Children who have more conflict with their mothers during early years of elementary school may be at difficulty finding a sense of purpose in life during adulthood, suggests new research. A sense of purpose involves having the belief that one has a stable, far-reaching aim that organises and stimulates behaviour and goals to progress towards that objective.
The study showed children who clash with their mothers may struggle to find purpose as adults.
“One of the biggest takeaway messages from these findings is the path to a purposeful life starts early, well before we start to consider different goals for life,” said Patrick Hill, Associate Professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
“The research shows that it’s the child’s perspective of conflict that has the greatest effect on later sense of purpose and what matters most in this equation is the child’s relationship with his or her mother,” Hill said.
For the study, researchers included 1,074 students (50 per cent female) and their parents, all of whom self-reported on levels of parent-child conflict in their families during grades 1-5.
The findings, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, showed children who reported conflicted relations early in life with fathers predicted less life satisfaction in emerging adulthood.
But the negative impact on sense of purpose was not nearly as strong as it was found to be among children who reported early conflicts with mothers. Only the child’s perspective seemed to matter.
Understanding the content of conversations, including how are parents demonstrating the value of a purposeful life, or how are they helping children to define and pursue their own purposeful paths can help us all understand how conversations matter to children in our lives, said Leah Schultz, a doctoral student at the varsity.