Does Having Kids Make You Happier?

According to this article, the answer is no.

Recently published research has found that satisfaction with one's marriage and life decreases quite a bit after the arrival of the first child, and only increases when the last kid leaves the nest. According to the studies, parents are happier fixing a leaky faucet or sleeping than they are when they're hanging out with their children, and those with kids are about 7% less likely to report being happy than those who never had Junior.

Apparently, your childless aunt and uncle are the happiest people you know.

I found these studies fascinating and unsurprising. In fact, my guess is that the number of unhappy parents is actually a lot higher than was reported, because how many people do you know who would own up to riding the misery train since little Aidan and his sister Brooke arrived? The answer: not many. I include myself in this group, of course. No, I'm not miserable (right now, anyway) but try complaining about parenthood to anyone who knows what you went through to have children in the first place. Magnify that with my own feelings of guilt with admitting that sometimes motherhood sucks the big one, and you would hear me responding, "Of COURSE I'm happy with my life! My child is my entire world. My Alpha AND my Omega!" when presented with that question.

I come from an extremely "child-centric" family. My mom, her mom, and my aunts all sacrificed a great deal for their children. I reaped the benefits of this, and grew up surrounded by more love and attention than I think most kids receive. For this, I'll always be grateful. But what about my mom, my grandma, and my aunts as people outside their roles as mothers? Were they happier for having had children? Or were the financial, personal, educational, and even marital sacrifices they made for their kids secretly eroding their levels of satisfaction with their lives?

Parents (and especially mothers) are taught that having children is the single, most fulfilling thing they'll ever do. In a number of ways, it is. The degree of love I have for my daughter is like nothing I've ever experienced. I cannot imagine my life without her, and I am incredibly thankful for the miracle of science that made me her mom.

But is my life infinitely more complicated and stressful since having her? You bet. Am I sometimes miserable? Hell yeah. But I don't think admitting this makes me ungrateful or the worst mother ever.

Parenthood isn't all trips to Six Flags and 4th of July picnics under the stars. Sometimes it's back-breaking drudgery, followed by monotony, followed by many a mini crisis over how you're going to afford preschool.

I wish I had realized this as I was painting parenthood with a fantasy brush while going through infertility treatment. Was I ever in for a rude awakening when my daughter arrived.

Parents who are willing to admit that sometimes raising kids impacts their lives in negative ways are my personal heroes. Why? Because they speak the truth. They aren't hiding behind the unrealistic and unattainable "perfect mom" or "perfect dad" persona society expects them to adopt the second the cord is cut, but are instead owning up to the fact that a little misery doesn't make them Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. It makes them human.

11 Responses to “Does Having Kids Make You Happier?”

  1. # Anonymous Ness

    What an interesting topic. I hadn't really thought about it as in-depthly (it's a word because I say so) as that. My initial reaction, was, "What...of course I'm happier." But on reading further, I realised something...just like marriage vs living together intensifies a marriage in that it makes the good stuff- fantastic, and the bad stuff much worse - so too does having children. I've experienced Everest height 'highs' with having kids, and black hole 'lows' since having kids. My emotions did not have this range before I had kids. Sure I had ups and downs like everyone else - but not like this. This is beyond ANYTHING I knew before having kids. It can't be a hormonal thing either (a sort of permanent change in the body) because I'm sure adoptive mothers experience the same things. Phew what a thought to suddenly have an epiphany with my morning cup of tea! (That's good blogging!)  

  2. # Blogger Mom24

    It is an interesting thing to think about. In my case, motherhood does make me happy. Happier than anything I've ever done, and it totally completes me. It is the best thing ever. That's terrifying. Because someday, and not too far away. This stage of motherhood will end. Then what? I have no idea. I have invested my entire adult life (and a little bit of not-so-adult life) in being a mother. I have loved every moment of it. But imagine having to give up something you love so completely, something you will have done for 25-30 years, and something you absolutely cannot keep doing forever. What then? I don't for a minute regret that I devoted my life to my children, but I am a tiny bit scared of what that means for my future.  

  3. # Blogger Five-Browns

    Wow. Well written. Am with you. I too suffered fertility issues and am constantly reminded by ALL AROUND ME that this is WHAT I WANTED when I was infertile. That I should be BLISSFULLY HAPPY eternally for the gift of my 3 kids. I am. But heck, I aint Mary Poppins. And my life DOES NOT revolve around my kids and I feel that is healthy. I love being a mom but I also love many other roles in my life and I intend to keep nurturing them all. And I think this is a positive model for my girls for their futures.

    But yes, admitting parenthood is not quite what one expected, is pretty heroic.  

  4. # Blogger Jesser

    This is very interesting and, really, I have so many thoughts on this subject that a single comment will not cover them all (I've written about 3 novel-length comments that just didn't come out right). I can definitely see this as being true. Raising kids is a hard and frequently thankless job. But I also think that parents (moms especially) do themselves a dis-service by centering their lives around their kids. I know parents (moms) that never want to leave their kids even for an evening. It just floors me. I think we need to rise up beyond this 150% parenthood martyrdom and stop being so hard on ourselves and so judgemental of each other (and I realize that my position is quite possibly a bit judgemental). ;)  

  5. # Blogger Tracey

    I would think that for couples who struggled with infertility, the stigma of complaining would be tenfold... I was completely "allowed" to complain and say "Wow. This sucks sometimes." And you know, maybe it's not the "world" saying that you can't say negative things, but your own perception of what the world is thinking. Because, honestly? As a woman who never struggled with infertility, I do NOT think that you have any less right to bitch. Sometimes the lows are extremely low. But the highs that come along with it are so extreme, that it seems to even it out.

    I truly didn't have a rose-colored picture of motherhood. Honestly, I don't know how I was so grounded at such a young age, but I think I was pretty dang prepared for the range of suckiness and good stuff. Did this make me "happier" in the long run? Probably. The only thing I was shocked by was how incredibly hard it was to go back to work. That is something I underestimated a THOUSAND fold. (hence, the reason I am no longer working!)  

  6. # Anonymous Lis Garrett

    While I love all three of my children, there are times I find myself envying those with just one child. I could never choose between them, and I would never want to be childless. But geez, I wish someone had been brutally honest and said to me, "Having more than one is not all it's cracked up to be." My time is SO fractured that, yeah, I'm already counting down the days until school begins!! All I want to do is sit down and write an article without having to fix various snacks, break up a fight, or clean up a mess. It's taken me a long time to type this comment, simply because I've had one, two, or three kids walking in and out the back door, yelling for me, asking me for things - it NEVER ends (until they go to sleep for the night).

    Am I unhappy? Most days NO. However, my patience is definitely not what it used to be, and I have to try REALLY hard to control it. I have a very short window of opportunity to get anything done during the day, so I am constantly go, go, going. It's the time constraint, not my children, that makes me unhappy, and it's (thankfully) a problem easily rectified by more efficient prioritizing and budgeting of time.  

  7. # Blogger Shannon

    the one thing that makes me unhappy with being a mom is the lack of money and how you almost HAVE TO go back to work to make ends meet... that and the lack of time to do a few things for myself... nothing huge... just let me head a book once a week lol...  

  8. # Blogger Sasha

    Ok, I am not going to be miss Rosy-Pants-Sunshine, but I will be honest and say my sex life, my marriage and my general happiness quotient has gone up considerably since having children. That is no lie. Believe me, I am the last person who would ever miss a chance to complain.

    The reason? My sacrifices have been minimal and my husband's involvement has been huge. I really think those are the differences for me. Somehow I have managed to find myself in a fulfilling, thriving career and a much happier marriage after kids than either I was in prior to them.

    Perhaps it is because I was raised in such an adult-centered home, but I truly do not feel (that) guilty for taking tons of me-time. I get pedicures, see movies on opening night, work out every day and hang out with my friends.

    I really think it is a matter of priorities. The women who are the most miserable are the ones who allow their guilt to lead them (or the ones who do not have other financial choices, of course), but quite frankly, I get a whole lot of takeout, we have a cleaning lady and the house looks like shite on the days she is not here.

    I do not believe those things are my responsibility. My responsibility is to myself first, my family second and then to paying the bills. I think this is why I am happy.

    And I am scared to death I am about to mess it all up.  

  9. # Blogger Damselfly

    Yeah, sometimes the best thing in the world is also the most trying. Like "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  

  10. # Anonymous aande

    Terrific post! As someone who also conceived after fertility treatments, I do feel the pressure to be "appreciative" of what I now have. I am appreciative and feel so blessed to have my children, but , man-oh-man, motherhood sure does have its miserable moments!  

  11. # Anonymous Matt Jaworski

    I realised something...just like marriage vs living together intensifies a marriage in that it makes the good stuff- fantastic, and the bad stuff much worse - so too does having children. I've experienced Everest height 'highs' with having kids, and black hole 'lows' since having kids. My emotions did not have this range before I had kids. Sure I had ups and downs like everyone else - but not like this.  

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