Parents who always try to put on a happy face for the sake of the children may be doing more harm than good, a new study finds.
Hiding negative emotions and exaggerating positive emotions can actually damage parents’ well-being, the psychologists found.
Parents who tried to be ‘perfect’ for their children reported lower authenticity, worse relationship quality and were less responsive to their children.
Dr. Emily Impett, one of the study’s co-authors, said:
“For the average parent the findings suggest when they attempt to hide their negative emotion expression and overexpress their positive emotions with their children, it actually comes at a cost: doing so may lead parents to feel worse themselves.”
The conclusions come from two studies — one which followed parents over 10 days and the other an experiment.
Dr. Bonnie Le, the study’s first author, said:
“Parents experienced costs when regulating their emotions in these ways because they felt less authentic, or true to themselves.
It is important to note that amplifying positive emotions was relatively more costly to engage in, indicating that controlling emotions in ways that may seem beneficial in the context of caring for children can come at a cost.”
Dr. Emily Impett concluded:
“The findings shed light on one condition under which parenting may be associated with more pain than pleasure: when parents express more positive emotions than they genuinely feel and mask the negative emotions that they do feel when caring for their children.
Future research should identify more adaptive ways for parents to regulate their emotions that allow them to feel true to themselves and contribute to the most joyful and optimal experiences of parenting.”
The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Lee et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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