A new study has found adults who had nurturing mothers in childhood have better physical health in midlife.
Brandeis psychologist Margie Lachman with Gregory Miller and colleagues at the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Los Angeles reveal that while children raised in families with low socioeconomic status (SES) frequently go on to have high rates of chronic illness in adulthood, a sizable minority remain healthy across the life course.
The research sought to examine if parental nurturance could mitigate the effects of childhood disadvantage.
Lachman, the Minnie and Harold Fierman Professor of Psychology, and director of the Lifespan Initiative on Healthy Aging, says that her team is working to understand the sources of social disparities in health and what can be done to reduce them.
This information will then be used to empower families through education.
Emerging literature reveals that many of the health problems in midlife, including metabolic syndrome, can be traced back to what happened in early childhood.
The stresses of childhood can leave a biological residue that shows up in midlife, explained Lachman. Yet, among those at risk for poor health, adults who had nurturing mothers in childhood fared better in physical health in midlife.
"Perhaps it's a combination of empathy, the teaching of coping strategies or support for enrichment," he stated.
"We want to understand what it is about having a nurturing mother that allows you to escape the vulnerabilities of being in a low socioeconomic status background and wind up healthier than your counterparts," he said.
The study has followed 1,205 people for over a decade. Nurturance was assessed with data and included questions such as: How much did she understand your problems and worries and how much time and attention did she give you when you needed it?
"We would like to try to use this information to bolster vulnerable families who are at risk for not doing well," noted Lachman.
"Teaching them parenting skills to show children concern for their welfare, how to cope with stress, that they have some control over their destinies, and how to engage in health-promoting behaviors such as good diet and exercise - the things that could protect against metabolic syndrome," he added.
Interestingly, in this study, paternal nurturing did not contribute to resilience.
The finding has been published in the journal Psychological Science.