A new study suggesting that kids learn relationship skills from Mom might not be welcome news for those who dread the idea of turning into their mothers. That said, those who’ve been unlucky in love thus far can take comfort in knowing that their low dating success rate is partially Mom’s fault.
The data for the November 2018 study published in the journal PLOS ONE came from two previous studies: the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth Child and Young Adult (NLSY79 CYA). All the participants of NLSY79 CYA were biological children of women who participated in NLSY79. The researchers of those studies followed participants for 24 years so they could learn more about the participants’ romantic lives, including their number of romantic partners, whether they were cohabiting, and marriage and divorce statistics.
Researchers from Ohio State University looked at the old data and concluded that mothers seemingly passed down personality traits and relationship skills to their offspring. For example, a mother’s number of marriages and lifetime cohabiting partners was a good indicator of how many partners her child had. And children who were exposed to their mothers’ cohabiting relationships longer than their siblings were more likely to have more romantic partners.
The most likely explanation for why one’s number of partners reflects his or her mother’s dating history has to do with learned behavior. “What our results suggest is that mothers may pass on their marriageable characteristics and relationship skills to their children — for better or worse,” lead author Claire Kamp Dush, PhD, said. “It could be that mothers who have more partners don’t have great relationship skills, or don’t deal with conflict well, or have mental health problems, each of which can undermine relationships and lead to instability. Whatever the exact mechanisms, they may pass these characteristics on to their children, making their children’s relationships less stable.”
So, the next time you visit your mom, why not compare romantic histories? It might make for one awkward dinner conversation, but it could lead you both to discover you have more in common than you think.