Do Children Bring Happiness
I'm sure that none of us are surprised by the results - having kids is harder (aka more miserable LOL!) when they are younger, or teenagers, or if you have less of a support system or are strapped for cash. Pretty common sense, but still opens the conversation, in YOUR experience, do children provide more happiness or misery? Be honest! LOLEvolutionary psychologists tell us that wanting offspring is hardwired, but for most of us, the decision to have a child is intensely personal?and has become all the more daunting in recent years thanks to several high-profile research studies that have suggested that parents are miserable and stretched to the limit.
Along with a team of social psychologists, Katie Nelson and I decided to take a closer look at the relationship between parenting and well-being. Contrary to recent media messages, the findings turned out to be rather mixed. Some studies using large-scale nationally representative datasets find that parents are happier and more satisfied than their childless peers, some studies find no difference, and some studies find the reverse. The more we scrutinized the literature, the more convinced we became that the question of whether parents are happier than nonparents is not a very meaningful one. Rather, it depends on the parent?and the child.
Our analysis revealed that certain types of parents (e.g., young parents and parents with small children) are particularly unhappy, while other types (e.g., fathers, married parents, and empty nesters) report especially high life satisfaction, happiness, or meaning. In other words, whether or not children go hand in hand with happiness depends on many factors, including our age, marital status, income and social support, as well as whether our children live with us and have difficult temperaments. Whether we ourselves were securely attached to our own parents is even a factor.
For example, in our own research with a large sample of U.S. adults, my team found that, compared to older parents, parents ages 17 to 25 were less satisfied with their lives than their peers without kids. However, all types of parents reported having more meaning in life than did their childless counterparts, suggesting that the rewards of parenting may be more ineffable than the daily highs (or lows).
Some might argue that parents are deluding themselves: Having sacrificed time, money, and selfhood to parenting, they persuade themselves that, of course, their children make them happy. To rule out this explanation, we decided to unobtrusively measure parents? actual day-to-day experiences of parenting. Parents randomly beeped throughout the day reported more positive emotions than nonparents, and parents reported more positive emotions and meaning when they weretaking care of their children than when they were doing other activities, like working or eating.
My four children range from 3 months to 14 years, so I can attest firsthand to the truism that kids are the source of our greatest joy and our greatest sorrow. Children give our lives purpose, infuse fun and pride into our lives, and enrich our identities. At the same time, they are also vectors for worry, anger, and disappointment; they deprive us of energy and sleep; and they strain our finances and our marriages. Not surprisingly, research suggests that the downsides of parenting are more evident when kids are very young or teenagers, and when we lack the resources (monetary, social, developmental) to manage them. Keep these findings in mind when deciding to have a child, and consider that 94% of parents say that it is still worth it, despite the costs.
Last edited by Alissa_Sal; 08-02-2013 at 11:46 AM.
This made me laugh a little because I was unhappy last night. Reid is teething, I think, or else he's going through the four month sleep regression, or maybe he's just lost his mind. I'm sure I don't have to elaborate in this crowd. Also, sometimes T drives me nuts. There are days when I have to ask him over and over again to do something because he'll be in the middle of doing it (let's say, getting dressed) and then get distracted (decides to play guitar instead). Repeat, repeat, repeat. Also, there are days when I wish everyone would just stop touching me.
Having said all of that, I also agree with the article that the highs of child rearing are higher than my pre-child life. There are moments of pure happiness, moments of such pride, moments that make your eyes tear up with the sheer love and beauty of it all. I also think that having a family has given me a whole new reason to love my husband. Some of the moments when I love him the most fiercely are the moments when I see and understand what an amazing dad he is. Watching him loving our children adds a layer to our relationship that makes my heart almost hurt with happiness and love. So there is all that too.
Mostly, I can't imagine what else I would be doing with my time if I didn't have these terrible wonderful gorgeous awful little people demanding all of my attention and energy and making me crazy with love and frustration and happiness and pride and annoyance. Like, I have no idea what I did with all of that time and energy and money that I wasn't spending on them in my twenties, and I have no idea what I would do with myself if I didn't have them now. That would be just awful. So on the balance, I'm voting "happiness" with a bonus of "what else do I have to do anyway?" LOL
My children give me great happiness. There are times when it is sad, like right now when my 3 year old is burning up with a 101.2 fever and I do not know what is wrong or how to fix it, but even in those times there is joy in holding her in my arms (The rare moments when she wants to cuddle are precious). There are times when I enjoy a break from my children, but overall, my children give me happiness.
I think there's a happiness gap between younger parents and older parents. IME it seems a lot of the younger parents (age 25 or less when their first baby was born) don't really know what they're getting into, kwim? They do seem to expect their kids to make them happy, keep their partners from straying, turn the world into sunshine & rainbows, and they are genuinely shocked at the amount of time-suck and hard work that comes along with kids. The older parents (age 35 or more when their first child was born) generally seem more to know what to *really* expect and generally seem more confident in taking it on 110%, seeing the glass half full (I didn't see it as sitting up half the night with a colicky baby; it was many quiet hours to stare at her beautiful face & inspect the wrinkles on her toes) and/or being more open to doing things that work rather than what we think we're supposed to do (I slept in the papasan chair with her on my chest, colic stopped, I got sleep, everyone happy). Also IME the younger parents tend to have a much higher divorce or breakup rate (over 100% because some of them have multiple breakups with their co-parents, I only know one couple who is still together who had their kids young) than the parents who are older when they have their kids (0%) which certainly affects personal happiness and family stability. Or maybe I just know a bunch of young parents who are lazy whiny slackers in bad relationships, LOL.
I love seeing the world through new eyes. I love how much more I *feel* things since they were born. I love how much more energy I have. Yes, they do exhaust me sometimes, but more often than that, they rev me up with their own limitless energy. They do make me happy most of the time, but my happiness is not their problem, it's totally up to me. Even when they completely tick me off, I usually choose to try to find happiness in the moment because I simply don't like feeling negative about anything, but especially not about my kids. I chose to have them, and I chose to wait a long time to have them to make sure that I had the resources, the support network, and the emotional maturity to be a good parent to them and give us all a better chance at happiness. Because their happiness *is* my job and I didn't think I was equipped to do it earlier in my life.
70% of the U.S. population now lives in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. At 36 and counting!
Haha Stacey, maybe my feelings about parenthood are more complex than just happy or just miserable because I fall in between your two parenting age groups (married at 25, had our first baby at 27.)
I totally agree that my happiness is not their responsibility and that their happiness is my responsibility. Well put!
happiness means so many things. Just because they cause situational stress doesn't mean they don't bring joy to your life overall.
I read that piece and what i got out of it is "stressfull things can make you feel unhappy in the moment"
FTR, i started my family young...it was a great choice for us, i'm happy with it and don't regret doing it that way. Doesn't mean that on any given day you haven't found me frustrated or just plain unhappy.
Yeah, none of this is news to me, I don't quite get it as a topic for an article!
Mine are 9 and almost 6. For us, the hardest phase was the baby/toddler phase, because of the sheer exhaustion. You love them, they're so cute, you delight in every new thing they do, but you don't get enough sleep and when you're awake with them you have to be vigilant at all times to keep them out of physical danger, make sure they're eating/pooping/sleeping etc. While that was cute & all, it was more exhausting.
Now it's different, and I get a whole new kind of joy from them, from talking to them, seeing them do things on their own, and I love that they're still young enough to snuggle and cuddle and be so open with their love, their questions, and their opinions.
I'm sure when adolescence hits I'll be singing a different tune.
But yeah...all in all it's both. They give meaning to life, they remind me of what's important, they give me joy. They frustrate me, they make me miss going to the movies & having "what should I do today?" days, they exhaust me too.
I love the time I spend with them and I love getting time on my own or just with my husband or just with my friends.
They teach me to milk the joy out of what I can, and to have perspective when things are tough.
I don't even find things specific to parents' ages...I see quite the range and no real consistency to it. I'm an older parent and that's just how my life went, and I can see advantages and disadvantages.
To the question....a lot more happiness than misery. A lot more. But occasionally....misery.
Laurie, mom to:
Nathaniel ( 11 ) and Juliet ( 7 )
Baking Adventures In A Messy Kitchen (blog)
I had my children young, and I know many happy people that had children young. I only know a few people who have divorced. All of my friends are still together with their first husband/wife going on 10 years or more. Many/most of them had children young.
I do not think how old you are when you start your family is related to how happy/unhappy you are.