Children are often referred to by parents as the “apple of their eye,” but a recent study says kids can sometimes bring down the mood of a relationship.
The research by the National Council of Family Relations, coming out in the September issue of the American Journal of Sociology, compared “marital satisfaction” among married couples with children and without, equating “marital satisfaction” to “happiness.”
The study focused on 22 European and English-speaking countries, which showed varying results of “happiness” after having children. The U.S. came in dead last, with American parents reporting they’re 12 percent unhappier than childless couples.
That said, worldwide, roughly 40 percent of moms with young infants reported their marital satisfaction as “high,” whereas 62 percent of women without children said they were happy in their relationship.
Researchers say things like being part of a high socioeconomic group and being a young parent also lead to a negative effect on your marriage after having kids.
But not everyone agrees. Independent Journal Review surveyed married, American parents to see if they agreed with the findings, and boy were they fired up.
Matthew Cross from Michigan argues:
“So, happiness, comfort, and freedom are the biggest things that are affected by having a child, and it highly depends on what you value.
My own personal comfort and freedom have been restricted in many ways since having a child. I can’t go out on a date with my wife unless we do a decent amount of planning ahead. The house has to be quiet after 8 p.m. I can’t always do what I want when I want it. Do I have more stress in my life? Yes. Am I less comfortable? Yes. Do I have less freedom? Yes. Does this mean I am less happy? No.
The data is really quite subjective because it does not show the relative happiness levels between parents in a variety of countries, but rather the relative happiness between parents and non-parents in a variety of countries. Due to this relativity, I would have to say you need far more information to make a valid decision.
The article even points out the different definitions of happiness in different countries that could make having a family be more of a happy factor in one country over another. Also, income data is not provided, so is it that more parents in the US are poorer compared to the happier parents in other nations? There are so many other factors than simply living in a particular nation that determine happiness.
So, long story short, this is far more complicated of a question than happier or unhappier.”
Karly Tanner admits that at 25 years old, she sometimes misses her fun Friday nights, but believes her son brought her “purpose”:
“[It] depends which parents you’re asking. Ask the same people the same question when they’re 75 years old and their kids are the only friends they have left, they’ll tell you that they’re eternally grateful to have people to take care of them in old age.
If you ask a 25-year-old mother of a 2.5-year-old, they might base their answer on what emotions they feel while they’re reflecting on what their Friday nights used to look like (partying, free to do whatever) vs. what they look like now (running around a crazy toddler at 10 p.m.), then yeah you might get that kind of response.
Sometimes I am less happy than I was without my son, but most of the time I am happier. He gives me purpose in my life. For a very long time after he was born though, I mourned the loss of the person I was, as I really struggled to adjust to motherhood. Now I’m getting to know myself again. Overall, he has fulfilled me, but on a daily basis yes, it’s tough!”
Maryland resident Eric Acosta agrees with Cross, saying it all depends on what you value:
“Personally, I am happier having children. Granted, out of high school my goals were to go to college and become a father. I have always wanted to be a father. I have told my wife many times that the best parts of my day are the minute I step in the door and see my kids and the times I get to snuggle with my family.
Having kids for me did not increase my stress; it helped me learn to be a man and an adult. Becoming a father helped me relieve stress because it showed me what was not important and what was. It helped me put life into perspective.
I personally think most of the issues that cause unhappiness in parents are not due to the children, they are due to how the parents individually want to parent the children. The differences in parenting styles, extended family and those things that relate to children but are ultimately created by the adults are what make so many parents unhappy.”
It’s important to note that what researchers found most “astonishing” was that parents’ happiness largely relied on policies allowing parents to combine paid work with family obligations.
But regardless of whether a person gets paid leave, how old they are or how much money they have, another parent, Sindi Shirley, puts it this way:
“[The] responsibilities aren’t necessarily happy ones — working, paying for electricity, parent/teacher meetings, etc., but who told you life is easy? Nobody, that’s who! If you have something to whine about, make the changes that you need to…for the better hopefully.”