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Convergent and Discriminant Validity of Retrospective Assessments of the Quality of Childhood Parenting: Prospective Evidence From Infancy to Age 26 Years.


Retrospective self-report assessments of adults' childhood experiences with their parents are widely employed in psychological science, but such assessments are rarely validated against actual parenting experiences measured during childhood. Here, we leveraged prospectively acquired data characterizing mother-child and father-child relationship quality using observations, parent reports, and child reports covering infancy through adolescence. At age 26 years, approximately 800 participants completed a retrospective measure of maternal and paternal emotional availability during childhood. Retrospective reports of childhood emotional availability demonstrated weak convergence with composites reflecting prospectively acquired observations (R2s = .01-.05) and parent reports (R2s = .02-.05) of parenting quality. Retrospective parental availability was more strongly associated with prospective assessments of child-reported parenting quality (R2s = .24-.25). However, potential sources of bias (i.e., depressive symptoms and family closeness and cohesiveness at age 26 years) accounted for more variance in retrospective reports (39%-40%) than did prospective measures (26%), suggesting caution when using retrospective reports of childhood caregiving quality as a proxy for prospective data.

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