Problem: Where two of life’s biggest questions—how to be a good parent and how to be happy—collide, there is bound to be some friction. A recent study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science looks at whose well-being comes first in a family, the child’s or the parent’s. The topic feels a little thorny, to be sure, as the first sentence of the study’s abstract recognizes: “A controversial feature of modern parenting is ‘child-centrism,’ the tendency for parents to prioritize their children’s well-being above their own.”
Some previous research has suggested that this sort of so-called “helicopter parenting” is self-sacrificing and undercut parents’ happiness. In this study, the researchers looked at how child-centric parenting affects parents’ well-being, testing the idea that caring for others can bring a person more happiness.
Methodology: In the first experiment, 136 parents who had at least one child under the age of 18 rated how strongly they agreed with child-centric statements like, “The happiness of my children is more important to me than my own happiness.” Researchers also measured what percentage of their time parents spent with their children, how many hours they spent driving their children around each week, what percentage of their financial resources went toward their kids, and the number of times they sacrificed their own desires or plans to accommodate their children in the previous two weeks. Finally, parents filled out a questionnaire about the level of happiness and meaning they felt they got from their children.