Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Does Having Children Make You Unhappy?

Did anyone read THIS ARTICLE in New York magazine?

I read it about a year and a half ago. It stuck with me all this time. It also scared the shit out of me. Ada was only 1 year old then and I was still on a mommy-hood honeymoon.


Yet here was this article pointing out studies that concluded parents are more unhappy than the childless people around them. Pretty dismal, isn't it? And nearly every parent would argue with this sentiment. Nevertheless, on a moment-to-moment basis parents seem to experience more daily stress amid the chaos than their non-parenting counterparts. In other words, it isn't the mundane stuff that we're thinking about in any given minute of any given day that we find so fantastic about parenting.

Based on other more recent studies that considered broader philosophical issues like reward, connectedness, meaning and purpose it would seem that parents experience these feelings deeply. There is a bigger picture that makes having children worth it. The bigger picture is easier to see the further you are away from it. Retrospection about parenting makes us all squishy and proud of what we're doing. Could this be why parents of grown children like to warn parents of young children to "enjoy it now" and "it goes by so fast"? They're on the retrospective side of the parenting coin where hindsight is through rose-colored glasses: they already know the ending with all it's rewarding goodness.


So we have an idea that says we aren't happy in any given moment. Rather, it's the retrospection that makes us happy. Then we have an idea where we are reminded by people in a retrospective position to enjoy every moment. Hmmm. Well, now there's a circular argument.

Like the author of THIS ARTICLE, the "enjoy every moment" advice just makes me feel like a failure. If we aren't enjoying every single moment then we must be doing something wrong, right? Most of us already worry that we're failing our kids in some way or another. The intention is good - to remind us of the bigger picture when we're so in the thick of it all that we can't see the forest for the trees. The actual outcome is bad - this is just one more thing to add to the stress of parenting. That's why I love it that this author points out those fleeting, "magical moments of the day when time stands still." She calls it Kairos time, or God's time. In Kairos time you are graced by a glimpse of the bigger picture and it makes you happy.


Almost every parent I know agrees that having a child is by far the greatest, most soul-expanding love they have ever known. How is this possible when our stressful days are filled with the exhausting minutia of parenting? Well, even in the course of a normal day we are sometimes graced with a glimpse of the bigger picture through this so-called Kairos time. We study them while they sleep and we derive purpose from the idea that "this child is my child". We smile because they sing off-tune and their earnest effort is so pure we know we must protect this vulnerable little being. Our hearts leap because they run into our arms and we feel like the most important person in the world.  In reality, to this little child, we are the most important person in the world.

We don't have to wait for our kids to grow up, affording us the benefit of retrospection, in order to see that parenting was the greatest thing we ever did. Instead, for a few moments of every day our understanding expands so that we can see the beautiful impact parenting has on us. It's our responsibility to recognize it. The more we are searching for these moments, the more often we will find them - even in the mundane. With practice, we will be better able to access the bigger picture whenever we need to like when parenting is heart-breaking.We're doing ourselves a favor to make a mental note of it. Or even a real note of it by doing something like blogging.  Is it possible that we can control our focus enough to increase our own moment-to-moment happiness and prove those studies wrong? I keep blogging to prove that I believe it's true.

4 Lovies:

Lisa said...

I am much happier since I've had kids. Our kids have gotten us through all of the bad stuff that has happened to us. They can always make me smile, laugh, or just make me forget the bad.

My happiness.

christine said...

What a nice post. I like the idea of not having to wait for retrospection.

Shell said...

First of all- what a cutiepie!

Parenting is hard and stressful, yes- but I still feel like my life is so much better because of becoming a mom.

Adrienne said...

Parenting does have a beautiful impact! I honestly don't think I was happier before kids. I was lost. I am found in Motherhood. Even when I am having a bad day or the kids or driving me crazy, that's not unhappiness. Unhappiness would be never experiencing it to begin with.