Your social media feed is full of birth announcements, and you and your spouse are thinking it might be time to have kids of your own. Then the questions start popping up: How will children impact our lives? What do we have to give up? What will having kids do to our marriage? Will kids make us happier? Or will we just be tired and stressed?
So, you do what many of us do… ask Google. You hit enter, and the results are endless. Where do you begin?
Countless people have tackled this question.
A large body of research shows that parents are indeed less happy and experience more depression and anxiety.
And often, they have less fulfilling marriages than non-parents.
One study involving 22 countries found that the emotional and financial costs of having children outweigh the emotional rewards. Ask any parent, and they’ll acknowledge that having kids is expensive and exhausting. Parents never have enough time, lose sleep often, struggle to find quality child care, and constantly battle work-family balance.
That’s heavy, but it’s the reality of parenting. You may be thinking, “Well, that settles it. No kids!”
Hang with me for the next few minutes, though. I’d like to offer some hope.
Another study found that overall, parents report being happier and more satisfied, and thinking more about meaning in life than non-parents do.
Parents also reported more positive emotional experiences and meaning from moment to moment.
Researchers at Santa Clara University discovered that parents become happier over time than non-parents. Parents experience increased social connection and well-being over time. Having kids may keep parents from experiencing disconnectedness over time.
So the research is mixed on whether kids make us happier. Some say you’ll be stressed and anxious, and the quality of your marriage will decline. Others say you’ll experience more long-term happiness.
But is happiness the goal of parenting?
We’re wired from a young age to do what makes us happy. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. If happiness is the only measure of fulfillment, parenting may not be the answer. But there’s so much more to life than happiness.
If we focus on joy and finding meaning, life will be more fulfilling. Happiness is a response to what we receive. Joy and meaningfulness come from what we receive and making positive contributions to others.
Here are a few ways you can find joy as a parent:
Life is busy. Being a parent takes intentionality. Commit to set aside the electronics and be present from day one.
Make time to play. Sure, parenting is stressful, but you can still have fun. Being a parent brings out your inner child.
Know what really matters.
As you think about having kids, you may ask yourself, “How can I do this?” The list of things parents have to worry about seems endless. But according to author and psychotherapist Tina Bryson, the most important thing a parent can do is be there for their child. Just show up, physically and emotionally.
Find joy in the moment.
Parenting is full of tough times, but don’t let the hard stuff consume you. Focus on the joyful moments. Address the challenges and then let them go.
Take time to recharge and refocus.
Don’t let your kids be all-consuming in your life. If you’ve flown before, you know the safety drill: Put your mask on before trying to put someone else’s mask on. The same goes for parenting. How well can you care for your kids if you don’t take care of yourself?
Build a community.
Your parents or grandparents probably said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it’s true. Build a community of family and friends around you. Find a support network that you can lean on when you need help. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Healthy people ask for what they need, so there’s no shame in asking.
Maybe parenting doesn’t make us happier in the short term. It’s a lifelong journey, and there will be peaks and valleys. Choose to focus on the joy of parenthood. After all, you have the privilege of helping your child learn and grow into adulthood.
Herbst, C.M., & Ifcher, J. (2016). The Increasing Happiness of US Parents. Review of Economics of the Household, 14(3), 529-551.
Baumeister, R., Vohs, K., Aaker, J., & Garbinsky, E. (2013). Some Key Differences Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8:6, 505-516.
Nelson, S., Kushlev, K., English, T., Dunn, E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2013). In Defense of Parenthood: Children are Associated with More Joy than Misery. Psychological Science, 24:1, 3-10.
Glass, J., Andersson, M., Simon, R. (2016). Parenthood and Happiness: Effects of Work-Family Reconciliation Policies in 22 OECD Countries. American Journal of Sociology, 122:3, 866-929.