Being a Parent Is a Lifelong Job


When we become parents, our lives are forever changed –  by our love for our children and also by the accompanying responsibilities of raising them. Just as we shape our children, our children shape us as well.

It’s easy to see the effect our children have on our lives in the early years. We’re exhausted from a lack of sleep and the endless tasks of feeding, chauffeuring, disciplining, and comforting them. And, on the other hand, we’re full of pride at their accomplishments and feel joy watching them play.

Though the physical demands of parenting ease up once our kids grow into mature adults, research shows that our children continue to affect our lives and happiness even when they are well out of the nest. A study by Dr. Fingerman and her colleagues found that parents’ daily moods are significantly affected by regular interactions with their adult children. It revealed that parents with more than one highly successful adult child report have a better sense of well-being. However, just one adult child with significant problems hurt their sense of well-being.

In addition, many parents help their adult children by providing emotional, financial, and practical support. Interestingly, other research by Dr. Fingerman and her colleagues found that while parents generally help all of their children, they tend to give more to children who have greater need and to those who are more successful. The researchers suggested that the parents may give more to their higher achieving children as a way to feel better about themselves and in the hopes of getting more support later in life. In all of these situations, it is clear that parents are significantly affected by their relationships with their adult children.

Even when parents have less contact or are estranged from their adult children, their relationship continues to affect them both. They may be pained by difficulties that they know the other is facing or tensions between them. They may also grieve over a lost connection – or because a close connection never existed. They often struggle with questions of what went wrong or what they did wrong, and they may carry anger that burns inside for years.

The relationship of parents and their children is complicated, and it shifts and changes over the course of life. Though parents see it as their job to shape their children, they are equally affected by their children – an influence that continues to reverberate through the entirety of their lives.

by Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD