Parents with an adult “problem child” are adversely affected and their well-being suffers, according to new research presented at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in San Diego.
That’s true even if another grown child is successful, says Toni Antonucci, PhD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who presented the findings Thursday.
”Different children have different effects on parents,” she says. For this study, Antonucci and her colleagues surveyed 633 middle-aged parents, average age 50, with 1,251 grown children.
They asked the parents to report their own well-being, and to describe the relationship they have with their adult children. They asked if each of their children has experienced problems, such as health problems, drinking or drug abuse problems, divorce or other serious relationship issues or trouble with the law.
They asked about whether their children were successful.
About 49 percent said at least one child is successful. But 68 percent had at least one grown child suffering at least one problem in the lasst two years.
About 60 percent had a mix of successful and problem children. About 17 percent had no kids suffering problems; 15 percent had none they rated as above average.
”Many find the problems burdensome,” she says of parents. The parents who had more than one highly successful grown child had better well-being.
But having even one problem child had a negative impact, the researchers found.
The researchers then wanted to see if having a successful child counterbalanced having a problematic one.
The answer is clearly no, Antonucci says. ”Having even one adult child with a problem is associated with worse parental well-being,” she says.
Why? Parents may react more strongly to their grown children’s failures than successes, the researchers say.
The researchers asked the parents to tell whether the problem was voluntary–drug abuse or breaking the law–or involuntary–a health problem such as cancer.
Other interesting findings: “Parents may forgive a child who has a drug or alcohol abuse problem if they had some explainable trauma,” such as being a returning vet. But others blamed children who developed a health problem such as diabetes, perhaps thinking a better diet could have avoided it.
The findings make sense, says Meredith Stanford-Pollock, EdD., of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. ”The successful child is a comfort and a pleasure,” she says. ”But problem children are always on their parents’ minds.”