Written by: Cally Worden
Children living with only one of their biological parents can be just as happy as those living with both, according to a recent study by the London-based social research group NatCen. The study focused primarily on 12,000 seven year olds from 3 distinct groups – those living with both biological parents, those living with one parent and a step-parent, and those in single parent families.
How Often Are You Happy?
This was one of the key questions of the study, to which 36% per cent of children answered ‘All the time’, with the remaining 64% responding ‘Sometimes’ or ‘Never’. Importantly, those who responded ‘Yes’ were from a cross-section of the 3 different groups, suggesting that the composition of a family does not dictate how happy the kids are. The study found similar results when questioning children in the 11-15 age range.
The children participating in the study were also asked to respond to questions about other situations that may create discontent in their lives. Good relationships at school were found to be a significant factor in a child’s happiness. Conversely, being bullied, or actively engaging in mean behaviour towards others, was associated strongly with lower levels of overall happiness. This suggests a pattern where being shielded from conflict plays a significant role in how happy a child is. It doesn’t take a massive leap to extend this understanding to see how conflict in the home can affect a child.
So Which Type of Family is Best?
This research calls into the question the general belief that children are better off in a standard ‘nuclear family’. A cohesive family unit is one that works together in whatever form it exists, and this study seems to suggest that parents staying together when all is clearly not well may not be the best solution.
Every family situation is unique, and I think this research highlights the obvious – parents who are fighting all the time make for unhappy kids. But it goes beyond that too. Not all failing relationships are all about shouting and door-slamming. Low-grade discontent can permeate a household, leading kids to feel emotionally low without really understanding why. The causes of unhappiness are not always visible.
A healthy family dynamic is characterised by relative harmony most of the time, and spending happy time together. This can be as simple as sitting down to enjoy a meal as a family on a regular basis. The value in this study is the way that it highlights how simple actions such as these can be achieved in a variety of family formats. The news will surely come as a relief to many who labour under unfounded guilt about the breakdown of a parental relationship. There is more than one way to create a happy ‘family’ for your kids. It’s good to know.