Do Children Make You Happy?
January 29, 2013
— BETSY SHEA-TAYLOR, Child, children, Daniel Gilbert, fulfillment, Happiness, New York, Parent, Pew Research Center, Stumbling on Happiness, Sun Chronicle
For me, absolutely yes! But this article argues otherwise. What do you think?
Are we all – every one of us – being entirely honest with ourselves and with others when we say, yes, our children make us happy.
Really, really happy.
Or do we just pretend they do?
Or wish they did or had or hope they will?
How much is truth and how much is fiction, and could it be that the women and men who are choosing today to remain “child-free” are not selfish, as some say, but self-respecting and self-knowing? Don’t ask me. I’ve got a kid.
But do consider the sea changes that both imply and confirm declines in child-rearing interest, attributable by some to the belief that children can become a real drag on life’s slipstream of good times.
Sixty-five percent of adults polled by the Pew Research Center in 1990 claimed children were very important for a successful marriage; by 2007, it was 41 percent.
Pew also reported that 18 percent of women ages 40 to 44 in 2007 had never given birth, compared to 10 percent in 1976.
Birth control and women in the workplace each contribute to these figures. But something else is also afoot. Do offspring really make us all that happy?
The confessions are spilling.
“Psychologists,” he wrote, “have found that people are less happy when they are interacting with their children than when they are eating, exercising, shopping or watching television.”
The popular press, he posits, forgets when writing about “empty-nest syndrome” that one of its symptoms is a smile.
“Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so,” Jennifer Senior wrote in New York magazine, All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.
This may be – with emphasis on may be – because some who delay children – as so often happens today – come from professional workplaces with a right and wrong way to do things.
Parenting approached with that premise may become competitive and charged with guilt. It plays out in catfights over prepared childbirth versus medicated, breast versus bottle, organic diapers versus plastic.
Now there’s a new game in town: The child-free versus the breeders, the latter opprobrium popping up on some websites, usually managed by those who have decided to be “just me” or “me-and-thee” but never, ever three
The shifting paradigm is reflected in shelves-full of books such as Susan Jeffers’s “I’m OK, You’re a Brat,” – which unmasks the myth of always-warm-and-cuddly. We have created, says Jeffers, a conspiracy of silence around difficulties of what can seem like a thankless task.
Parenting, that is.
When a young woman affiliated with a news network posted this year on her Facebook page her decision not to have children, the reaction was swift and heated.
“You’ll change your mind when you’re older,” someone wrote.
But will she? Will she regret her decision? It’s just as fair to ask the same of those who eventually do have children.
Can either say they wouldn’t have been happier the other way around?
Fact is, no one can know for certain.
BETSY SHEA-TAYLOR, a former editor and writer for The Sun Chronicle, is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.