There's an old saying – you're only as happy as your unhappiest child. All parents know this is true no matter how old your children are. And even if all your kids but one are roaring successes, you still have anxiety over the one who is struggling.
That's not just conventional wisdom. Purdue University psychologist Karen Fingerman presented a study on the topic yesterday at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association. She asked 633 middle-aged parents in the Philadelphia area to rate their adult children's success in relationships, family life, education and career compared to other adults of the same age. Because most of the parents had more than one child, Fingerman was able to include reports of 1,251 grown children.
Parents also were asked about their own emotional state, the status of the relationships with their children and whether their children had a history of physical, emotional, lifestyle or behavioral problems. The last two would include drinking or drug problems, divorce and serious relationship problems.
Here's the unsettling news: 68 percent of parents had at least one grown child who had dealt with a major problem of some kind in the last two years. But almost half of parents said at least one of their children was very successful. Sixty percent said they had both successful and less successful children; 17 percent said they had no children with problems and 15 percent had no children they rated as being above average in achievement.
Parents with more than one highly successful child reported better well-being but having even one troubled child had a negative impact on their mental health, even if the other children were successful. Having at least one successful child was not associated with better well-being, which suggests that parents are more affected by their children's failures than their successes.
Does this study jibe with your own experiences?