Children who have more conflict in relationships with their mothers during early years of elementary school may find it more difficult to find a sense of purpose in life as they reach adulthood, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.
“One of the biggest takeaway messages from these findings is that the path to a purposeful life starts very early, well before we start to consider different goals for life,” said Patrick Hill, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences and co-author of the study.
“This research shows that it’s the child’s perspective of conflict that has the greatest effect on later sense of purpose and what matters most in this equation is the child’s relationship with his or her mother,” he said.
As defined by the study, a sense of purpose involves having the belief that one has a stable, far-reaching aim that organizes and stimulates behaviors and goals to promote progress toward that objective.
While having a sense of purpose is important to setting goals and picking careers, studies show it also plays a key role in motivating children to develop the life skills necessary for independence — learning how to cook, stick to a budget, buy insurance and a host of other day-to-day survival skills that millennials now refer to as “adulting.”
The study is one of the first to show long-term associations between a child’s reports of early life experiences and whether that child feels purposeful later in life.
Children who reported conflicted early relations with fathers were negatively influenced by the experience, but the negative impact on sense of purpose was not nearly as strong as it was found to be among children who reported early conflicts with mothers. Childhood reports of conflicts with fathers also predicted less life satisfaction in emerging adulthood.
Again, only the child’s perspective seemed to matter.
Parental reports of troubled relations with their young offspring turned out to be poor predictors of a child’s later…
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