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Decades of research shows having kids makes us unhappy

kids make us unhappy

You probably have someone on your timeline who posts pic after pic of their children, as if their life held no other significance. If you’re childless, you might scroll past, roll your eyes, or give them a ‘like’ for old time’s sake.

Or maybe you are this parent. No judgement (well, maybe just a little).

Regardless of which one you are, you’re probably familiar with the societal pressure here in the US to have babies. Once you glide by 25, parents or grandparents start to wonder: where are the grandkids? As if they can’t enjoy their newly founds freedom.

Why is this?

Because they think the traditional American dream of home ownership and 2.5 children is equal to happiness. This makes women especially feel the need to be equipped with reasons why they don’t want children. I have found that this photo helps give context to your argument, so feel free to use it if needed:

Kids make you unhappy

Do kids make us unhappy?

Decades of research is showing that they might.  We have been hearing of studies since the 1970’s that show a lot of parents are less happy than their child-free counterparts.

A study done in Norway brought to us by Big Think brings us this data on the subject:

A 2011 review by Thomas Hansen, a researcher at Norwegian Social Research, compared our folk understanding on the relationship between parenthood and happiness to the evidence. It found that people believe “the lives of childless people are emptier, less rewarding, and lonelier than the lives of parents,” but that the opposite proved true. Children living at home interfered with their parents’ well-being.

A meta-analysis by theNational Council on Family Relations looked at a more specific metric of happiness: marital satisfaction. It found that couples without children reported more romantic bliss. The difference was most pronounced among mothers of infants, while fathers disclose less satisfaction regardless of the child’s age. The authors noted the discrepancy likely resulted from role conflicts and restrictions on freedom.

Finally, a study published in the American Journal of Sociology looked at 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and compared the association between parenthood and happiness. Researchers Jennifer Glass (University of Texas, Austin) and Robin Simon (Wake Forest University) found that nonparents reveal higher levels of well-being in most advanced industrialized societies.

It’s easy to use this data to say its children in general that is making us less cheery. We all know of one are two children who are complete nightmares. But the reality is much more complex. The researchers are careful to stress that this evidence may be correlative, not causative.

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The biggest gap between parents and non parents (as far as contentment goes) is in the United States of America. The happiest parents lived in Spain, Norway, and Portugal – places with better childcare systems and networks to help new parents. These countries have a culture of extended family. Think of the old adage ‘it takes a village’. They also report that the parents who were the happiest believe they were doing and excellent job as a parent.

Big Think continues into details here:

“It isn’t just that the [current] parenting model isn’t the natural model, it’s also just not a very productive model,” developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik told Big Think. “It hasn’t helped parents or children to thrive. It’s led to a great deal of anxiety and guilt on a part of parents and a great deal of hovering expectations for children that really aren’t necessary and in fact may even be counterproductive if we still want children to innovate and create.”

So, kids make us unhappy then, but only under certain restraints, like a lack of support systems and a culture of ‘mommy guilt’.

The love parents gush about after their baby takes their first step, or the crying at the first day of school, is real and deeply felt.

The crying might be tears of relief that you finally have a second to yourself, of course.

Kids Make Us Unhappy

If you dig a little bit, a larger picture begins to take place. I’m sure many of us know mothers who went back to work just 6 short weeks – or earlier – after giving birth. Or maybe you’ve seen the bill for a week of daycare and scoffed like the rest of us. It’s easy to see that being a parent in the US today is hard and expensive. Our grandparents could afford a household where one parent was always home, and they could provide food, housing, and education to 2-5 children much easier than we can today. Perhaps it is this easier time that they are remembering when they are pressuring us to reproduce.

The researchers continue on to tell us that “more generous family policies, particularly paid time off and childcare subsidies, are associated with smaller disparities in happiness between parents and nonparents.”

So you’re saying that parenthood is easier and more enjoyable when we as a society support parents instead of creating roadblocks for them? That parents with a better relationship, less burdened by money woes and stress, are happier as a couple?

You don’t say.

If you’re looking to not have kids for the reasons mentioned above, or for any reason really, Psychology Today has some pretty good advice on how to curb haters from Dr. Ellen Walker:

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured or judged due to not having kids, handle it as you please. If you don’t wish to talk about your personal life, simple say so. If you choose to speak out about your life choice, do so in an assertive manner. Remember, being assertive does not mean criticizing, intimidating, or controlling another person. It does mean honestly stating your own feelings, what you wish to have happen, and what you will and won’t do.

Keep firmly in mind the fact that we cannot do it all in life. We must make choices, and with each path taken there is another that is left behind. We are fortunate to live in a society that truly allows us to choose, whether this is to parent or not, to marry or not, what career to go into, where to live, and how to worship.  The more awareness we have of why we are choosing a particular lifestyle, the less we will experience uncertainty in the face of pressure.

So have kids. Or don’t – it may be healthier for you and for the Earth.




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