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Christine Carter, PhD

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Why a Happy Marriage Makes for Happy Kids

Posted: 02/28/11 05:01 AM ET

Hello, "Raising Happiness" readers!

During this month of love, I've been writing about the research related to happy relationships. What does a happy romantic relationship have to do with raising happy kids, after all?

We know intuitively that how happy we are -- in a relationship or otherwise -- affects our children. Our emotions are contagious, and so when a romantic partner loves us unconditionally, the happiness and security that love brings can spill over, to our children's benefit. Romance also has the potential to make us better parents: positive emotions (like love) and the social support of a partner can make us warmer and more responsive to our children.

An interesting study presented at the last annual meeting of the American Psychological Association by Robert Epstein and Shannon Fox shows this to be true in a different way.

The researchers compared the effectiveness of 10 important parenting practices and skills; for example, they examined how well parents reported supporting their children's education, and to what extent they provide educational opportunities for them. Here are the top three most important "parenting competencies," as reported by Epstein in Scientific American Mind, in terms of their influence on kids' health, happiness, and school success, as well as the quality of the parent's relationship with their children:

1. Love and affection. You support and accept the child, are physically affectionate, and spend quality one-on-one time together.

2. Stress management. You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child, practice relaxation techniques and promote positive interpretations of events.

3. Relationship skills. You maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse, significant other and/or co-parent and model effective relationship skills with other people.

Here is what I think is amazing about that list: two of those three most important practices aren't even parenting skills per se, in that they don't directly affect our children. Or do they?

We all know that when we are stressed out, our stress spills over and often makes our children anxious. So stress management skills turn out to be really important for our relationship with our children, and also our children's happiness and school success!

So too with our relationship with our children's other parent, whether or not we are romantically involved, as well as our relationship with a romantic partner (if it isn't the other parent). It's true: little is more important than maintaining and improving the relationships we have with our partners and co-parents. Like most parents, I try to model positive relationship skills for my for my children; all this great new science related to what happy couples do is helpful in knowing how to grow the love in my life.

Epstein and Fox's study found another thing to be true: that parenting education can improve our parenting, and therefore our children's outcomes. Epstein writes: "Our data confirm that parents who have taken parenting classes produce better outcomes with their children than parents who lack such training and that more training leads to better outcomes."

As always, thank you for all of your comments, your enthusiasm, and support!

***

© 2011 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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