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Parents’ well-being is important given that happier parents have healthier parenting practices (Armstrong, Birnie-Lefcovitch, & Ungar, 2005). Unfortunately, middle-age can be a low point in people’s lifetime well-being (Ramsey & Gentzler, 2014) and factors such as children’s age (having young adolescents; Luthar & Ciciolla, 2016) and poorer parent-child relationships (Silverberg & Steinberg, 1987) predict lower parental well-being. We extended existing research by investigating emotional abilities of parents and their adolescents as predictors of parents’ well-being. We expected that parents’ own emotional abilities (more reappraisal, less suppression, greater distress tolerance; DT) would predict greater subjective happiness, and further, that adolescents’ emotional abilities would predict greater parental happiness (beyond parents’ emotional abilities). We also examined moderated effects between parents and adolescents because parents’ emotional abilities may matter more if their children have lower emotional abilities.
The study involved 114 adolescents (60.5% boys; 14-18 years), 93 mothers and 54 fathers (38 teens had both parents participate). Parents’ well-being was indexed using the Subjective Happiness Scale (Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999). Parents reported their use of reappraisal and suppression using the Emotion Regulation (ER) Questionnaire (Gross & John, 2003), and adolescents used the child/adolescent version (Gresham & Gullone, 2012). Parents and adolescents each reported their ability to accept and not be overwhelmed by negative emotions using the Distress Tolerance Scale (Simons & Gaher, 2005). Parents reported socio-demographic characteristics.
We examined whether socio-demographic (parents’ age, education, marital status, household income, and difficulty paying bills) and child variables (age, sex, race) predicted parental happiness. All were unrelated except difficulty paying bills, which was correlated with lower maternal happiness.
Four regression analyses were conducted including difficulty paying bills, parents’ and adolescents’ ER or DT, and interaction terms between parents’ and adolescents’ as predictors of parental well-being. Mothers’ happiness was predicted by mothers’ use of more reappraisal and less suppression, but was unrelated to adolescents’ ER (Table 1). Fathers’ happiness was predicted by less use of suppression by fathers but more suppression by their adolescents. Mothers’ DT was not associated with mothers’ happiness, but adolescents’ higher DT predicted greater maternal happiness. Additionally, an interaction indicated that mothers’ DT was unrelated to their own happiness when their adolescent had higher DT, but mothers’ higher DT predicted mothers’ greater happiness when adolescents had lower DT (Figure 1). Fathers’ and adolescents’ DT were unrelated to fathers’ happiness.
These results suggest that parents’ own happiness is associated with their adolescent’s ability to tolerate and regulate emotions. Although adolescents’ ER was unrelated to their mothers’ happiness, adolescents reporting higher DT had happier mothers. Further, the moderated effect suggested that because adolescents with lower DT have emotional difficulties, mothers’ tolerance may be a protective factor for mothers’ happiness. Interestingly, fathers who reported higher happiness reported less emotional suppression but had adolescents who reported more emotional suppression. Overall, although longitudinal replications are needed, our findings offer new evidence about predictors of mothers’ and fathers’ well-being and how it is differentially associated with their own and their adolescents’ ability to tolerate and regulate emotions.