are crawling, the next day they are driving and then suddenly they aren’t kids anymore. As children reach adulthood, the parent-child relationship changes as parents learn to adapt to newly independent children. ...

When Mom Dates, Dad Stops Visiting His Kids

Aug 03, 2009

New research from the Journal of Marriage and Family shows that children born outside of marriage are less likely to be visited by their father when the mother is involved in a new romantic relationship. Many children born out ...

Helping fathers of sexually abused children

Apr 13, 2010

The preliminary results of a Université de Montréal study show that fathers of sexually abused children can suffer from anxiety, depression and grief. Such patriarchs are often overwhelmed by a desire for vengeance, ...

Recommended for you

Our brains are hardwired for language

6 hours ago

A groundbreaking study published in PLOS ONE by Prof. Iris Berent of Northeastern University and researchers at Harvard Medical School shows the brains of individual speakers are sensitive to language univer ...

Child burn effects far reaching for parents

11 hours ago

Parents of burn victims experience significant psychological distress for at least three months after the incident and may compromise the post-operative recovery of their child, WA research has found.

Internet use may cut retirees' depression

11 hours ago

Spending time online has the potential to ward off depression among retirees, particularly among those who live alone, according to research published online in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences an ...

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

freethinking
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 12, 2010
This is no suprise at all and has been known for years. Conservatives, especially Christian Conservatives have been saying for many years children need both a mother and a father. That crime rates go up when fathers are absent. That poverty rates go up when fathers are absent. That single parenthood is bad for children. That two mothers is bad for children. That two fathers are bad for children. That traditional families are statistically best for children.
ClickHere
3.3 / 5 (4) Aug 12, 2010
@freethinking, I agree, the writing has been on the wal from some time, whole families are better for family members. It could easily be construed this is an evolutionary adaptation: children who have complete families are more likely to reproduce and create more complete families.
henryjfry
3 / 5 (4) Aug 13, 2010
Ahh but is this purely an issue of the sex of the parent or to the presence of a father figure? Bigoted comments above say that vs a nuclear family 2 dads and 2 mums are worse. Surely it would be more logical to conclude that a loving environment is better irrespective of the sex of the parents.
complexChemicals
3 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2010
it aint about conservative mother and fathering, its about anyones mother and father (whomever is filling those roles) and having a good report with them at a young age and that effect on stress management.

Sheesh.
freethinking
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 13, 2010
To progressives any type of family is just as good or better for raising children than a traditional family. They always take the example of the worst traditional family, one where the mother is a drug addict, and the father is a pedophile, then compare them to a single mother or a gay couple can raise a child better.

However the truth is traditional families are stastistically better and safer and have better outcomes for children than any other family arrangement.
DaffyDuck
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 13, 2010
freethinking, you seem to have conclusions that weren't even tested for this article. It is comparing people with good vs bad fathers, not people raised with and without fathers. I can equally conclude that no father is better than an abusive father by reading this article.

Since we are making our own conclusions here I'll say that the social, economic, and educational background of parents makes much more difference than the number or sexual orientation of parents.
Skeptic_Heretic
2 / 5 (4) Aug 13, 2010
However the truth is traditional families are stastistically better and safer and have better outcomes for children than any other family arrangement.

Typically when someone starts a sentence with "The truth is" that means they're lining you up for the biggest fabrication they can imagine.

There are no statistical studies that apply any significance to the composition of a family and the potential outcome for social adjustment.

There are many that correlate wealth with adjustment.

There are many that correlate wealth with cohesiveness of the family unit.

There are many that show that outcome and cohesiveness are higher and of better quality in a homosexual couple over a traditional couple.

So in short, you're a bigoted douche. If you want to play the study game, most studies indicate a child's best chance for a happy adult life and good social adjustment would be a cohesive homosexual parent team.

So stick it, redneck.
henryjfry
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 18, 2010
freethinking how about the wasp family where the mother and father absolutely loathe each other but won't get divorced because they are too conservative? Would it be better for a child to be raised in a love-less family like that than to 2 homosexual parents who love each other?
"However the truth is traditional families are statistically better and safer and have better outcomes for children than any other family arrangement." Oh yeah, prove it. What statistics do you have that say they are "better". Define better.
I think what you probably mean is less gay, because you are a bigot.
freethinking
1 / 5 (4) Aug 18, 2010
h 1'st question, answer statistically is no. By staying together the family actually (statistically) has less stree, they are financially more stable, both parents are immediately available to their children.
Second question, taking the worst and combining it with the best is what progressives do.
Third, just because I have a different opinion back by facts, doesnt mean I'm a bigot. Typically the bigot is the person who says gay arrangements are equal or better than traditional famililies and you prove the point. You seem to be the typical progressive filled with hate, that projects your bigotry and hatred onto others.

I believe that if your stupid enough to live in a gay relationship, bring kids into the mix, that is your problem and you will live with the concequences, unless the government forces me to bale you out. Just don't say its the best arrangement for society. Its like the rare drunk who drives better drunk than sober saying everone should drive drunk. Its stupid
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2010
Typically the bigot is the person who says gay arrangements are equal or better than traditional famililies and you prove the point. You seem to be the typical progressive filled with hate, that projects your bigotry and hatred onto others.

The irony and hilarity in this comment are unreal.
freethinking
1 / 5 (3) Aug 18, 2010
Progressives start name calling when they they have nothing else to stand on. SH you prove that point often.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2010
Progressives start name calling when they they have nothing else to stand on.
And what would you say you've done above?

Inadvertant comedy is most certainly your strong suit.
VOR
not rated yet Sep 06, 2010
man I wish there was an ignore button on here like on yahoo. Freethinking heads that wishlist.

More news stories

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...