When I first became a parent, I enjoyed reading books by people who were honest about parenting. These books said parenting wasn’t as easy as it looked, and that sometimes it was downright hard and frustrating. Some studies say that parents can’t be happy because parenting is such hard work. Take an honest look within; what do you see?
Lately, I’ve been reading some very interesting (and alarming) things about parenting and happiness.
1. “Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children,” says Betsey Stevenson, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who co-wrote the paper “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.”
2.Journalists are currently citing a study of 909 Texas working women that ranked child care #16 on a happiness scale (behind housework). What they don’t point out is the irony of the study that reveals that the three aspects of working: the morning commute, the evening commute, and actually working makes them less happy than taking care of their kids.
3.Research says that moms are less happy than dads and that single parents are even less happy.
4.Another study found that children increase life satisfaction for married couples. It also found that parenting was more difficult for people who are separated, single, or never married.
Yes, the subject matter is heavy, but sometimes I think we all just need to lighten up! I read Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott, and laughed at the ridiculous things that the author did as she attempted to raise her son, Sam, but her book made me laugh even more at myself! Although I began taking parenting more seriously than I had, I also began to lighten up about some of the things that happened to me as a parent. Sometimes I fear that the press has gone too far by implying that parenting is awful, through promoting the notion that all parents hate it. I know that parenting is hard at times, and there are certain periods I would rather not repeat, but both of my kids have made my life better, not worse.
As parents, we need to be honest about the ups and downs of parenting. Yes, parts of parenting are dull, aggravating, and frustrating, but there are also parts of parenting that my single friends envy—like when my 4-year-old ran up to me, hugged me, and said, “I love you, Mommy,” or when my 18-year-old said, “Mom, the older you get, the smarter you get.” Or this summer, when both of my teenagers wished my husband and I a happy anniversary without any prompting—and even commented about how happy they were for us. The studies about unhappy parents focus too much on the small picture—not the big picture. If a researcher asked me how happy I was about my parenting when I’m in the middle of an intense conflict or when I’m running late getting my kid to an activity; I, too, would say, “I could be a lot of happier.” But if a researcher asked me if I would have kids again, I would say, “Absolutely!”
Maureen Dowd, “Blue Is the New Black,” The New York Times, September 20, 2009.
Jenifer Senior, “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting,” New York magazine, July 4, 2010.
Daniel Kahneman, Alan B. Krueger, David Schkade, Norbert Schwarz, and Arthur Stone, “Toward National Well-Being Accounts,” in The American Economic Review, Vol. 94, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the One Hundred Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the American Economic
Association, San Diego, CA, January 3-5, 2004. (May 2004), pp. 429-434.
Jennifer Senior, ibid.
Luis Angeles, “Children and Life Satisfaction,” Journal of Happiness
Studies, 2009, DOI 10.1007/s10902-009-9168-z.
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