Mom with daughter homework.jpgThe November/December issue of Scientific American Mind magazine presents the article, What Makes a Good Parent? A growing body of research conducted over the past 50 years shows fairly clearly that some parenting practices produce better relationships between parent and child and happier, healthier, better functioning children.

A new study by the article’s author, Robert Epstein, conducted with Shannon L. Fox, a student at the University of California, San Diego, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association this past August. Dr. Epstein, a longtime researcher and professor of psychology, is a contributing editor for Scientific American Mind and former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today.

The study compared the effectiveness of 10 parenting competencies recognized as predictors of good parenting outcomes. Although this blog article will leave the “Ten Competencies” for another discussion, the author concludes, not surprisingly, that the best thing parents can do for their children is to give them lots of love and affection.

Getting along with the other parent is necessary. Even in co-parenting situations where parents live apart, it is crucial to adhere to practices that do not hurt children, to resolve conflicts out of sight of the children, to apologize to one another and forgive each other (both can be done in front of the kids), to speak kindly about the other parent, and so on. Stress management is also important for good parenting.

The study also determined that all types of people are equally competent at child-rearing; that the characteristics that people often associate with good parenting are probably not very significant.

  • Women appear to be only a hair better than men at parenting (women scored 79.7 percent on the study’s test, compared with 78.5 percent for men).
  • Parents who were older or who had more children also did not produce significantly better parenting outcomes.
  • Parents seem to perform just as well whether or not they have ever been married.
  • Divorced parents appear to be every bit as competent as those who are still married, although their children are somewhat less happy than the children of parents who were never divorced.
  • Neither race, nor ethnicity seems to contribute much to parenting competence.
  • Gays and straights are just about equal in parenting ability (gays are a “hair” better).

One characteristic that did seem to make a difference was education: generally speaking, the more education, the better the parenting.

The bottom line was that when judging an individual’s competence as a parent, one should measure that competence directly rather than default to commonly held stereotypes and prejudices.

Finally, the study concluded that parents are trainable. Parents who have taken parenting classes produce happier, healthier and more successful children; and more training leads to better outcomes.

The playing-field in custody litigation is now supposed to be gender-neutral. One cannot help but believe, however, that remnants of prejudices and stereotypes remain.

This study may not only help to level the field, it should provide a focus for facts and issues when making decisions in custody litigation. Measured against the Ten Competencies, how does each parent stack up? What is each parent doing, under the circumstances, to maximize the opportunity to raise happier, healthier, better functioning children?