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Does having kids make you happy?

Categories: Parenting & Family, Working Women Issues, Your life


I am late to blog about the article in Newsweek about recent studies showing that having kids does not make you happy. But after I read it I had to think about it for a bit.

According to the article:

Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers,” says Florida State University’s Robin Simon, a sociology professor who’s conducted several recent parenting studies, the most thorough of which came out in 2005 and looked at data gathered from 13,000 Americans by the National Survey of Families and Households. “In fact, no group of parents—married, single, step or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children.”

That sounds pretty definitive, doesn’t it? I mean, I think if I didn’t already have a daughter and I read this I’d have second thoughts about having children.

Of course the mom in me immediately jumps up to argue with these findings. The joy I experience when I see my daughter run to me when I pick her up from school is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life, however happy I might have been. The pride that I feel watching my daughter twirl around without falling at her ballet recital is greater than any I’d felt before for any of my own achievements. Running around our back yard with my husband and daughter, pretending to play soccer (yes, we can pick up the ball mama, if we want to, it’s still soccer! she says), makes my mouth stretch into the widest of smiles.

But yes, I do see the other side of the research. I am much more stressed and anxious and worried now that I am a mom. Juggling work, life and being a mom is challenging on best days and borderline impossible on worst. I haven’t slept more than 5 hours a night in 4 years, not since before my daughter was born, and things like “taking time for myself” seem like a distant memory. Being a parent is really tough for me, the anal plan-loving perfectionist, and I am working really hard to learn to be more flexible and laid back. (My husband is laughing really hard right now at the “laid back” part.)

I think happiness is a very fluid, very personal, very difficult concept to define. I also think of happiness as less of a state of being and more a fleeting moment here and there. So perhaps that’s it — being a parent allows us to have the deepest, more rewarding happy moments that we can’t have as non-parents, but it also comes with stress, anxiety, and exhaustion that deliver many difficult and unhappy moments as well.

What do you think? Would you ever admit that becoming a parent has made you less happy? How do you react to these research findings?

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14 comments so far...

  • I guess as human beings we can always complain about something. If we have kids we wonder if life would be better without them and when we don’t have kids we think about having children and what it is like.
    For me personally, I always loved kids and knew I would have kids. Yes my children make me happy. I sometimes tell people you haven’t loved until you had a child. It’s the kind of love that can give you the ultimate joy and then ultimate heart break. It is something really amazing.

    Vera Babayeva  |  July 2nd, 2008 at 11:33 pm

  • I think this type of thing would be hard to quantify. That’s like saying my apple tastes better than your orange.

    My kids make me very happy. But not the same kind of happy as I felt when I was childless. It’s a more complete, more mature, more permanent, more meaningful kind of happy.

    I’m not sure what the purpose of that statistical study was, but I hope nobody would use a statistical study to influence important matters of the heart.

    SKL  |  July 3rd, 2008 at 12:17 am

  • I think there is a difference between happiness and joy. Nataly, what you described as feelings for you daughter are classified under joy - being inwardly happy and satisfied. Joy is a long lasting positive peace. Happiness is more (like you stated) of a fleeting emotion. With motherhood, I have periods of happiness, but at the end of the stressfull, crazy, exhausting day I experience true joy. I wish “reserarchers” would leave subjective topics like happiness, peace, and success alone! So confusing in a time where people are so ready for somone to tell them what’s wrong with them and how to fix it.

    Andrea  |  July 3rd, 2008 at 8:53 am

  • “I haven’t slept more than 5 hours a night in 4 years, not since before my daughter was born, and things like “taking time for myself” seem like a distant memory.”

    Are you being facetious here? I agree with not having much time to yourself but not sleeping more than 5 hours a night in 4 years…

    Life got a whole lot busier since having two kids in the last two years but the stress they add to my life is counterbalanced by the joy they bring to my life. I’ll try very hard going forward to keep it that way.

    Dawn  |  July 3rd, 2008 at 12:35 pm

  • As a parent, there are always conflicting feelings and conflicting things you “should” be doing, so I can see that parents are possilby less happy. However, I didn’t have kids to make me happy. I don’t remember a moment where I sat down with my husband and said, “Kids will make us happier. . .let’s do it!” Ha! Kids might make me grumpy, exasperated, and tired more than they make me happy, but it’s a life experience that I wouldn’t trade for pure happiness.

    alison  |  July 3rd, 2008 at 1:31 pm

  • I am happy having a son, and I cannot imagine life without him. Before I had my son, I did have a life, and it was a different feeling. I love him very much, but I loved being by myself too 10 years ago. So, there is a different type of love to have. He is my favorite person in the world !

    Kim  |  July 3rd, 2008 at 8:42 pm

  • Hmm. That article bothered me, too. Andrea: I like what you say about the difference between joy and happiness.

    Diane  |  July 3rd, 2008 at 9:03 pm

  • I am happy sometimes. I think we have a tendency to forget that we are not going to be happy all the time. There are times my kids make me laugh, bring me joy and make me crazy. All a part of a normal day for us.

    Kate  |  July 5th, 2008 at 6:31 pm

  • Eeeeeeee. Ummm….Have been struggling with this for the last few years….having children has made every day about 10x more stressful. It has been deadly to our relationship. OUr child is very “spirited” and by the end of the day we are both exhausted and just want to go to our mental happy places rather than interact with each other. Cleaning up the same messes over and over and over day after day is the most soul-sucking endeavor I can imagine. We love our child to death and when I ask myself if I would change it if I could the answer is “no”, but man, having kids can really do a number on a person’s mental well-being and relationship. I realize everyone’s experience is different, and also that the “grass is always greener”, and know that if I didn’t have kids I would feel unfulfilled. When things are going well with my child’s behavior, we have some really good times and I wouldn’t trade it for anything…it’s just the other 85% of the time that makes me want to check myself into an institution just to get some “quiet time”. It has been a major challenge for us.

    Lia  |  July 6th, 2008 at 12:52 pm

  • The greatest amount of grief I get from being a mom is being a SAHM. For some reason is my circle it means I’m ignorant. Which is very irritating.

    My kids, all four of them, are stressful. I haven’t EVER been this stressed out. It’s a lot of work and effort. You have to keep yourself in check so they will follow your lead. There’s just those days where you want to throw a tantrum.

    I watch my single friends and they don’t have that peace in life I have. They seem like they are searching. Now, I’m not saying being single makes you vacant. This is just my observation.

    I think that having children gives you a sense of fullfillment that nothing else can give you. It’s the happiness you get deep within your soul when you watch them be born. When you hear their first laugh. When you watch them get on the school bus for the first time.

    Happiness is a relative term. Happiness can not be given to you by an outside source but is something that comes from the inside. It is dependent on the individual. Children or no children.

    jenni  |  July 6th, 2008 at 4:18 pm

  • There’s a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is in the now, whereas joy is an overall feeling. You can have joy in your life without being all happy bappy all day. I mean, if you need that happy feeling 24/7, get some Zoloft. But joy… that’s just a state of being. That’s looking at your life, in the present, the past, the future, and saying, “Hhmmm… this is sweet.”

    Sugar  |  July 6th, 2008 at 5:29 pm

  • That seems so hard to judge; I’m surprised they’re even acting like it’s possible to study it scientifically. But before I had children, I was so unhappy WANTING CHILDREN, it’s hard for me to see how I could have been more happy without them.

    Swistle  |  July 8th, 2008 at 9:49 pm

  • Try reading “Tuesdays with Morrie” I know it is passe’, but I re-read it recently after having kids and appreciated it in a very different way than I did when I read it before having kids. Basically what I mean is, society is telling us very selfish materialistic things. We create our culture and our culture is down on kids in my opinion. Family is important and meaningful and yet we are burdened by it. That is not the way we should see it at all. Children are a blessing and one that we should truly appreciate, but I think we try to do too much, to have more, and that is why we are unhappier.

    Leah Bell  |  July 11th, 2008 at 5:12 pm

  • [...] Talk about pressure. I mean, serious pressure. First of all, I think being a parent is like giving birth — it doesn’t matter how much you hear about the experience, you have no idea what it’s like until you actually go through it. (Someone told me that giving birth is like having really bad cramps…. ha!) Secondly, everyone’s experience is extremely personal and different. But most importantly, I think if you don’t have kids it’s impossible to understand how the joy you get from them can make the insanity, the stress, the exhaustion that comes with being a working mom worth it. [...]

    Telling the truth about parenting to my childless friends - Work It, Mom! Blog - Work It, Mom!  |  July 17th, 2008 at 2:15 pm