One of the workshops that Spirit of Woman conducts is called the Energy of Parenting, which covers the absolute power of positive parenting on the health and well-being of offspring. I was delighted to hear on the Health Report this week (15th March, 2010) a discussion on the power of positive parenting, including positive fathering on, not just adequate mental functioning, but high performance mental functioning.
Based on a study conducted by Felicia Huppert and others, Director of the Wellbeing Institute and Professor of Psychology, and published as 'Parental practices predict psychological well-being in mid-life:…' the discussion centred around how to attain 'positive mental health' or what can be called 'flourishing in life', rather than just 'existing with the absence of a disorder', which is the focus of most studies previously conducted.
What sets this study aside as distinct from others is not only the emphasis on optimum mental functioning, but also the fact that it is a long-term study that follows children through to late adulthood. Commenced in 1946 in England the study followed women since their birth in that year and recorded information, including memories of how their parents behaved towards them up to the age of 16.
Based on an accepted measure of the way that offspring perceive their parents, rather than any objective measure of the parents themselves, the study identified three dimensions of parenting. One dimension is warmth and care, another one is the extent to which the parent is engaged in what the child is doing, or kind of just laissez faire and doesn't seem to care very much, and the third dimension is control. So it looks at the extent to which a parent is very controlling, or over-protective, or intrusive and explores the extent of engagement, such as when they take a real interest in what their child is doing and provide guidance, but not in an authoritarian or controlling way.
The study sought six main areas in which to question the way that psychological wellbeing comes about: autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life, positive relations with others and self acceptance.
The study found, i n the main, that the more warm and caring a parent is the better the child on all dimensions. However one unusual finding was to do with autonomy, in that when a mother was very warm and caring a daughter was less autonomous. Or putting it another way – a daughter was very autonomous, assertive and defiant if her mother was less caring in the sense of how warmly she responded to her child, when she had difficulties.
Overall, the study clearly showed that warm and caring parents need to be positive and give appropriate praise, engaged and interested in what the child is doing and to be 'authoritative' rather than authoritarian. That is, rather than being over-controlling and over-protective, they need to give the child a sense of trust, some respect and freedom while at the same time being quite clear about boundaries, about what the behaviours were acceptable and what were not.
Another unexpected finding was one that validates a notion that I have written about in my book "The Essence of Woman". It concerns the importance of positive fathering to his daughter's ability to develop confidence and autonomy as an adult. All previous literature focusses on the mother's behaviour in terms of a daughter's mental health. But this study showed beyond a doubt that the father's behaviour is actually more important than the mother's across all dimensions. So while it was important that the mother was warm and caring, and that affected many dimensions, the father, if he was warm and caring brought benefits across all dimensions. The particular difference was in terms of engagement and control – in other words confidence and autonomy. So the father who was trusting, respectful, appreciative and showed good guidance rounded off his daughter's development by giving her the set of skills necessary to navigate 'the world'. She can engage with people while at the same time maintain her own sense of self with confidence. The Spirit of Woman blend, Daddy's Girl was designed with the importance of the father-daughter relationship in mind. If you would like to read the full transcript on the Health Report click here.
Please leave a comment below. I would love to hear what you think.