Personality and Parenting
Birkbeck University of London
The Pennsylvania State University
It is not uncommon for individuals to think of other people they know well or have recently met as being nasty or nice, conventional or open-minded, careful or sloppy, timid or adventurous. In point of fact, individual differences in personality manifest themselves in a wide range of behaviors and behavioral domains. These include, among other things, social relationships, including the parent– child relationship. Yet when it comes to thinking about mothers and fathers and the manner in which they parent, it seems that it is the exception rather than the rule to consider their personalities. Developmentalists seem more inclined, at least since the ecological revolution (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), to think in terms of parents' contexts—whether they are rich or poor, well or poorly educated, lacking or rich in social support, participating in satisfying work or experiencing unemployment. Perhaps this is because many believe that personalities are givens; they are not very subject to change. As a result, scholars, in particular those concerned with improving the lives of children and families, often focus on those aspects of children's experiences that they presume can be modified so as to promote healthy psychological and behavioral development.
What this point of view fails to acknowledge is how widespread the influence of parents' personalities may be, perhaps shaping not only maternal and paternal behavior, but the way in which adults function in these other contexts of their lives that many presume affect the way in which parents care for their offspring and, thereby, the child's development (Belsky, 1984). If this is the case, then personality may not only affect parenting directly, but indirectly as well. For example, it may influence the degree of social support a father secures or the occupational experiences that mothers have, which themselves can affect parenting. From this perspective, it should be clear why understanding personality is important to understanding parenting. It is for this reason that this chapter is devoted to exploring the relation between personality and parenting.
We begin by considering historical issues that have shaped the study of personality and parenting and then proceed to review issues central to the study of personality and parenting and the limited