January 8, 2013

Good Partner = Good Parent?

Wondering what kind of parent you will be? Certain qualities make it pretty easy to predict.

What does it take to be a good parent? Young couples may wonder whether they have what it takes to make the grade. A British study suggests that the qualities we appreciate in a good partner also recommend them as parents.

Partnering and parenting both require responsive caregiving, the ability to be tuned into what your significant other wants and needs. It's a multi-faceted skill; you need to be able to tell when your partner is having a bad day, know how to cheer them up and if they even want to be cheered up. But it's also about knowing how to respond appropriately to all of life's good times. If you can be a responsive caregiver in one relationship, it seems that you can also do it well in another. Good partners make good parents.

For people who are wondering just what type of parent they're likely to be, looking at their relationship with their partner should give them a good clue.

The study authors wanted to see how the romantic relationships of parents affected what type of parents they were. Though there have been many studies on the romantic relationships of couples or the relationship between parents and children, there don't seem to be any that look at romantic caregiving between couples and their parenting style at the same time.

A group of 122 UK couples, averaging in their late 30s and with 7- or 8- year-old children, filled out questionnaires detailing their attachment to each other, their parenting styles and their caregiving responsiveness — their ability to be tuned into their partner's needs. Those who scored high on caregiving responsiveness tested out as better parents.

How do you measure good parenting? Right now, a style of parenting called authoritative is considered optimal, and this was what was used in the study. Authoritative parents convey clear boundaries (rules) and expectations to the child, but within a warm and involved context.

Authoritative parenting is distinguished from authoritarian parenting, the "Why? Because-I-said-so," style that is frowned upon and seen as harsh, punitive and lacking in warmth. A third style, permissive parenting, in which parents tend to defer to their children, is also frowned upon and seen as unstructured, not confident and lacking in boundaries.

This wasn't always the case, of course. As society changes, so do ideas about parenting, which is perhaps why they are called parenting styles.

Responsive caregiving and how you relate to your partner clearly don't tell the full story of how good a parent you'll be. For one thing, plenty of single people who have no partner are fine parents. But for people who are wondering just what type of parent they're likely to be, looking at their relationship with their partner should give them a good clue.

The study was published online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and will also appear in a future print issue of the journal. The article is freely available.
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