A new study has found that boys who recall happy times with their father grow up more emotionally stable and resistant to stress.
"Most studies on parenting focus on the relationship with the mother. But, as our study shows, fathers do play a unique and important role in the mental health of their children much later in life," Psychology professor Melanie Mallers of California State University-Fullerton said.
The study was conducted on 912 adult men and women through short daily telephone interviews about that day's experiences over an eight-day period.
The interviews focused on the participants' psychological and emotional distress (whether they were depressed, nervous, sad, etc.) and if they had experienced any stressful events that day. These events were described as arguments, disagreements, work-related and family-related tensions and discrimination.
Participants were more likely to say their childhood relationship with their mother was better than with their father, with more men reporting a better mother-child relationship than women, according to Mallers. People who reported they had a good mother-child relationship reported 3 percent less psychological distress compared to those who reported a poor relationship.
"I don't think these results are surprising, given that past research has shown mothers are often the primary caregiver and often the primary source of comfort. It got interesting when we examined the participants' relationship with their fathers and their daily emotional reaction to stress," said Mallers.
Men who reported having a good relationship with their father during childhood were more likely to be less emotional when reacting to stressful events in their current daily lives than those who had a poor relationship, according to the study.
She also said that it was difficult to come up with a concrete theory as to why men's relationship with their father had such an influence on their emotional reaction to stress, especially since this study included adults of all ages who were raised during very different eras in the United States.
"The role of fathers has changed dramatically from the time the oldest participants were children. We do know that fathers have a unique style of interacting with their children, especially their sons. We need more research to help us uncover further influences of both mothers and fathers on the enduring emotional experiences of their children," added Mallers said.
The findings were presented at the 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.