Are helicopter parents happier than other parents?

Could helicopter parents be the happiest kind of parents? A new study suggests that the 'child-centered' parenting style, which motivates many helicopter parents, may actually improve parents' sense of well-being.

Staff/The Christian Science Monitor
Does highly helicopter parenting leave room for children to learn to cope with criticism, learn from their failures, and stand up for themselves?

The popular consensus seems to be clear: helicopter parents are the worst. They hover constantly (thus the name), denying their children the space in which to define their own personalities and goals. They stick up for their children to the point of absurdity, interjecting themselves whenever their kids get bad grades, have an unpleasant social interaction at school, or even get turned down for a job.

But an intriguing new study suggests that the popular perception isn't quite right; first of all, it teases apart the difference between the term "helicopter parent" and a number of other parenting styles, and finds that "child-centric" parenting may have some positive outcomes for the moms and dads who practice it.

The study, published in the peer reviewed academic journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, is entitled "Parents Reap What They Sow: Child-Centrism and Parental Well-Being."

A child-centric parenting style is defined as "the psychological mind-set in which parents are motivated to maximize their child’s well-being even at a cost to their own" and "are willing to prioritize the allocation of their emotional, temporal, financial, and attentional resources to their children rather than themselves."

Here's where the study gets a bit tricky: child-centrism is not one-for-one the overprotective helicopter parenting that we've been wrestling with as a culture. The study defines child-centrism as distinct from but positively correlated with protectiveness and overinvolvement in children’s academic affairs (helicopter parenting), but actually marginally inversely correlated with achievement-focused "Tiger Moms."

Child-centrism, in a nutshell, is a straightforward psychological drive to put our children's' needs ahead of our own, and it's fairly self-evident how this urge can create monsters and/or saints of parents who indulge it to the hilt.

But overall, the results seem to be encouraging – the study notes:

In our samples, while child-centrism was not strongly associated with differences in the well-being that parents experienced during non-parenting activities, it was associated with the well-being that parents experienced when taking care of their children, suggesting that child-centrism may be associated with benefits rather than costs for parents’ well-being.

"In short," concludes the study, "when it comes to parental well-being, you reap what you sow."

The study itself is short and clear, and worth reading – the way it teases apart the nuances of cause and effect (and labels like "helicopter parent" and "Tiger Mom") make it a profitable browse.

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