EVER SINCE FREUD, the psych biz has been anxiously counting the ways that parents, and especially mothers, influence their children. Even then, it focuses almost exclusively on the early childhood years.
In a novel turn of the lens, a University of Wisconsin psychologist has begun looking at how kids return the favor and influence their parents. She finds that children are a major source of the well-being of their parents during the middle phase of parenting. These are the years beginning when the kids hit their twenties and get up to speed as adults.
Contrary to popular myth, people don't automatically experience a crisis when they hit midlife. But they do begin a process of self-evaluation. For parents, Carol D. Ryff, Ph.D., reported to the American Psychological Association meeting in Washington, the basic question is, how have the kids turned out. The kids' emotional adjustment and educational attainment is so crucial to how parents perceive themselves that Ryff now views the question as a developmental task of midlife.
Parents who perceive that their children turned out well experience a sense of well-being. And the extent to which parents see themselves as responsible increases their satisfaction. The greater sense of responsibility for a child's success, the better a parent sees himself