Effects of maternal/paternal discord
However, there are some differences not only in how positive the parent relationship is in terms of how it impacts the child, but also which parent the relationship is with. Researchers found that hostile mother/son relationships were associated with negative health behaviors such as increased heart rate and lower physical activity, and dramatic paternal relationships were associated with increased BMI.
“The results indicate that boys’ adiposity development may be highly sensitive to the quality of paternal relationships,” the report notes.
“This finding is consistent with previous findings that boys show more aggressive behaviors toward their parents and were more frequently exposed to parental conflict and hostility, and that boys might be more susceptible to adverse effects of family discord.”
In girls, too, high levels of conflict and hostility in paternal relationships increased adiposity measures in the teenaged years. “Our results indicate this dynamic may have a powerful impact on the development of certain health measures during adolescence,” the report notes.
In fact, hostile paternal relationships between fathers and daughters had an impact on triceps skinfold thickness development that was 3-fold greater than the effect from maternal relationships.
“This finding might be explained by the fathering vulnerability hypothesis, which suggests that the father-child relationship appears more susceptible to the influence of parental hostility than mother-child relationship,” the study suggests. “Thus, the results emphasized a more influential effect of the father in girls’ general adiposity development, rather than what is traditionally emphasized on mother’s influence.”
Parent relationships and cardiovascular health
Zhongzheng Niu, a PhD student in epidemiology at the University of Buffalo, New York, and the first author of the study, says the research was funded by the American Heart Association and highlights the importance of the parent relationship on future cardiovascular health, noting that these effects are modified by both the parents and the children.
“Our study found differences in the impacts on children’s cardiovascular health between maternal and paternal relationships with their children,” Niu says. “We first examined parent/child relationships in 2 separate domains—closeness and conflict. We found maternal conflict was associated with accelerated adiposity growth in girls and with accelerated heart rate growth in boys. Meanwhile, maternal closeness may have a protective effect as associated with decelerated heart rate growth in boys. However, none of these effects were observed in the father/child relationship.”
1. Niu Z, Tanenbaum H, Kiresich E, et al. Impact of childhood parent-child relationships on cardiovascular risks in adolescence. Prev Med. 2018;108:53-59.