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.”