Parental Love is a Boon for Life

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Everybody knows that in order to survive and thrive, babies need loving and caring parents, but few know that feeling loved and being close to parents in early years helps us in sickness and health in later life--positive health effects can be seen thirty, forty  or even in later years.  
In the early 1950s, 126 healthy Harvard University students were randomly asked to describe how they felt about their parents.  They were to rate their relationship with mother and father as, "very close," "warm and friendly," "tolerant," or "strained and cold."  

After thirty-five years, medical records were obtained on these participants.  An amazing  91 percent who, thirty-five years earlier, felt that their relationship with their mothers was just tolerable, or strained and cold, had developed serious diseases in midlife, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, and alcoholism.  By comparison, only 45% of those who had earlier reported warm and friendly relationship with parents had similar illnesses.  

Furthermore, all of the participants (literally, 100%) who had described their relationship with both parents as less than a warm had serious diseases diagnosed in midlife as compared to only 47% of those who had felt their parents were warm and close. 
Researchers concluded that parental love seems to act as a buffer against later life illnesses.  They speculated that the foundation of loving parental relationship helps to lessen the negative impact of stress and pathogens in later life, protect the immune system, and strengthen the desire to live and heal.  

In a related study, male medical students studying at Johns Hopkins University were evaluated for closeness to their parents.  Over a period of several years, researchers collected this information on 1100 students.  Follow up of their health records covered a span of thirty, forty, or in some cases, fifty years.  Results were similar to those of the Harvard study.  Medical students, who subsequently developed cancer, were more likely to have described a lack of closeness with their parents thirty, forty, or fifty years earlier. 

The researchers in the above study found that no other factor was more significantly related to illness than the degree of parental closeness reported in the earlier years.  Even smoking, drinking, or exposure to harmful substances were less significant than parental closeness in predicting who is likely to develop serious illness later.    

Our understanding of physical illnesses has been expanding.  Just a few years ago, we viewed illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, as consequences of our current unhealthy behaviors.  They were referred to as the "lifestyle diseases."  The term "lifestyle," basically, refers to the behaviors and choices we make during our adult lives.  Lately, our understanding of diseases has taken us a little further and deeper, tracing the origin of some illnesses right down to childhood.  

For example, we now know that children who habitually smoke, drink, and abuse drugs, or who are overweight "couch potatoes," are more likely to develop medical complications in later life.  Medical researchers have followed children in their adult years and have observed this to be true.  But this is only half the story.  What about the emotional experiences of children?  Do they have an impact on health?  The Harvard and Johns Hopkins' studies suggest they do.  

We are physical, mental and spiritual beings.  Health and happiness result from our pursuit of physical, mental, and spiritual development.  So called lifestyle diseases result from an imbalance of, or lack of development in any or all three aspects.  A child who is emotionally deprived is not given all the tools needed to work for a happy and healthy adulthood.  

Does this mean that if our parents were warm and loving during our childhood, we don't need to bother to eat right or live right?  No, we still will have to work to maintain good health.  Does it mean that if our parents were cold or uncaring, there is no point of trying to live healthily because we are going to develop some horrible illness anyway?  No, because how we relate to others, help others and love them today have definite positive effects on our health tomorrow.  

As our understanding of illnesses expand, it places a greater responsibility on us for our health.  For example, parents should know that if they emotionally hold themselves back from their children, the latter may pay a physical, emotional, and spiritual price for the rest of their lives.  
It has been said that all parents should give their children two things: roots and wings.    

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