Healthy Households, Healthy Hearts
It’s Saturday morning—which in our household means a day of chores. Laundry, vacuuming, picking up messy rooms, running to the grocery store—all so we’re ready for another week of getting kids to school on time in clean clothes with full tummies and full lunchboxes.
None of this work is fun. It feels neither significant nor spiritual. And yet, as a growing number of academic studies is finding, it is crucial.
I wrote last month about research that has quantified the value of the unpaid work of moms and dads, grandparents, neighbors and volunteers—helping our market-driven societies begin to see the impact of such work in terms it accepts.
Something similar has been happening on the impact of parents on the future health of their kids. Analyses of long-term survey data continue to show that experiencing abuse or poorly organized households in childhood is associated with higher rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, depression, heart attacks and high blood pressure in adulthood.
Just this past week, there was a bit of news coverage of a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. It also found that childhood abuse led to higher rates of Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol among adults.
Abuse in this and other studies was defined as an adult in your household hitting, pushing or shoving a child so hard it leaves marks or injuries or adults swearing at, insulting or verbally threatening you. Poor organization was based on survey participants description of their childhood homes, including how much their parents were aware of what they were doing.
“Early life experiences can initiate behavioral and cardiometabolic processes that increase the risks for cardiovascular events in adulthood, the authors of the latest study explain. “Exposure to childhood physical and psychological abuse is associated with the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2DM), hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. In contrast, exposure to nurturing relationships in childhood is associated with optimal self-reported physical and mental health and lower odds of smoking and depression in adulthood.”
These studies add evidence to support what the Bible already tells us.
The Apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 3, describes the man qualified to be a church elder as someone who is not violent and in control of his emotions and household: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Tim. 3:2-4).
And Proverbs 31 describes the excellent woman as a mother who works hard to protect and provide for her family, yet also does so with kindness: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her” (Prov. 31:26-28).
It can feel like the work of running a household is just a necessity to live but has no significance beyond that. It can seem that resolving conflicts is just a fact of life, nothing special.
But in fact, doing the mundane tasks to keep our houses and families running has long-lasting effects, physically as well as spiritually, on our children's hearts.