Can putting your child before yourself make you a happier person?

Parents reap what they sow: Child-centrism and parental well-being

From Social Psychological and Personality Science

While popular media often depicts highly-involved parents negatively as “helicopter parents” or “tiger moms”, how does placing one’s children at the center of family life really affect parental well-being? This paper finds that parents who prioritize their children’s well-being over their own are not only happier, but also derive more meaning in life from their child-rearing responsibilities. Researchers conducted two studies with a total of 322 parents.

“These findings stand in contrast to claims in the popular media that prioritizing children’s well-being undermines parents’ well-being…results suggest that the more care and attention people give to others, the more happiness and meaning they experience,” the authors wrote. “From this perspective, the more invested parents are in their children’s well-being—that is, the more ‘child centric’ parents are—the more happiness and meaning they will derive from parenting.”


A controversial feature of modern parenting is ‘‘child-centrism,’’ the tendency for parents to prioritize their children’s well-being above their own. It has been suggested that child-centric parenting in its various forms may undermine parental well-being. Contrary to popular belief, more child-centric parents reported deriving more happiness and meaning from parenthood (Study 1).Study 2 employed the day reconstruction method (Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2004) to capture parents’actual experiences while taking care of their children. Consistent with Study 1, greater child-centrism was associated with the experience of greater positive affect, less negative affect, and greater meaning in life when engaged in child care activities. Thislink between child-centrism and well-being stands in contrast to recent arguments about the pitfalls of overinvestment in children, while dovetailing with a growing body of evidence that personal well-being is associated with investing in others rather than oneself.

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Article details
Claire E. Ashton-James, Kostadin Kushlev,and Elizabeth W. Dunn
Parents Reap What They Sow: Child-Centrism and Parental Well-Being Social Psychological and Personality Science November 2013 4: 635-642, first published on March 14, 2013 doi:10.1177/1948550613479804


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