Even when their children grow up and leave home, parents are still losing sleep thinking about them and stressing about how to support them.
Children are a constant source of worry for their parents, especially in their growing years, as they're still figuring out their identity and their boundaries. The trouble they get up to certainly keeps their parents up at night, but a new study has discovered that it's not just adolescents and young children who worry their parents. The study, led by family gerontologist Amber J. Seidl, Ph.D., from Penn State York, was published in The Gerontologist and revealed that parents have sleepless nights even after their children grow up and leave home.
Seidel told CBS News that family continues to play an important role even in later stages in life, and there was a need to study its impact. "I feel that many share this value, yet I think much of the socialization in our culture focuses on family when children are younger," she said. "I seek to study topics that help us understand how family continues to be a central part of our lives throughout adulthood, and I encourage considering family-level influences in all situations."
The study included 186 heterosexual married couples who had on average two or three children who were grown up. The men studied had an average age of 58 years, while the women were on average 57 years old. The respondents were asked to rate the degree of support they provided their grown children on a scale of 1 to 8, with 1 being the highest amount of support and 8 being the lowest amount of support, as little as once a year. The types of support included emotional support, financial support, practical help, companionship, advice, and talking about daily events.
The parents surveyed were asked to rate the stress they experienced as a result of providing support to their grown children as well as how much they worried about them on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least value and 5 being the highest value. Additionally, the parents were asked to roughly estimate how many hours of sleep they got every night on average, and men reported around 6.69 hours of sleep, while women reported 6.66 hours of sleep.
The study discovered that fathers slept poorly when they were responsible for supporting their grown children. However, when their wives took responsibility for supporting their children, they tended to sleep better than the rest of the husbands in the survey. However, the mothers did not seem to benefit either way. Their sleep was disturbed when they felt stressed out about supporting their grown children, and they also lost sleep when their husbands felt stressed out. The fathers lost sleep because they provided support to their children whereas mothers lost sleep because they were stressed about having to support their grown children.
Lead author Seidel explained the findings, saying, "Current research on young adults suggests that parents and children are maintaining high levels of involvement. Although parents and adult children have always maintained some level of involvement, we do see an increase in what is often termed 'helicopter parenting' and 'landing pad' children." She claimed that the proliferation of cell phones and social media had only exacerbated this by allowing parents to see what their children were going through, giving them more reasons to worry.
The loss of sleep can cause parents to experience a variety of health issues, and this may even cause conflicts in their marriage and relationships. Some of the ways parents can deal with the stress include being careful about what they eat, getting enough exercising, and seeking help from mental health professionals or support groups. Seidel said, "It is important to remember that having stress present in our lives is not the problem. It’s the inability to cope in healthy ways with the stress that is problematic and may lead to immune suppression."
Seidel also recommends that parents consider withdrawing their support if they're using it to continue to influence their children's lives or if their children are using the support to continue to depend on their parents instead of becoming autonomous. She suggested that the study may have a shortcoming, indicating that instead of parents losing sleep because they're stressed out about their children, they could be stressed out about their children because they aren't sleeping properly.