Children with loving mothers are healthier in later life, research suggests.Adults who recall their moms as being highly affectionate are more likely to be disease-free and less at risk of depression.
Growing up in a loving home is thought to reduce stress and encourage a person to live well, according to researchers.
Researchers from Michigan State University analysed data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, and the Health and Retirement Study.Combined, these included more than 22,000 people.
The first study followed adults in their mid-40s for 18 years, while the second followed those aged 50 or over for six years.In both trials, the participants were asked how much their parents understood their problems as children, as well as how much affection they gave and how much they tried to teach them about the world.
The participants were also asked if they had been diagnosed with up to 27 conditions, including thyroid disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Depressive symptoms were assessed by asking if they had experienced any of the following in the past two weeks – loss of interest in things, low energy, poor appetite, insomnia, reduced concentration, sadness and thoughts about death.
Results showed the participants who remembered receiving high levels of affection from their mothers were healthier and less likely to be depressed.Having supportive, loving fathers also reduced their risk of depressive symptoms.
The results were not straightforward, however, with a reduced risk of chronic diseases only being found in the first study.The research was published in the journal Health Psychology.
‘We know memory plays a huge part in how we make sense of the world – how we organise our past experiences and how we judge how we should act in the future,’ lead author Dr William Chopik said.
‘As a result, there are a lot of different ways that our memories of the past can guide us.‘We found good memories seem to have a positive effect on health and well-being, possibly through the ways that they reduce stress or help us maintain healthy choices in life.’
He added: ‘The most surprising finding was we thought the effects would fade over time because participants were trying to recall things that happened sometimes over 50 years ago.
‘One might expect childhood memories to matter less and less over time, but these memories still predicted better physical and mental health when people were in middle age and older adulthood.’
The strength of the bond between a child and its parents has previously been found to influence a person’s relationships and their risk of substance abuse.
However, past studies have focused more on mothers and rarely assessed the role of a father.Although the current study found a mother’s love shapes a child’s future more than a father’s, Dr Chopik added this may change.
‘These results may reflect the broader cultural circumstances of the time when the participants were raised because mothers were most likely the primary caregivers,’ he said.
‘With shifting cultural norms about the role of fathers in caregiving, it is possible that results from future studies of people born in more recent years will focus more on relationships with their fathers.’