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Science Confirms Raising Healthy, Happy Kids Has Nothing to Do with Working

The next time you feel even an ounce of working mom guilt creeping up on you because you feel like you don't spend enough time with your kids, you'll want to remember the findings of this new study.

According to research from Harvard published in the January 2019 issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine, what really transforms kids into about happy, well-adjusted adults is that you're a loving and warm parent. And as we all know, you can be both of those things—and still work full-time.

In the study, researchers found that adults who had that kind of parent as a child were flourishing at a much higher rate in mid-life, even when other factors, including socioeconomic status, were controlled for, Psychology Today reports. What's more, the study found a link between having a warm parent and being less likely to have severe adverse health behaviors like taking drugs, according to the abstract.

What does it mean to be flourishing? Study author and director of Harvard's Human Flourishing Program Tyler VanderWeele, Ph.D., told Psychology Today it means "having it all," in terms of the five domains of life everyone desires: happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, meaning and purpose, good character, and good relationships in the social dimension—although the study decided to focus on flourishing in regards to just emotional, psychological and social well-being. As Psychology Today breaks down: "People who are flourishing live in a good world, among kind people and have a sense of purpose in their own life. They feel that they can manage, that they are growing and learning, and that they basically like themselves. They have generally positive emotions and have a sense of satisfaction with their life."

Dr. VanderWeele explained that they decided to measure flourishing, as opposed to disease or the absence of a disease, since being free of disease isn't equivalent to feeling like you're thriving.

“We now have reasonably strong evidence that the experience of parental warmth in childhood, 40 to 50 years prior, really does shape various aspects of flourishing such as happiness, self-acceptance, social relationships and being more likely to contribute to the community,” he said. “Parental warmth led to more happiness and social acceptance, as well as less depression, anxiety and drug use … The experience of love in childhood is of profound importance, and parental warmth is a key factor."

The study had a limitation, however. As Psychology Today notes, it was based off data from about 4,000 participants who took part in the longitudinal Midlife in the United States Study, which started in 1995, when the participants were between ages 25 and 74. Since the participants are from a different generation, "before the onset of intensive parenting," there's a concern whether the findings apply to us in 2019.

Nevertheless, the research adds to the growing evidence that supports the idea that working motherhood doesn't harm children's futures. As the study suggests, being warm and loving migh be the most important thing.

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