New research finds that when parents hide their true feelings from their children, the parent pays an emotional toll.
Specifically, emerging studies suggest that parents’ attempts to suppress negative and amplify positive emotions during child care can detract from their well-being and high-quality parent-child bonds.
In two studies, one experimental and the other a 10-day daily experience study, investigators examined how parental suppression of negative emotions and exaggeration of positive emotions can shape parents’ personal and relationship well-being.
In the studies parents reported experiencing lower authenticity, emotional well-being, relationship quality, and responsiveness to their children’s needs when they suppressed negative emotions and amplified positive emotions when providing care to their children.
The findings appear in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“By examining the regulation of positive and negative emotions in tandem, our results can shed light on the unique effects of using each strategy,” said lead author Dr. Bonnie Le, University of Toronto.
In the first experiment with 162 parents, investigators found that attempting to put on a “positive front” came with a variety of emotional costs for the parents.
“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,” said co-author Dr. Emily Impett, University of Toronto Mississauga.
As a follow-up to determine if the difficulty of the child care situation might influence results, the researchers used a smaller group (118) of parents. These parents provided free response answers to an open-ended questions regarding a daily caregiving experience over the course of ten days.
While more challenging caregiving led to more examples of suppressing the negative feelings and amplifying their positive feelings, the overall results were similar.
“Parents experienced costs when regulating their emotions in these ways because they felt less authentic, or true to themselves,” said Dr. Le.
“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.”
However, knowing how an exaggeration of positive emotions influences the child is an important, and unknown factor.
The authors acknowledge that while parents may experience costs from engaging in these emotion regulation strategies, research is necessary to determine whether children may actually benefit from their parents’ efforts to hide potentially hurtful emotions and overexpress positive emotions.
“The findings shed light on one condition under which parenting may be associated with more pain than pleasure. That is, 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,” summarized Dr. Impett.