Background. Although parenting has long been considered an important risk factor for subsequent psychopathology, most investigations of this question have studied a single informant, clinical populations, one or a few disorders and did not consider relevant covariates.
Methods. Three dimensions of parenting (coldness, protectiveness and authoritarianism) were measured by combining the retrospective reports from adult female twins, their co-twins, and their mothers and fathers. We assessed by personal interview, lifetime history in the twins of eight common psychiatric and substance abuse disorders and a range of predictors of parenting. Analyses were performed using logistic regression.
Results. Examined individually, high levels of coldness and authoritarianism were modestly but significantly associated with increased risk for nearly all disorders, while the impact of protectiveness was more variable. These associations declined modestly when putative predictors of parenting were added as covariates. Maternal and paternal parenting were equally associated with outcomes in adult daughters. When coldness, protectiveness and authoritarianism were examined together, nearly all significant associations were seen solely with coldness. Few significant interactions were found between maternal and paternal parenting or between coldness, protectiveness and authoritarianism. The shared experience of these three dimensions of parenting predicts a quite small correlation in liability to these disorders in dizygotic twin pairs (e.g. r < 0·04).
Conclusion. In women, parenting behaviour, especially levels of coldness, is probably causally related to risk for a broad range of adult psychiatric disorders. The impact of parenting on substance use disorders may be largely mediated through their co-morbidity with major depression, phobias and generalized anxiety disorder. In general population samples, the association of poor parenting with psychiatric illness is modest, largely non-specific and explains little of the observed aggregation of these disorders in families.
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