Parents - Are They Less Happy Than Other People?

Filed under: Opinions

familyClarance Darrow said, "The first half of our lives is ruined by our parents, and the second half by our children." Scientific study seems to back him up. Parenthood is supposed to bring joy and fulfillment into our lives, but study after study reveals that parents report less happiness than their child-free peers.

Even former President George W. Bush once said of his twin daughters, "I've been to war. I've raised twins. If I had a choice, I'd rather go to war."

When I asked my friend Lisa Neuser what she thought about childless adults being happier than parents, her husband quipped, "Of course we were happier then, are you kidding me?" It's easy to admit that kids are hard work, that parenthood isn't the cakewalk you'd thought it be. But Mr. Neuser's joking comment aside, do parents really believe they'd be happier without kids?

I think that what matters most here is defining the word. If your idea of happiness is world travel and sleeping in on weekends, then parenthood probably won't make you happy. "I am happier than before I had children," says Iowa mom of four Lisa Vandercar. "But I wasn't unhappy before them. I not only love my children, I like them. I think they mostly feel the same way about me. I think having them in my life enriched it in ways that travel, nice things, and intellectual pursuits could never compare to."

But just like marriage bears little resemblance to those fairy tales my girls are so fond of, real parenthood rarely looks as sweet as a diaper or baby shampoo commercial. "I have noticed that life feels easier -- and happier -- as they get older," says Neuser. "The toddler years aren't easy. The lack of sleep, tantrums, and exhaustion take a toll. But also there is something built relationship-wise from these growing pains. Kind of how couples who endure a traumatic experience grow closer and more appreciative of life in general."

Parenthood means sacrifice, there's no way to spin it otherwise. Parents sacrifice freedom, sleep, money, free time, pre-pregnancy bodies and stretch mark-free stomachs. It's messy, it's hard, and sometimes it brings out the worst in us. But motherhood -- for me, anyway -- has returned to me tenfold what I've given up, added layer upon layer of love, fulfillment, peace, memory. And that, to me, equals happiness.

Maybe the problem isn't happiness, maybe it's expectations. Leading expectant parents to believe that the act of giving birth will magically transforms them into a patient, nurturing, loving parent is just setting them up for failure. But facing parenthood with eyes wide open -- ready to face whatever it has to offer -- can mean climbing aboard the ride of a lifetime.

What do you think of these findings? Are you happier now that you've become a parent, or do you think that you were happier before you had kids? And if so, why?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.