Most parents state that their children make them happy. If that is true, if parents are indeed so happy, how come many often complain about feeling exhausted and stressed-out by their kids, along with being torn between work and child care?
There is no doubt that parenting is emotionally and physically taxing- couples with babies report diminished marital satisfaction. Despite the joy of having a baby, taking care of the infant can be psychologically tough on parents and affect their relationship early on.
LOOKING AT THE BIGGER PICTURE
Research on parental happiness can be confusing, showing that parents are not very happy, and may be even less happy than their childless peers. When specific activities were ranked using a happiness scale, taking care of children was ranked as low as cleaning the house, showing that many parents were not very happy doing it. Childcare ranked 16th out of 19 activities in terms of pleasurability.
So, how can we best understand research on parental happiness?
Day-to-day parenting tasks can be repetitive and uneventful. However, when, as a parent, you look at the bigger picture- the value and purpose of your life- you may feel differently. According to research, there is a difference between happiness measured on a moment-to-moment basis (e.g. micro level of specific tasks) and happiness measured on a global level (e.g. large scale purpose and meaning of life). Studies show that parents derive a greater purpose, meaning, and satisfaction from life than non-parents.
The bottom line is:
Parenting gives meaning to and can improve your quality of life even though the daily experience of parenting may be stressful and even boring.
Some researchers even believe that children may help their parents deal with social and cultural changes that would normally diminish their sense of happiness. Researchers believe that parents are more immune to changes such as a decline in community involvement and a sense of disconnect from family and friends, that affect most people. Actually, parents are more likely to visit friends and get involved with their local school and community because of their children.
Who Are The Happiest Parents?
The experience of parenting is not static– it changes over time. There are many factors that affect the level of happiness parents experience with their children.
- Gender: Parenting makes men happier than women- fathers report experiencing more happiness and higher meaning in their lives than their childless peers. Mothers tend to carry the brunt of housework and childcare, which may overshadow the pleasure derived from parenting.
- Parental Age: Older parents tend to be happier than younger parents. Postponing parenthood until later in life results in a higher level of happiness after the birth of a child.
- Children’s Age: Parents of children aged 5-14 are the most happy. Baby- and toddler-hood are the most challenging times for a parent.
- Employment Status: Parents with stable jobs are happier than those who are unemployed or struggling economically.
- Types of Families: Parents with biological or adopted children tend to be happier than parents of step-children. Single parents are less happy than parents who have partners.
- Number of Children: Having more children makes young couples less happy; larger families bring joy to parents who are in their forties or older.
- Birth Order: The first child greatly increases parental happiness a lot. Each subsequent child brings diminished increases in happiness.
If you are stressed-out or unhappy with your children at times, maybe you are going through a difficult stage. If you can survive the teen years, you will likely start to enjoy your older children more- mature children require less care and cause less stress. They can also become a source of support for their parents.
If you feel you are in a fog, constantly overwhelmed or unhappy with your baby or toddler; you may benefit from professional help. Having a therapist can help you sort through your unhappiness and gather the necessary support to achieve your enjoy yourself again.
Call for a FREE-10minute phone consultation at (281)267-1742.
Dr.Irena Milentijevic is a licensed psychologist who specializes in helping mothers and those hoping to be mothers overcome stress, loss, and depression. Her offices are located in Houston and the Woodlands, Texas. Visit her website, www.DrIrena.com to get her free report, “Moms and Mom Wannabes: 10 Ways to Overcome Depression and Reclaim Your Sanity.”