Fond childhood memories of their fathers help sons cope better with daily stress and become more emotionally stable, says a new study.
“Most studies on parenting focus on the relationship with the mother. But as our study shows, fathers do play a unique and important role in the mental health of their children much later in life,” says Melanie Mallers, psychologist at the California State University-Fullerton, who led the research.
The researchers examined more than 900 men and women aged between 25 and 74 years before reaching their conclusion, which was presented at the 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego.
As part of the study, 912 men and women completed daily phone interviews about their day’s experiences over an eight-day period. The interviews focussed on the participants’ psychological and emotional distress — whether they were depressed, nervous, or sad — and if they had experienced any stressful events that day.
These events were described as arguments, disagreements, work-related and family-related tensions and discrimination. The participants also reported on the quality of their childhood relationships with their mother and father. They answered questions such as: “How would you rate your relationship with your mother during the years when you were growing up?” and “How much time and attention did your mother give you when you needed it?”
The same questions were asked about fathers. The research took into account age, childhood and current family income, neuroticism and whether or not their parents were still alive.
Mallers and her team found participants were more likely to say their childhood relationship with their mother was better than with their father, with more men reporting a better mother-child relationship than women. People who reported they had a good mother-child relationship reported three per cent less psychological distress compared to those who reported a poor relationship.
“I don't think these results are surprising, given that past research has shown mothers are often the primary care-giver and often the primary source of comfort,” said Maller.
They also found that men who reported having a good relationship with their father during childhood were more likely to be less emotional when reacting to stressful events in their current daily lives than those who had a poor relationship, suggesting that father-son bonding is an important part of mental health. This was not found to be as common for women.