Every parent aims to both provide for their child financially and raise him or her in a warm, loving environment. We know the foundation we lay now will benefit kids' overall well-being as they grow up, and one day, raise their own families. And now a new study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior finds that even in a so-called well-off household, the absence of a loving relationship with parents, or even worse, the presence of abuse, negates any financial advantage parents may afford their children.
To arrive at their conclusions, researchers out of Baylor University looked at 2,746 people between 25 and 75 and asked about their childhood treatment by their parents. A decade later, the surveys were conducted a second time with 1,692 participants' health status evaluated.
"Previous research has associated high socioeconomic status with better childhood nutrition, sleep, neighborhood quality, and opportunities for exercise and development of social skills. But good parent-child bonds may be necessary to enforce eating, sleep, and activity routines," explains researcher Matthew A. Andersson, Ph.D., about his findings.
Indeed, based on the data, it seems even if you work your butt off to buy your kiddo every toy on Earth, and give him the best birthday parties and vacations, if you aren't around to hug him at night, or read that story, or sit down to dinner with him, or watch his soccer game, those material things may end up not meaning a whole lot for his health decades later.
It's worth pointing out that according to the study, kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds may still suffer later in life. Because even if those homes are loving and supportive, less access to healthy food, medical care, and other resources is a negative, no matter how you look at it.
But kids who have strained or abusive relationships with their parents are also more likely to eat less healthful diets and adopt irregular sleep patterns, leading to overall poorer health.
"Much research continues to view socioeconomic status and parent-child bonds as highly related or even interchangeable. But in fact they may quite independently influence a child's well-being," Dr. Andersson says. "The key takeaway is that without adequate parent-child relationship quality to match, socioeconomic advantage during childhood may not offer much protection at all against major chronic disease as children become adults and reach middle age."
The bottom line seems to be that both access to resources and a house full of love are necessary ingredients to raise a child with the best chance at a happy, healthy life. Of course, one can't control every element of his or her circumstances, but all we can do is strive to provide the most financial and emotional support for our families as we can.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.