Does having kids really make you happy? Really? Are you sure?

I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of parents–dads and moms–and I often hear things like, “Having children gave my life meaning,” or “Being a parent is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” or “I love my children more than anything.” But there’s a difference between loving your kids, life having meaning, and doing an important job and being happy. A big difference. Researchers are finding that the connection in a lot of people’s minds between happiness and parenting is greatly exaggerated. In fact, they’re finding that there’s a stronger case to be made that parenting makes us unhappy than the other way around.

For me, the answer to the question about whether being a parent makes me happy is a definite Yes. Sometimes. Often. But other times I understand why certain species eat their young.

If you’ve ever felt the same way (and, honestly, I’ve never met a parent who didn’t) you’ll find this article in US News and World Report fascinating. Some of the highlights:

  • “We have these cultural values and beliefs that parenting is essential to happiness,” says Robin Simon, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, “but we find no evidence of that.”
  • According to Dr. Simon, there is only on real benefit to parenthood: “Parents of young kids drink less alcohol than unmarried people,” she says. “But that’s it.”
  • Men and women seem to be equally unhappy.
  • One of the stressful consequences of parenthood is that people are so committed to raising their children that they freely forego lots of other satisfying life activities. “Children crowd out all the other pleasures” says Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert. “You don’t have sex as much anymore, you don’t go out to the movies, and you don’t have other sources of joy.”
  • There’s also a big difference between happiness and satisfaction. Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University says, “Having kids makes you less happy in terms of what you’re doing today, yet it’s deeply satisfying. If you ask parents with newborn kids how happy they are with they’re marriage, they’re less happy. But if you ask them how satisfied they are with their lives, they’re deeply satisfied.”

Comments

  1. Bruce Berrol says:

    Interesting article Armin. Although since mine has not yet hit the teen-age years, I’d still have to go with “deeply satisfying” (great description) AND “happy”. Good post.

  2. I think there’s a great confusion between happiness and satisfaction. The deep things in life are often not fun. Getting your college degree can be hard work but when you walk up on the podium in cap ‘n’ gown, there’s a real deep feeling of satisfaction, yes happiness. No one would say that raising kids is fun, but the joy and satisfaction you get – NOW and THEN – is bigger and deeper than anything you would tend to describe as fun.

    So, yes having kids for me has brought great happiness but also the biggest trials and challenges of my life. I’d not trade a minute of it!

  3. Um, really. Going out to the movies a source of joy? Compared to parenting? Sorry, but, this culture’s definition of happiness, especially expressed by uber-”educated” academic elites, is shallow at best. Yes, I have understood why some species eat their young. The other day I wanted to find the address to ship them back. But, finding my “happiness” in movie going, or seeing the world, or getting my hair done seems ridiculous in comparison to the joy I get when my children make a connection between their lives and the Creator, when they reach out and help each other, when they ask me to stay just a little longer by their bedside. So yes, I really am happy. Being a parent.

  4. Great post. And true. Sometimes all I want to do is sit down with a cup of tea and read a magazine. But that’s not possible with the kids. But you know what – they will grow up and move on. So this ‘no me time’ isnt forever. It will pass so quickly. So I don’t mind that I am not able to do the things I would otherwise do. Because I have my kids.

Whatcha think?