On the quest to find more joy in this month of March, I started to think about how kids affect happiness, and about my happiness levels in particular since having children. Was I happier before I had them? Or am I happier now?
I often recall the day when I went to get my oldest daughter Mae’s newborn pictures taken when she was 10 days old. As most of you probably know by now, Mae was a difficult baby, to put it politely. If the first few months of Mae’s life were very hard for me, then the first few days/weeks were like Chernobyl. On that day in particular, I had gotten maybe one hour total (in 10-15 minute increments) of sleep the night before, and I was still in a lot of pain and feeling very lightheaded. Mae cried the entire one-hour drive to the photographer’s house, and then she screamed some more throughout the photo shoot. We had to stop so I could breastfeed her and change her diaper a few times, and then we would hold our breath for 5 minutes when she wasn’t crying, hoping we could get a few good shots.
When the photographer asked me to pose with her, I almost passed out. She had the temperature in the room pumped up to what felt like 105 degrees in an effort to keep the baby comfortable, and between the heat, my pain levels, and lack of sleep, I wasn’t in a good place. As I posed for the photos and pretended to look happy, the photographer said, “Isn’t it wonderful?? Can you even remember life before her?” Feeling like The World’s Worst Mother, I thought to myself, “I can remember it…it was only 10 days ago, and it was awesome.”
In those early days, I think it’s safe to say I was decidedly unhappier with children. Motherhood was a tough transition for me, and Mae’s fussiness made it that much harder. I look back at photos – like the ones from that infamous newborn photo shoot – and think about the juxtaposition of the beauty and tranquility of the photos with what I was actually feeling inside. I felt like I had lost myself in so many ways, and that made me deeply sad. I also felt like I was failing at motherhood since Mae was never happy.
Fast forward to today. My girls are two and four years old, and we’re “out of the woods,” as my husband likes to say (neither of us excel at the newborn phase). Just thinking about my girls right now puts a smile on my face and brings a warmth to my heart that I never felt prior to being a mother. There are so many things in life that are just so much better with kids – Christmas, dance parties, and the zoo, to name a few. We’re all happier these days, I think.
But it’s still worth contemplating: Do kids really make most people happier or unhappier?
What the Experts Say
In Time’s Special Edition “The Science of Happiness,” there’s a great article about happiness levels of parents. The quote that struck me most was “How it feels to be a parent and how it feels to do the…arduous task of parenting are two separate things.” Bingo! When I write a list of things that I don’t like about parenting, they’re almost all related to the workload associated with it.
Things I don’t like about parenting:
--Laundry (sorting and pairing 200 teeny-tiny socks)
--Force-feeding my kids at every meal
--How long it takes to load everyone into the car and leave the house
When I compare this to the list of things I love about parenting (or more accurately, things I love about my children), there’s no contest. I started a list, but after adding the 25th item, I decided not to bore you with it. I’m sure the same things that were on my list are on every parent’s list – things like belly laughs, how cute they look in their pajamas, snuggling with them in your lap, watching their personalities develop, and seeing the amazement in their eyes the first time they experience something new. Having kids is like BEING a kid again, which is AWESOME.
Let’s get back to some statistics. I love bar charts, so here are a few to ponder:
This study shows a slight edge in happiness of non-parents vs. parents, although the study states that the happiness of non-parents has declined over time (there was previously a larger gap in happiness between parents and non-parents).
Another analysis looks at how the number of children impacts parental happiness in mothers vs. fathers and finds that the second child is harder on moms than on dads:
Ok, so children can negatively impact happiness for some parents, at least a little bit. With the amount of joy that a child brings into life, what is it exactly that brings us down?
In general, most experts agree that any negative impact on happiness that children have on parents in the US is primarily due to two things: Lack of widespread social support/programs (eg, longer paid maternity and paternity leave, more flexible work arrangements, affordable childcare, etc), and financial stress. The USDA estimates that a two-parent household with one kid spends about 27% of its income on that child, and a two-parent household with two kids spends 41% of its income on the children. No wonder we’re stressed! We have less time and less money when we add kids to the mix. On the flip side, we have these really awesome people that we created and get to enjoy every day.
So what’s the answer to my original question: Do kids make us happier or unhappier? I think the answer is both. The stress on our time, wallets, patience, and bodies makes us unhappier. We long for a time when we were younger and freer, when we could be blissfully selfish, and our future perfect children were still just a figment of our imaginations. On the other hand, the overwhelming joy, love and new experiences that come with children make us profoundly happier – not just in the moment, but over the course of our entire lifetimes.
With kids, you get more of everything…more happiness, more stress, more laughter, more chores, more activities, more LIFE. Kids force you to squeeze every bit of life out of it. Sometimes that experience is painful, and sometimes it’s euphoric. Whether or not you’re happy as a parent is likely dependent upon whether the good stuff outweighs the bad. For me, it definitely does. But I still wouldn’t mind just a little bit less laundry. 😊
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-from-home mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.