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Does having kids make parents happier? Studies disagree.

Categories: Parenting & Family, Relationships & Marriage

11 comments

If you read this blog somewhat regularly, you know that I’m just a tiny bit obsessed with the idea of happiness. I’ve written about whether money can buy happiness (maybe), whether feminism has made women happier (probably not), and whether kids make parents happier (the studies seem to be conflicting). 

This weekend I was reading an article over at Babble.com, which talked about several conflicting studies about parents and happiness they derive from having kids.  According to one widely-discussed study, there was no increase in happiness for people who had kids. In fact, it showed that parents experience less emotional well-being than non-parents. But another recent study demonstrated quite the opposite, showing that parents do experience increased feelings of life satisfaction. These studies seem to contradict each other, but as I thought about them, I realized that they actually make a lot of sense.

Happiness is a really elusive and subject and difficult to describe concept. I think it means something different to each of us. One of the things that I know makes me happy is not feeling stressed out and anxious and exhausted. And it is a fact that after having our daughter my husband and I are more stressed out and anxious and exhausted. So on that measure of happiness, we’re less happy. But if happiness means feeling deeply grateful about having a loving family or feeling an amazing sense of satisfaction at watching our daughter become a kind, warm, funny, great person, of knowing that we have our little family to help each other deal with various unhappy stuff that life throws at us, then we’re happy. Insanely happy, actually.

So I think it makes sense that a study about happiness — emotional well-being, which definitely has to do with stress that comes with parenting — and life satisfaction, as they relate to having kids, will show different results. Having kids is really really really hard work and as the Babble.com article points out, using yet another study (there must be one for everything, right?), while we’re doing hard work, it’s hard to feel cheery and happy. But the feeling of deep satisfaction that parenting brings, especially once we figure out how to get a bit more sleep, is a kind of happiness.

Do you think having kids has made you happier? Do you think it’s increased your life satisfaction? How about the impact on your marriage - positive or negative?



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11 comments so far...

  • Having kids has made my life happier because it has made me feel more complete as a person and brought out love that I never knew I could experience. Not that I would have known that 10 years ago. But now that I am a mother, I realize that my kids are what brings the most joy to my life. I still have dreams and goals in regards to my career, but being a great mom to my wonderful kids is my priority. I recently blogged about this, actually. As far as the effect on my marriage, overall it’s been positive. Yes we occasionally fight over diaper duties and morning routine stuff, but when our little family of four is spending time together, my husband and I are happiest. Before kids, I was in completely in love with my husband. And now, after seeing him be a wonderful dad and still a wonderful husband too, I’m absolutely madly in love with him!

    Joy  |  March 15th, 2010 at 1:21 am

  • Long ago I stopped paying attention to whether I was happier before or after kids, before or after marriage, etc. Once you’ve made the decision to take a certain road you are generally better off figuring out how to make that path work for you. It really doesn’t matter if having kids makes me happier than I was before I had kids, I can’t send them back if I come to the conclusion that I was happier before they came along. What does matter is that my husband and I work hard to enjoy the phase of life our family is in. Happiness is an elusive and deceptive life goal. We can spend inordinate amounts of time, money and energy pursuing the idea that we “need” or “deserve” happiness. Better to pursue living life honorably with perseverance and diligence and find joy wherever you are on the journey.

    LMJN  |  March 15th, 2010 at 7:31 am

  • I’ve never paid overmuch attention to my own “happiness index”. Either I’m happy ot I’m not. Many things make me happy, including hearing my daughter’s laughter (totally infectious), getting away for a night, really great sex, a job well done, and sitting on a beach staring at the ocean all day.

    Amelie has not made me “happier”. She is a new chapter in my life and she makes me happy for so many reasons, but not happier because I wasn’t unhappy before she came along. Now, I’m differently happy. >: )

    But we did not embark on the journey to family-hood specifically to fill a deep desire for some ethereal sense of being more complete. I don’t think that either of us could fully explain why we wanted to start a family, but maybe it’s because we felt full and complete as individuals and as a couple and those feelings told us that the time was right to share the love in a new way.

    Phe  |  March 15th, 2010 at 9:52 am

  • I agree with both studies as well. On one hand I am a lot more anxious and crazy (busy) than I was before I was a parent, but my life is wonderful. My busy time is fulfilling. I don’t have the “I’m bored time” which leaves me prioritizing my life better than I have before, or at least trying to. Watching my son grow up, learning how to use the potty, zip up his jacket, or tell me I make him laugh are moments that are irreplaceable. Yeah I go to bed exhausted at night, and I deal with meltdowns and messy floors, but the benefits greatly outweigh the costs. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    Jen  |  March 15th, 2010 at 10:41 am

  • Well, I don’t know that I agree with the way they do these studies. I mean, they compare childless people to people with kids. The childless group includes a significant percentage of people who decided that they’d be happier childless, hence no children. Most of the group with kids made the other decision, hence children. So we’re really not comparing apples to apples in the first place.

    I always wanted kids, since I was old enough to know where babies come from. I was happy before kids, because I had my life pretty much in order and had worked out a lot of the stuff that younger people have to work out. But I am also happy with kids, because although they compromise my ability to stay organized and rested and in control, they are also cute, funny, interesting, and a worthwhile challenge. And in the big picture, this is exactly what I wanted.

    SKL  |  March 15th, 2010 at 11:57 am

  • You bet having kids makes me happier! There is no question about that at all. 100% YES! I have 7 “kids” and my BIGGEST regret in life is that I didn’t have MORE! They are the biggest joy my husband and I could ever dream of..more than we could ever dream of! Kids are God’s gift to us. Only God can give kids! Only God can give such an amazingly wonderful addition to our lives and add sooooo much joy through them..

    My life is very satisying and mostly because of my kids and husband. Having children has had a 100% positive impact on our marriage
    . God’s first command was to “be fruitful & multiply”. It’s when we follow God’s commands that joy and fulfillment flows into our lives.

    You can’t imagine how blessed we are as a family and as a couple and it’s because we are willing to follow God’s best plan for our lives. He brings the blessings!

    I home schooled all 7 of my children through high school and as they became older I started a successful home business. Nothing can be greater than being blessed like I feel I am.

    Kids bring me joy and contentment. They also have made me a better person.

    You bet! Kids are great! I only wish I had started having them sooner!

    Kari Anderson  |  March 17th, 2010 at 5:55 pm

  • Having children has opened my eyes to the big picture. It has allowed me to step back and figure out what is really important in life. While having children has deprived me of sleep, time with my husband and time for myself, it has also increased my circle of friends, taught me patience and made me a more accepting and easy going person in general. I believe parenthood adds depth and complexity to my life which in some roundabout way ties into my overall level of happiness. Parenthood puts you on a different path. While I sometimes envy the amount of personal time my childless friends have, I feel that I have a very full and satisfying life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    liza@zinniaclothing  |  March 18th, 2010 at 9:12 am

  • Being a first mom since 2008 has made my life not oly richer, but more fun and more enhanced as woman. When I found out I was pregnant with my son - Zachary, I was petrified. Thoughts like, “how am I going to do this?” how do I care for a little human being?” ran through my head. At the end of my 9 month term, I started to panic again and then thought, “well, ready or not, this baby is coming out, Lady!”

    Well, little Zach is here and had made me look at life in a completely different way. I experience everything again through his eyes. I love his touch. I love the fact that he needs me. I love that I love this little more than anything I’ve ever loved before. So yes, having a kid has made me EXTREMELY happy (even though I work full-time and cannot be with him all the time)!!

    Zach-er's Mums  |  March 18th, 2010 at 12:35 pm

  • To complicate the research further, a Univeristy of Penn researcher found that one child makes parents happy. Adding more chidren makes mothers less happy, but has no affect on fathers’ well-being. You can read more about that study at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/201002/mothers-one-child-are-happiest

    Susan Newman  |  March 18th, 2010 at 8:31 pm

  • I would say that any study which appears to indicate mothers of only 1 child are happier than mothers of many children is not an accurately conducted study and does not properly represent the given whole of mothers.

    This is simply not true in all of the mothers that I know personally. Just ask those mothers when they are older and that one child has left home. Happier? No, they almost always wish they had more children.

    Ask the people in China. One child? Happier? No way!

    We saw a mother in China wheeling twins in a stroller. Chinese people around us said, “They were lucky! They got 2!” Happier with only 1, I don’t think so.

    My biggest regret in life is not having more children. My 7 children bring me so much joy, you can’t begin to imagine how much they have enriched my life.

    When it comes to having children, “The more the merrier!” is so true.

    Children are a gift from God. God knows how to give good gifts. We should receive them freely. Every area of my life has been blessed because I was open to receiving these precious gifts from God.

    Kari Anderson  |  March 19th, 2010 at 10:03 am

  • I don’t think happiness can be measured in a study in the first place. No two people define it the same way. No two agenda-laden poll designers does either.

    Speaking of agenda, why would anyone do this kind of study anyway? Why would you spend money to prove having kids makes people unhappy, and to publish this great wisdom? And also, whose money was this, anyway?

    SKL  |  March 19th, 2010 at 11:09 am

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