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Does parenting make you unhappy?

I don't think it'd be very interesting to have a childless 20-something comment on an article about how children affect the happiness and satisfaction of their parents. But as a childless 20-something, I'd find it very interesting if some parents wanted to weigh in on Jennifer Senior's article rounding up the research on the question. The basic paradox, as far as I understand it, is that parenting appears to make people unhappy and harm their lives on a variety of measures (personal happiness, marital satisfaction, etc.) and yet parents are generally glad to be parents and like having their kids around. So what gives, parents?

By Ezra Klein  |  July 6, 2010; 2:48 PM ET
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As a parent of 2 beautiful daughters, I have to quasi-agree. I love my kids, life wouldn't be the same without them. At the same time, I've had about 9 really great days in the past 12 years, and all of them have involved being child-free. And on vacation.

Vacations are a good place to illustrate the point. Vacations are supposed to be family fun, and sometimes are, but more often they end up with the parents being entertainment planners for the kids, and the kids acting as (usually innocent, but implacable) disruptors of the 30 minutes of vacation time the parents of set out for themselves.

Much of parenting is like that. There are rewards, and some of those rewards are hidden in the hard work of parenting. There are plenty of times when I see the structure and lecturing (which, I was interested to find out, is no more fun for the lecturing parent than it is for the child) parents can provide, and the doling out punishments (of a sort never imagined in my day: "All right, that's it, I'm taking away your text plan. No more texting!")--there are times when you see that work that you seemed to be doing with zero return actually indicates you've got a pretty good kid on your hands. Those times are deeply satisfying. There are times when I'm spending time with my 5 year old, and she's being as sweet as can be, and I'm just in love--there's a deep satisfaction there that can't be expressed. Here's this wonderful little girl, and she loves me in a way now that she never will again (well, 5 years from now), and it's really great to be on the receiving end of that.

The two days my wife and I spent in Atlanta recently (without the kids for two whole days!) was, in part, so good because we had the whole raising the kids thing to contrast it against. We can spend half of the day in Ikea without ever being asked when we're going to leave or what that is or where the bathroom is or told that someone is sick or hungry or looking at them the wrong way.

I don't think I would have been eating gravad lax at the Ikea restaurant with my wife (and having an adult conversation!) with such pure joy if I didn't have so many family meals to contrast it against.

But having kids doesn't substitute for a broken marriage or bad family relationships or hating your job--important not to expect to much from that. Parenting is work, and it's hard work, and your only compensation is the satisfaction of a job reasonably well done. Expecting it to be all hugs and kisses and playtime, which I think a lot of parents do, at some level--that can be very disappointing.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

This'd be a difficult comparison since whether a person has a child or is childless (in their 20's or anytime) has a big self-selection component to it.

But on your question: The rewards are all those daily interactions with a person you love. It's also hard to be objective about the calculation since, although I can imagine MY life as easier in a lot of ways if I'd never had children, the only way to get that would be if my children had never been born. That, to me, would be too high a price. I wouldn't want to miss out on them being in the world and knowing them like I do: in other words, raising them.

Posted by: LynnDee227 | July 6, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

It's kind of like the religious zealots who flog themselves as a form of devotion. Can't say it makes them happy, but they are convinced they are doing the right thing.

(BTW, my three have been out of the house for almost a decade now. Hang in, young parents, I promise much of this will seem like a hoot in retrospect!)

Posted by: exgovgirl | July 6, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

"Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so"

I have to concur with that. There's nothing wrong with being single, there's nothing wrong with being childless. Most things in life involve trade-offs--when you choose to parent children, your taking a whole slew of things you could have done and saying your not going to do them, and you may not ever get to do them. Childless people have a lot more flexibility in their lifestyles and schedules than parents, and you miss that. There are compensations, but you miss that--and when questions about "are you happy" or "are you satisfied" are about the person, most of them will be less happy because the spend much less time on themselves.

And, also, when you have kids, you end up worrying about them more than you do yourself. So, that's a lot of worrying that parents get to do.

The less satisfaction you get caring for someone else (in the real, sitting-right-there-need-to-get-fed sense, not in the abstract I-pay-my-taxes-don't-I? sense), the less happy you will be. There are plenty of parents for whom parenthood is nothing but a lack of money, time, partying, and sex. The rewards of watching other human beings with a direct connection to you grow, mature, learn and become fully-realized people doesn't even enter the picture for those folks.

A lot of the complaints seem to, like Super Nanny, have to do with discipline problems. It helps a lot when parents are largely on the same page about discipline, and are reasonably decisive in it's application. Eventually, you rarely have to discipline. Or, you don't have to spend so much time engaged in conflict that it makes you miserable.

"Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work."

Meh. That's what "quality time" is for. I think it's just as important that children be repeatedly told that they have to wait until the parent is done, especially until parents are done talking. Children should be (a) taught that they are important and (b) that they are not the center of the world, or even the center of the family.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

As the father of a toddler, I'd say that the most accurate description of parenting is that it's the hardest job you'll ever love.

The problem with the relationship between parenting and happiness is that the downsides of having children are readily apparent, while the benefits are generally intangible and harder to describe.

The downsides: vastly reduced social opportunities, higher cost of living, more arguments with one's spouse, vastly reduced downtime/relaxation. When asked, it's easy to point to specific things I'm no longer able to do as a result of having a young child: exercise as regularly as I'd like, go on a vacation, go out to dinner with friends, etc. Those are things that you can touch, feel, and count, generally speaking.

The benefits, however, are much more ephemeral. The incredible feeling of pride and happiness in watching them learn and grow is really hard to quantify or describe to those not "in the club." The tender moments you share, like a hug or a fun episode of playing with a new toy they find exhilarating, make it all worth it, IMO.

So, the downsides are real, no doubt about it. I wish I could pick up and go on a cross-country road trip, but that's just not in the cards for me. But for me, the benefits are just as real and much more impactful.

Posted by: MDA123 | July 6, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I adopted a little boy last March, and he'll turn 3 in a few weeks.

This business of being a parent gives me great joy - I've never been so totally over the moon about another person since maybe a high school crush at age 15 - but the time with your kid is very demanding, very exhausting. And the first paragraph of the article you linked to could have been right out of any random day of my life.

As Ezra's former blogmate Sir Charles once said:

"Most of us -- and I know a whole lot of people who have been married for 15-25 years and have kids -- are just trying to get by -- we struggle day to day with a life that is like a marathon with a movable finish line and uncertain distances between the watering stations. In short, we do our best and wonder about the costs. It feels neither dangerous -- not in the action movie sense any way -- nor uniquely fruitful. It's just life."

Yeah, it's draining, and you don't have any time for yourself any more; you barely have time to deal with the logistics of keeping home and family running. It's crazy. But the fact remains that this was what we really WANTED to do with our life, so much that the absence of children was casting a long shadow over everything else we did.

The choices were to live this sort of life for sixteen years or more, or live in that shadow for the rest of our lives.

Sure, mostly it's a grind, but the moments of joy are indescribable.

Posted by: rt42 | July 6, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

" is that parenting appears to make people unhappy and harm their lives on a variety of measures (personal happiness, marital satisfaction, etc.) and yet parents are generally glad to be parents and like having their kids around."

No children, here, just a very snarky comment: It sounds like being a drug addict. In fact, commentor rt42's quote get at that even better:

""Most of us -- and I know a whole lot of people who have been married for 15-25 years and have kids -- are just trying to get by -- we struggle day to day with a life that is like a marathon with a movable finish line and uncertain distances between the watering stations."

Posted by: y2josh_us | July 6, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

"Or, as a fellow psychologist told Gilbert when he finally got around to having a child: 'They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to sh*t.'"

I laughed out loud when I read that. Not strictly true, but there's certainly an element of truth to it. Yet, knowing that is not enough. I knew it after 5 years of raising our oldest, and yet we went and had another.

"One of the things he noticed is that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents."

Ah! I see why Ezra liked the story. ;)

"They asked 100 long-married couples to spend two weeks meticulously documenting their disagreements. Nearly 40 percent of them were about their kids."

Maybe 10% of our disagreements are about our kids? Maybe 5%? Now, 30% of our arguments are probably arguments in the first place because everyone is tired and irritable, but . . .

"But one of the most sobering declines documented in Changing Rhythms of American Family Life is the amount of time married parents spend alone together each week: Nine hours today versus twelve in 1975"

Seriously? What crazy wealthy people get to spent nine hours alone together in a week?

I suppose it depends what you mean. I guess we spend nine hours a week alone together, with just occasional interruptions by the children. But it doesn't feel like we spend any time alone together.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

"One hates to invoke Scandinavia in stories about child-rearing, but it can’t be an accident that the one superbly designed study that said, unambiguously, that having kids makes you happier was done with Danish subjects. The researcher, Hans-Peter Kohler, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says he originally studied this question because he was intrigued by the declining fertility rates in Europe. One of the things he noticed is that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents."

Personally, I'm surprised that any research anywhere shows that parents are happier than non-parents. But I guess the social welfare angle does make sense. People in those countries probably value kids more, on a cultural level, and therefore do more to promote their well-being...which then probably makes them value kids more...

Posted by: slag | July 6, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I first became a parent at age 23. It was very hard and harder still because of a divorce three years later.

At age 38 and 40 I had two more kids. I won't say every day is wonderful. But every week is. I've been blessed with great kids, and a wonderful spouse / partner. I'm older, wiser, more patient, past the cynical/jaded phase, and very settled in my skin and my career.

In my twenties my younger friends were having a great time. They traveled and partied. It was hard to watch them from afar. Now though most are fundamentally ill at ease or even unhappy. They are settled and generally content in their careers/hobbies, but admit to a feeling of being at drift.

We're at the age when our parents are becoming elderly. The nuclear family we fell back on to give us satisfaction is dying off. It's difficult to find peers as true friends.

For the kind of person whose mental model needs a sense of purpose, and one's family has drifted apart or is otherwise remote, having kids goes a great way. And young kids make me feel almost child-like myself.

Not the only way of course. I have two great friends my age without kids and every day is a new adventure for them. They have money and are gay, so their safety net is actually quite broad and supportive. They and their closest friends have been through a lot over the years and it seems they've had less "friend drift" than most of my hetero friends.

We're at our strongest and most adaptable in our twenties and thirties. How we feel then is not necessarily how we'll feel the remaining thirty to fifty years of our life.

Posted by: DubiousAdvocate | July 6, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

From the article:

"But when studies take into consideration how rewarding parenting is, the outcomes tend to be different."

And that's it in a nutshell. Parenting actually takes a toll on day-to-day happiness for most of us, and some of our happiest times as parenting adults are child free (often in the company of other adults, sharing uninterrupted adult conversation).

Another important point: "people are far more apt to regret things they haven’t done than things they have. In one instance, he followed up on the men and women from the Terman study, the famous collection of high-IQ students from California who were singled out in 1921 for a life of greatness. Not one told him of regretting having children, but ten told him they regretted not having a family."

Yet what we find rewarding, and what we regret, aren't the same things as day-to-day happiness and pleasure.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

slag: Are you a parent? While I tend to agree parenting takes a toll on day-to-day happiness, I don't find it impossible to imagine parents being happier in their lives for having had their kids.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Two words: cognitive dissonance.

Posted by: jmoe | July 6, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the benefits are both more intangible, and larger, than the drawbacks. Overall, having children gives a shape and trajectory to your life -- the prechild years, the child raising years, and the years when they are adults. Having these divisions in your life is no small thing, and gives a sense of deep accomplishment and purpose. The greatest drawback has been only touched upon. That is the extent of the worry, and beyond that, potential heartbreak that can come. The suffering of a child, or worse, the loss of one, is the worst thing that can happen to a person, and bringing a new, unknown person into your life is the riskiest thing you will ever do. But I think it's rare for people, once they have stepped over the threshold, to ever regret it.

Posted by: truck1 | July 6, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Parenthood is a huge project in life, a vocation in itself.

If you are investing a lot of time in any life project, say ... learning how to play a musical instrument, one will be aware that one is sacrificing time every day of one's life that could be spent doing other more instantly gratifying things. But (so I'm told) the musician will experience a sense of growth and fulfillment with every minor breakthrough in proficiency, and if (when the years of hard work are complete) one can play like Yo-Yo Ma, Louis Armstrong, or Jimi Hendrix, the rewards of all the single-minded devotion that led to the maturity of one's skills (or of one's offspring) is undeniable.

Parenting is the main event in life, at least for those of us who choose to become parents. It is not an endeavor that is well suited to quantifying satisfaction, polling, or statistical analysis.

Posted by: Patrick_M | July 6, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

"I don't find it impossible to imagine parents being happier in their lives for having had their kids."

Very few things are impossible to imagine. But that's neither here nor there. The point is that countries with the happiest parents also have the most social support for families. That, at least, makes sense. This quasi-mystical distinction between happiness and fulfillment (or whatever we're calling it) makes no sense.

Posted by: slag | July 6, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Father of a 21 mo old daugher, another due in November. I'm 37, so I am familiar with adult life unconstrained by dependents.

I just don't get it. It's not that I dispute the results of the studies mentioned in the articles. Personally, I can not fathom the notion that I might be less happy now. Maybe I'm an outlier, maybe it's because I'm still new at this.

Of course there are big sacrifices (exercise, homebrewing, weekend hiking and canoeing trips for me). If anything, they are less severe than I was led to believe before my daughter arrived. The fun I have simply playing and re-exploring the world makes those losses trivial. Then again, I've always been somewhat of a cheapskate homebody.

I don't find the job all that "hard" either. It's not exactly backbreaking labour. Before anyone jumps to any conclusions: my spouse and I split duties evenly. If anything, I get more of the dirty jobs.

The hardest part for me is knowing her daycare providers get to spend nearly as much time with her as I do.

Posted by: trevindor | July 6, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"The basic paradox, as far as I understand it, is that parenting appears to make people unhappy and harm their lives on a variety of measures (personal happiness, marital satisfaction, etc.) and yet parents are generally glad to be parents and like having their kids around. So what gives, parents?"

Easy: parenting decreases personal happiness and marital satisfaction (and probably work satisfaction, for that matter) but adds significant gains in a new measure (call it 'family-posterity' happiness') that simply isn't available to those without children.

Posted by: lindsaypolak | July 6, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

@slag: " point is that countries with the happiest parents also have the most social support for families."

And at the expense of the childless. The injustice!

"This quasi-mystical distinction between happiness and fulfillment (or whatever we're calling it) makes no sense."

So, I'm guessing you're not a parent. ;)

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

That's an easy one. Many things that are very rewarding once accomplished are very unpleasant and difficult along the way. Think mountain climbing, sailing around the world, or even graduate school. There is no gain without pain.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | July 6, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Parenting to me is about always being there for your child no matter what.

my middle daughter at age 3 (now age 10) was diagnosed (incorrectly I might add) as having autism. Doing what I do I understood fully (and have clients that suffer with that disease with their children.) My wife and I got a call at dinnertime where the doctor called and said the tests came back and she fell within the spectrum. Not a "come down and see us to talk about something", right there on the phone. It destroyed us. Neither of us can recall the rest of that evening. We later would admit to each other that it didn't upset us for what we'd miss but for what our daughter would end up missing out in life. Through years of daily intense therapy my daughter improved to the point where we later took her back to that doctor that casually threw that diagnosis around and she (the doctor) had the audacity to say "who diagnosed her as autistic" and we both as if on cue said she did and both of us without any thought walked away with our daughter in hand. She still struggles at times with what could be construed as ADHD but parenting to me was never giving up on our daughter and what she could become. She's now a straight A student and we couldn't be prouder.

If ever I want to get frustrated at my older daughter for her attitude or my son for his tantrums that continue at age 6 I always remember that look on my middle daughter's face when we told her she'd be OK and it miraculously makes any negativity go away.

I wouldn't change having children for anything and both me and my wife agree (and say this often) that no amount of money in the world is worth what we got back with her change of diagnosis.

Do my wife and I make sacrifices for what our lives could be if we didn't have kids, sure. But the net result is a huge positive.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 6, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

One thing I should have included in my original comment...

I feel roughly the same way about parenting as I do my job: the actual exercise of its daily tasks routinely annoys the hell out of me, but at the end of the day I'm very satisfied with both ventures.

Frantically making a meal while your toddler fusses is no fun. Frantically preparing for a meeting at work is no fun. Waking up at 6am because your toddler decided she wanted to be up is no fun. Going to sleep at 1am because you have so much work to do is no fun.

And yet, I enjoy parenting and my job immensely because of the sense of satisfaction I get from each.

Posted by: MDA123 | July 6, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

i am the mother of three magnificent children.
they are the best, most beautiful, most beloved accomplishments of my lifetime.
they are hewn into my heart and soul in this world, and in all other worlds.
they have given me so much love and so much joy....each day of my life, since the moment that they were born.
and they still do, each and everyday....near or far, they are my heart's delight.
i wake up every morning, thankful for them, and i go to sleep every night, praying for them, and thankful for them.
i am blessed to have two wonderful and courageous grandchildren.....and have been a nanny to two children for nine years... and now, i also work in a homeless shelter, with children
.i have been caring for children since i was fifteen years old. i couldnt imagine being happy in my heart, if i did not have children in my life.....but raising my own, has been the greatest blessing that i could ever imagine.
to see them whole and shining, and with good and loving hearts, as the answer to all of my prayers.
:-) :-) :-)

Posted by: jkaren | July 6, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

"And at the expense of the childless. The injustice!"

What an absolutely absurd perspective. Do you really think other people's maladjusted, mercenary spawn don't affect me?

Posted by: slag | July 6, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

This paradox is the subject of Michael Lewis' book "Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood". It is a series of lighthearted anecdotes but is interesting and informative on this topic.

Posted by: ignoreland | July 6, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

trevindor...yeah you are new at it.
It is all so new and shiny and so damn cute where you are.
Wait for the "don't touch me phase" and the "I wish I was never born, I hate you phase" or the...well I could go on and on and this is from a pretty well behaved interesting kid who has yet to get a girl pregnant or end up in jail. He's on his way (fingers crossed) to being an adult who's company I would enjoy even if i was not his mother.

I'm so ambivalent about the whole thing.
Love my kid.
Not in love with being a parent.
I'm glad he is 18.
I'm ready to move on.
I would have been happier as the "cool Aunt", but that's life and we make the best of what we have. There are things I did not do with my life because I married young and things I stopped doing because I had a child. Choices have to be made at times and I'd rather find some happiness in what I did then be depressed about all the stuff I had to let pass me by.

(In the end no one wants to admit that what they devoted a good portion of their life too probably helped to grind them down.)

Posted by: vintagejulie | July 6, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse


do yourself a favor. Go to a graduation and don't look at the children, look at the parents. It doesn't have to be Harvard or Yale although it could just as easily be. It could be your local Nursery School. Then you'll realize a survey about parenting like this is bunk.

If all you do is focus on the negative then you'll feel the negative. If you focus on its entirety you'll end up finding yourself remembering the good times more than the bad.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 6, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Father of two kids - a daughter at 8 and son at 3.

Price I pay - time which I need to spend with them or for them as well as less risks which I take professionally.

Am I okay to pay this price? Yes, for sure and no qualms about that. In fact on top of that I consider myself blessed to have these kids and thankful to my luck for that.

Posted by: umesh409 | July 6, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

The thing about parenting is striking a good balance. An awful lot of parents build their world around the kids -- at the expense of the marriage. Some parents get far too involved with their kids, to the detriment of the kids.

Some problems come from waiting too long. Your life doesn't have to be perfect to have kids. (It certainly won't be perfect after they get here!)

The hardest part about parenting is that if you do it right, your children become independent adults in their own right and won't really appreciate what you've done until they have kids of their own.

That said, wouldn't trade mine for the world.

Posted by: uberblonde1 | July 6, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

"One of the things he noticed is that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents."

Ah! I see why Ezra liked the story. ;)

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Really? How are the welfare systems in China? India? Africa? Aren't those three of the most growing populations??


"They asked 100 long-married couples to spend two weeks meticulously documenting their disagreements. Nearly 40 percent of them were about their kids."

Well of course. Its the only TRUE full time job. Work lasts for most people 8-10-12 hours a day. Talk to a parent of a baby who has colic. When do they get a break? I remember driving my daughter around on my second job when I was 25 at 4 AM because she was awake and cranky as all heck and now she's 14 and cranky as all heck but I still had the most amazing joy when she got her middle school diploma and awards for being in the top 5% of her class. You take the good with the bad and forget the bad until such time when they have children and you can let them know how HARD they were ;-)

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 6, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I think "happiness" is probably the wrong thing to measure. I've never thought of my kids in terms of whether they make me happy. Challenging, rewarding, fulfilling, terrifying, adventurous; raising children is the most fun thing I've ever done, the biggest step of optimism and faith a person can take. You don't do it to make yourself happy.

Posted by: biz5th | July 6, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Happiness is the wrong metric.

Was I 'happier' when I was single & childless? Probably - I was busy every weekend, and had a much more carefee existence. Neither battling the 3 yr old at bedtime nor changing the 1 yr old's diaper produce happiness. But when I picked up the 3yr old at the grandparents after 5 days of 'camp' and they had nothing but good things to say about her, I experienced emotions indescribable to a childless singleton.

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 6, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I had never been so sleep deprived in my life than when my twins were about a month old. I was in a perpetual fog. My body was a complete wreck. I barely had time to make eye contact with my husband. I had fallen down at work toward the end of my pregnancy, and I was worried about returning to a job I really loved. Yet...I had never felt as much joy in my life. The joy associated with my girls was not the product of cognitive dissonance, was not counterfeit or feigned. I had thought for a long time that people were lying to themselves about how happy their kids made them. But those emotions were very real to me. How to reconcile the burdens and losses with the joy? The experience of childrearing has crystalized for me that I am the product of natural selection. Joy in a child leads a parent to make critical investments in children. Few other experiences in my life have given me more satisfaction, sense of purpose, or contentment than taking care of my kids. Am I the dupe of my genes? You could say that. You could also say that I am compensated for perpetuating those genes.

Posted by: Momto3tinytots | July 6, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

@slag: "What an absolutely absurd perspective. Do you really think other people's maladjusted, mercenary spawn don't affect me?"

Not only do I expect them to, I hope they are. Right now!

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

"Not only do I expect them to, I hope they are. Right now!"

Aha! See...I knew you would.

Posted by: slag | July 6, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I think the first comment covers much good ground. My partner and I adopted a baby girl six and a half years ago. Since then I've gained weight, gotten much more gray and struggled with feelings of depression and despair. I'm not kidding. Our daughter has driven me to fits of rage, terror and guilt.

I love her. Marshaling my resources as best as I can for her is a compulsion.

Somehow the following makes it all worth it. She took her first guitar lesson today at a local music camp. I can't wait to get home and hear from her how it went. She probably won't tell me.

Posted by: simmonslcsw | July 6, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

My kids are 3 and 5.

1) A theory I have is that having children allows you to fall deeply in love with more than one person at a time in a socially acceptable way. Don't really know if the theory will hold up over 20 years but it's true now.

2) I think I behave differently and better because I want my actions to be defensible to my children in the future.

3) Related to 1 and 2, I think having kids binds me to rest of the world more deeply. I have a better insight into the losses others suffer because I treasure something that is fragile and that I could/can/will lose.

4) You get to have a relationship with an innocent person, which is different from relationships with grown ups.

There is a lot more you could say about it. Yes, the sacrifices stink. But it's the price of admission. A tough topic to address effectively in a blog comment.

I'll be interested to read the summary of research. Does it only track people during child rearing years? Does it include effects when you are 50, 70, 90? That kind of thing.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | July 6, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Being a parent is pretty much like anything else; it's how you approach it and how you react. You can be dead serious all the time, or you can have a sense of humor about it. In the end you do your best, and the rest is up to your kids. We have two, now in their 20's, both finally out of the house. We've done the many sleepless nights (kids sick,kids hurt and in the hospital, one kid in jail for a teen DUI, kids not home yet with family car, etc) and used more vacation days than I can count for the kids being sick, but we've also had the graduations and the awards assemblies and the great family camping trips, so it balances out. Now I can talk with my daughter about epigenetics, and our son helps DH out with parts and advice for fixing his jeep. Pretty cool.

Posted by: Beagle1 | July 6, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

The most rewarding things in your life, have they been easy?

Based on the posts you have read, does it sound like having children is easy?

Having kids is the hardest yet most rewarding thing a person can do in his or her life. Why? Because your kids, God willing, will be with you and love you forever. That's another human being, looking up to you with usually unconditional love and admiration. Your kids will be your source of pride for the rest of your life.

As for why childless people say they're "happier", it's because they "have no complains". They can go to the movies, they can go to the restaurant, they can take the trip. So they're "happy". People with kids know they could be doing that, but instead have kids. The knowledge haunts us. ;-)

My guess is that if they asked the couples with kids what they're greatest accomplishment and source of joy is in life, they'd also say it is their kids.

As for me, just getting a hug and a kiss from my two beautiful daughters will take away any bad mood, and instantaneously make it a good day. Their smiles, the love they offer, it is the greatest thing I have. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Maybe that's why once you do get away from your kids for a day or two, you already start to miss them terribly.

Posted by: JERiv | July 6, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

You're 20-something?? Ok, Im done reading your blog.

Posted by: The3rdMan | July 6, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Honestly, from what I'm seeing a non-trivial portion of the problem comes from the attitude non-parents have towards kids. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people shoot dirty looks at the parents of kids who are fussing (not screaming, not yelling, just fussing) in restaurants, or a kid on the street who's having a meltdown, or a tired baby who's crying in the supermarket. They get annoyed because strollers take up room on the streets. It's ridiculous.

I'm not a parent, but I'm really, really appalled at the behavior of some people. Yes, there are parents who allow their kids to run wild, but that's really the exception--most of them are trying, but they're freaking wiped out. I really think of most parents with kids as people with disabilities. Their life is harder than our lives. We should help when we know how, and when we don't know how to help, the moral onus is on the non-childed to be patient.

Really, very good parents have smart toddlers who know the time to run into the middle of the parking lot is when the baby is crying and mommy has turned her back to load the bags into the trunk. It's not helpful to stand there and glare at the parent as the kid runs into traffic. The least we can do when we see that their toddler is running away from them in the supermarket's parking lot is execute a block, okay? And bring them back to their parent with a "slippery little buggers, eh?"

Posted by: theorajones1 | July 6, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Parenthood often redefines happiness from hedonism to utilitarianism. Studies evaluating parental happiness inevitably ask parents to review daily, moment-to-moment emotional happiness. This is like trying to gauge how happy a marathon made a runner by asking how mile 23 felt. Much parental happiness comes incrementally, over time, and as such typically is called "life satisfaction", something that I suspect doesn't register on most of the happiness studies.

What wasn't covered much in the article was studies of the happiness of childless adults. Articles about the lessened happiness of parents always draw the same picture: lack of personal time; lack of energy; the mundane dailiness of child rearing; the endless housework. But how about the childless couple? We don't hear so much about them. Apparently they travel extensively, have healthy, thriving relationships full of good conversation, intellectual stimulation, wide circles of friends, and professional achievement. And they have sex more often. Really? Little is heard about feelings of emptiness, disconnectedness, mortality, and alienation that increases with age. There's no discussion of the complex relationship between immediate family and extended family. If lack of kids make you happier, is it also true that lack of parents and sibling also makes you happier?

It's easy sport among the childless to doubt the rewards of parenthood. And for those disaffected parents who can't help wondering if they've made a terrible mistake, such studies reaffirm their doubts, and increases their yearning for their former, childless lives.

For the rest of us, the question got a whole lot less interesting when the kids arrived on the scene. Yes, parts of being a parent suck. That's not news. And if you quantify that and ask parents every hour "are you happy?" it's no surprise what you'll find. But make no mistake: the rewards and satisfactions of parenthood are towering. They rise above both the relatively crude methodologies of most recent happiness studies, and perhaps even above simplistic definitions of happiness.

Posted by: mc_clay | July 6, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

FInancial stress may have something to do with it, as your subsequent post indicates, but on an existential level parenthood offers higher highs and lower lows than life without kids, in my opinion.

I love my kids so much, and without them my life would be shallower. But because I love them, and because as they grow older and life happens, and I realize I can't protect them as I could when they were little, I become more anxious and less able to be "happy" because I worry about them.

Have I had a single carefree day since my youngest child was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes nine years ago? No. Has that child enriched my life immeasurably and made my life more meaningful and more rewarding? Yes. That's the paradox of parenthood.

Posted by: mmpd | July 6, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Be warned: I am a childless 20-something who's intent on breeding quite soon.

I get the impression that raising children has a similar effect on a person/couple that a major trauma does. It shatters you for a bit, but if you can get it back together, you feel like a total badass. Plus, you have some awesome kids who love you. With a trauma, all you get is some crappy disease or whatever.

There's also people who enjoy challenging themselves, and even get some enjoyment out of the grunt work.

Posted by: saraeanderson | July 6, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Outstanding article, and it pretty much sums up my experience with my 6-year-old daughter, whom I love more than anything in the world. (Also, great comments, as always, by Kevin Willis.)

Posted by: dpurp | July 6, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer Senior writes, "When Kahneman surveyed those Texas women, he was measuring moment-to-moment happiness."

That's hardly the sort of happiness you'd pledge your sacred honor for the right of pursuing. And it's the wrong measure to use to evaluate parenting, as Senior suggests later in the article.

Posted by: kejia32 | July 6, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

There might be no challenge in life as difficult as parenting...but there are few challenges that are nearly as rewarding.

It is also something that cannot be explained. It can only be experienced first hand.

The most interesting thing about parenting from a political perspective is that in general childless 20-somethings tend to be more liberal and more Democrat party oriented, but ONCE they become parents they have a tendency to become more conservative and more Republican party oriented.

Guess why!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | July 7, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I think a lot of people go into parenthood with no real clue about the major lifestyle change or as my wife calls it-The death of self. Like most new dads, I wore a fake smile when I found out my wife was pregnant because I was shocked, had no idea what to expect but was smart enough to realize I better start grinning. We were the first in our circle of friends to breed so I had no peers to brace me for impact. What did help was reading other new dad experiences online. Most experiences were overwhelmingly positive. I would say unhappy parents are the minority because after having kids your life becomes so enriched with new experiences and it is a blast to see the world through their eyes. If you are a new parent, ignore these wallowing, self righteous fools. You have a lot of joy and responsibility coming and now is not the time to start acting like a child. It will take time for you to change and grow into your new role but it is also the point of life. Articles like this helped me cope:

Posted by: AbeTanaka | July 7, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

There are many reasons that families have nannies from Nannies4hire. Most reasons are something similar to ensuring proper, nurturing supervision of the children while the parents are otherwise occupied. However, there is another benefit. Did you know that nannies can help parents be better parents?

Nannies As Stress Relievers

If you delegate your routine household chores (light housekeeping, laundry, washing dishes, grocery shopping, errand running, etc.) to the nanny, then more of the time that you have at home with your children can be quality time (time reserved for interaction with your children). Additionally, if the nanny’s relieving you of these tasks makes you feel less stress on a day-to-day basis, you will be a more relaxed, patient, nurturing parent. Finally, there are times when parents simply need more than two hands to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished at any given time in the home (for example, what does a parent do if both of the twins are crying . . . in different rooms . . . and no other adult is at home to help?). By having a nanny, parents have another set of hands to help them attend to concurrent issues. In sum, by enabling more time to be spent in quality parent-child interaction, increasing a parent’s ability to be patient and nurturing, and providing an additional set of hands in times where multiple time demands are concurrent, nannies can help you be a better parent.

Media has emphasized this point. Episodic television programs on this point include John and Kate Plus Eight.

Nannies As Knowledge Base

Because experienced nannies have raised a larger number of children than most parents ever will, those nannies have dealt with (and learned how to respond to) a wider variety of child-rearing circumstances than most parents. Consequently, these nannies can be viewed as experts in the field of raising children.

Additionally, many parents seek nannies who know how to perform CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, and other first aid responses. Many nannies are well versed in nutrition. Further, many nannies have additional credentials (i.e., a background in early childhood education, a working knowledge of child psychology, etc.). In sum, there is much to be learned from these nannies.

Media has emphasized this point. Episodic television programs on this point include Nanny 911 and Super Nanny. Movies on theme include Nanny McPhee (2005) and even The Sound of Music (1965).


Most nannies are selected based on how they can relate to and care for children. However, let us not overlook how they can help US relate to and care for our children.

Posted by: mail20 | July 8, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

FastEddieO007 says:

"The most interesting thing about parenting from a political perspective is that in general childless 20-somethings tend to be more liberal and more Democrat party oriented, but ONCE they become parents they have a tendency to become more conservative and more Republican party oriented.

"Guess why!"

I've got a nearly 3 year old on my hands, and I have no freakin' clue why.

OTOH, I've got many reasons as a parent to be more Democratic.

First of all, I believe in universal, quality sex ed, and free, universal access to birth control from puberty on. (Find me five GOP Congresscritters who would publicly support that.) We should absolutely minimize the number of accidental pregnancies. This is too hard a job to find yourself in if you don't really want it. For the same reasons, parenting has solidified my pro-choice leanings.

Second, Republicans are overwhelmingly pro-sprawl, even though (as Yglesias, Atrios, Avent, etc. keep pointing out) sprawl is largely driven by regulations: height limitations, parking and setback requirements, and the like. Trying to run errands in suburbia with a toddler involve too many instances of taking the toddler out of his car seat and strapping him back in, and after about three of those, he melts down. I want walkable downtowns.

Third, there are a lot of ways that Dems are at least a little more for helping everyone out in ways that would be pro-family that the GOP would be against, like extending time and a half after 40 hours to more people, making two weeks' vacation and/or five days' sick leave per year a mandatory minimum, and so forth.

So yeah, being a parent means I'm more of a librul than ever. Suck on that.

Posted by: rt42 | July 8, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Everyone’s talking about this week’s New York magazine piece – DOES PARENTING MAKE YOU UNHAPPY?

TV Host and parenting author Rene Syler weighs in with her take

Really interesting read for all parents (and non-parents) out there!

Posted by: Allen24 | July 10, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Very late to this, but I wanted to add the importance of grandparents.

We just had our first child, Rachel, and it's been fantastic, but we're fortunate to be wealthy, with maid service and other expensive aids, and my wife works flexibly doing work for our business at home and working on her dissertation. And her mother lives in town and spends about 30 hours a week here helping with the baby.

And that's a huge thing. In the olden days not only did a mother not have to work at a job at all, two sets of grandparents usually lived nearby, and that makes a tremendous difference, making the experience more enjoyable and a lot less exhausting.

Today people move so much more, families are so much more broken up, not to mention friendships, and that has very serious costs to well being.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | July 12, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Hey, how about leveraging some positive psychology if you want to make parenting more enjoyable and meaningful? Go read a book, or better yet, call a positive psychology parenting coach.

There's lots of good stuff out there, including essays and books by my colleague Sarah Gillen, PCC. (See her essay in Women's Paths to Happiness for a primer.)

My husband and I focused on these ideas (before they were called "positive psychology") of building on what works, of developing strengths, and encouraging communication and community. I'd call it the best 20-year project I ever had!

Posted by: GayleScroggs | July 13, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

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