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Mother's Influence on Psychological and Physical Health Extends to Old Age

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. Updated: May 16th 2007

In honor of the Mother's Day holiday this past weekend, I'd like to take a moment to speak about how mothers can influence their children. It is easy to forget how valuable you are in the midst of changing diapers and wiping runny noses, or (if your kids are older) schlepping them to activities, and helping them cope with disappointment and heartbreak. Research suggests that you can positively impact whether your child has a healthy and happy adulthood and old age.

Recent data suggests that adults’ mental and physical health is influenced by several factors, such as early psychosocial conditions dating back to childhood, including parental support. Most people with high levels of parental support during childhood develop higher levels of self esteem, a higher sense of personal control, and better family relationships in adulthood. In addition, people with early parental support develop fewer psychological and physical problems throughout adulthood and even into old age. For example, parental support decreases the likelihood of developing depressive symptoms and chronic health conditions (such as hypertension, arthritis and urinary problems).

Researchers Benjamin A. Shaw, Neal Krause, Linda M. Chatters, Cathleen M. Connell, and Berit Ingersoll-Dayton analyzed responses from 2,905 adults, ages 25–74, participating in the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (Psychology and Aging, 2004, Vol. 19, No. 1). Participants were asked about levels of emotional support from their mothers and fathers during their childhood years with questions such as “how much could you confide in her or him about things that were bothering you?” and “how much love and affection did she or he give you?” Symptoms of depression, the presence of chronic health conditions, and self-esteem levels were also assessed with survey questions.

This information is not intended to stress out mothers who are reading it. Research data do not suggest that children received psychological and physical health benefits only if they lived with a Supermom! The take home message is that mothers are an important part of our growth and development, and long-term physical and psychological well-being. If you did not thank your Mother last Sunday, be sure to do so today. And if you are a mother who didn't pat herself on the back last Sunday, be sure to do that as well.


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