Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Parents Less Happy Than Non-Parents?

Every few years, someone does a new study that proves that parents are less happy than non-parents. I don't know why it makes the news over and over again, but it does, and naturally it gets us people with offspring to wondering if it's actually true that parents are less happy than non-parents. It's a toughie - how does one objectively measure happiness? Is my happy the same as your happy?

Frankly, I wish they'd talk more about the methodology in articles like this one. And maybe use less depressing photos. And also stop putting scare quotes around things and implying that all parents in the U.S. are leading a busy middle class lifestyle that includes driving their spoiled kids to a different activity every evening. But anyway.)

Personally, I don't feel less happy than I did before the Babby was born. If you discount that first six months of intense sleep deprivation, I think I am overall more happy, more cheerful, and less prone to depression than I was before I became a mom.

Maybe it's just that I feel like I have to make the effort to see the good things in life because I don't want to teach the Babby to focus on the not-so-good things? Happiness, much like love, is often less something you feel and more something you do. Happiness is so subjective that we each invent it for ourselves, in other words.

That said, I have another theory about why parents report being less happy than the "no kidding" crowd and it has to do with expectations. When someone is pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant or dreaming about what it will be like to be a mommy or a daddy, they tend to focus on things like baby's first smile or lots of huggies or teaching junior to ride a bike.

Very few people sit around daydreaming about poop explosions so bad they require cutting a onesie off of the baby or waking up to a crying infant for the seventh time in a night or a kid screaming "I hate you!" over and over again.

But these sorts of things happen and they happen a lot. Maybe having lots of younger brothers and sisters made me see early on that being a parent is not all newborn coos and picking out cute outfits? I wasn't around all that much when they were all growing up, but it only takes a week of family immersion to see a fight, to see someone getting grounded, to see a baby spit up or have a fever, etc.

Before I had the Babby, I knew that being a mama would sometimes be kind of disgusting, kind of frustrating, and even kind of annoying. Not all the time... not even most of the time. But, yeah, sometimes. 

And then you're looking at your friends with no kids who are enjoying their disposable income and free time and suddenly you're thinking about shipping yourself to Dubai via FedEx Overnight.

Here's another thing that may contribute to my happiness: I have made a conscious effort to engage in hobbies and activities that enrich *my* life... ooh, doesn't that sound selfish? Here's the thing, though: I don't actually think it is. Me being happy is good for the Babby and as long as I don't neglect her to enrich myself, what's the harm? Now if the BabbyDaddy would just use some of his free evening coupons to work on some of his projects *wink*

In the end, what's nice about reading articles like the one linked to above is that it makes me feel like the BabbyDaddy and I are kicking tush and taking names in the relationship and parenting departments because we actually like spending time with each other and spending time with the Babby. We are happy! And that rocks!


  1. I often feel like any time there is some big article about parenting it is very negative or puts having children in a negative light. Like it ruins your life or something. Very rarely is there something positive printed. Like the people who write the articles, publish the articles and read the articles are all single 40+ individuals that need to have affirmation that they made the right choice in not having families or something.

    Having children is harder on social planning than being childless, but we've rarely let Everett stand in our way of going out with friends or having parties here at the house. For me, being social is what keeps me happy. Too much hermit time makes for a very depressed Audrey.

  2. Unfortunately, so many people quantify happiness in regards to things like:
    ~having lots of money
    ~exotic vacations
    ~beautiful homes
    ~expensive cars

    But when you have children, you sometimes have to give some of that up. Of course, if you make billions, you can do it all, but most of us don't.

    So, I really question how they can even quantify happiness? Because I really think it's something that can't be measured. And I know for sure that without my children, I would not be as happy. It just would not be me.

    Before I had kids, I was bored out of my mind :) But get this, I'm educated (BA)-- I'm a smart girl! And a lot of times articles will try to tell you that women who choose not to have kids are smarter for some reason. I find that to be offensive.

    Bottom line= my kids make ME happy!

  3. I think there is a difference between happiness and contentment. To me happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes. Whereas contentment is a state of being. I would be happier too if I had more sleep, more money, more free time, blah blah bah. However, I can honestly say that I am more content as a parent. I also did everything before a lot before I became a mommy...established a career, went to grad school,traveled. maybe some parents are unhappy because they did accomplish their personal goals before having kids. I can see that, but to say ALL parents are less happy than non-parents is bunk.

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  5. Sorry, I needed to rewrite my comment!

    If you ask me, I think it's just another attempt to make those of us who can't have children somewhat happier than we are right now with not having children. Yes, I know there are those people who are proud to be childfree, but this article does nothing for them. They already think their lives are better.

    The people who read these articles are parents and those who want to be parents, and I think it's a disservice to both.

  6. i'd like to know the age of the people participating in the study & the age of the parents children. sure... some childless gal might not have to wake 3 times a night, or change dirty diapers. so right now, at this exact moment she might be a wee bit happier than me. but come 10 years, or even 20 years? my bet is she is seriously lonely & wondering what the purpose of life is.... just sayin'


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