The Power of Parental Love

Our journey, as new parents, and as researchers, on parenting ...

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May 07, 2019
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Parental love and family time are essential in raising children. I thus did not feel overwhelmingly guilty when declining my best friend’s invitation to dine out last night. It has been a routine for me to get home before 6.00 pm, fight the dinner and bath time battles, read the Thomas story, give a good night kiss to the baby, and flee the room. Then hallelujah, the whole world becomes quiet and I have my life back, for a good few hours. As they say, parenthood is full of pain, and joy. 

I felt the bonding with my mentor when I realized that he was also a part of the new-parent tribe and looking for the ingredients of successful parenting. I was excited to walk him through my dissertation studies on parenting styles and subsequent child body weight. He then posed a bigger picture question: “Have you looked more broadly at other outcomes like character strengths, and well-being, and mental health, and which aspects of parenting have the strongest effects?” For both scientific and personal interests, we then started an outcome-wide study comparing multiple aspects of positive parenting in childhood in relation to a wide range of subsequent health and well-being outcomes (e.g., physical and mental health, psychological well-being, health behaviors, character strengths). We not only hope our children grow up to be healthy and happy, but we also want to help them lead purposeful, and meaningful, and good, lives. Our research results suggest that love is perhaps the most important factor in this.

After we submitted the study to Nature Human Behaviour, we subsequently received an 8-page-long reviewer and editorial response (single spaced, with tiny font size) but one with extremely insightful comments from the 4 reviewers. Addressing the comments was not only helpful for strengthening this study, but also helped us further reflect on, and improve, our proposed outcome-wide research template. Responding to so many comments was a painful process, but also a big step forward.

In a strange way, that process reminded me of the moment when I realized that the heaviest work in parenthood starts, rather than ends, with the pain of labor – the real work of child-rearing lies in the nurturing, teaching, and constant reshaping, of the child’s behaviors and outlooks over the next two decades.

We are delighted to see that our study on positive parenting, and on the profound effects of parental love, found a good home in Nature Human Behaviour. We are grateful for the editors’ and reviewers’ help along the way. We still have a long way to go in achieving a fuller understanding, as the family-well-being dynamic is complex; how to best translate such research results into practice is not yet entirely clear, but we hope our study helps point out the right way forward. Our journey, as new parents, and as researchers, on parenting, continues. What is clear – from our research results, and our experience – is that love is central.

Go to the profile of Ying Chen

Ying Chen

Research Scientist, Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University

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