Do Culture and Lifestyle Affect Parent-child Relationships?

Parent-child relationships fall into one of four basic attachment categories, according to Perdue University -- secure, avoidant, ambivalent and disorganized 1. The secure child knows her parent will be there to support her. An avoidant child has learned she can’t depend on her parents and must care for herself. Ambivalent children have parents who do not meet their needs consistently, while children with disorganized attachments have been raised in an environment that is neglectful or even harmful. Culture and lifestyle can also affect these relationships.

Cultural Differences

Although culture is often considered in terms of ethnicity or geographical location, any culture may support or not support parent-child relationships 1. A culture in which it is the norm for both parents to work full-time will be different than a culture in which only one parent works outside the home. If high-quality child care is readily available when both parents must work, it will have a different effect than child care that is inconsistent or fragmented. Time pressures and conflict between work and home duties, financial pressures and consumerism were all factors in parents’ perceptions of their parent-child relationships, according to a November 2001 study in “Child: Care, Health and Development.” 12

Asian Parenting

Americans who parent their children based on European child-raising beliefs may feel that Asian-Americans are stricter and less warm, according to the Frances McClelland Institute at the University of Arizona . Even within the Asian-American group, however, there may be differences. Chinese Americans believe the child has a duty to the family, and emotional expression is not encouraged. Filipino Americans, however, encourage high levels of affection and closeness, with interdependent relationships in which family members support each other. Group harmony is valued and children are taught to support the family by getting along with others. A Chinese American parent is more likely to show love by making a financial sacrifice for the child’s benefit, while European Americans and Filipino Americans are more likely to display affection with words or hugs.

Dangerous Lifestyles

Lifestyles that include activities such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse can create many problems in the parent-child relationship. Children who grow up under such conditions may never develop trust in adults or have constant fears for their personal safety. A mentally ill parent may require care from the child rather than the other way around. Parents who are addicted to alcohol or drugs may be unable to establish supportive relationships with their children and may expose them to danger through lack of supervision or access to dangerous substances.

Protective Factors

Irrespective of culture or lifestyle, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that certain conditions or attributes promote parent-child relationships and family well-being 12. These are nurturing and attachment, knowledge of parenting and child development, parental resilience, social connections, concrete support for parents and the social and emotional competence of children. When parents and children have good emotional bonds -- however they are expressed -- that are understood by both parties, the parent-child relationship will be strong.