Children = Happiness?

Having a baby is the best thing you have ever done, right? And the biggest source of happiness and joy in your life…right?

I was fascinated to discover this week that actually, on a day-to-day basis, children don’t bring us joy. In fact, you’re probably happier when chopping veg for dinner. Yes, really.

I’m reading some books about the brain at the moment, and what makes us happier, or more resilient. My latest is called Flourishing, by Maureen Gaffney. In it she says:

“[W]hile children provide a deep sense of purpose and meaning in our lives, they do not make us happy in a day-to-day way. Many studies have now confirmed that marital happiness declines dramatically after the birth of the first child, dipping to its lowest point when the children reach the teenage years…”*

She goes on to point out that this isn’t just a feeling of dissatisfaction with our spouse, but with our children too:

“Studies which tapped into mothers’ “real-time” feelings (which are much more accurate than retrospective accounts) as they carry out the ordinary routines of the day show that they experience fewer moments of happiness when looking after their children than while preparing meals or even doing the shopping.”*

I’m certainly not someone that finds every moment with my children pure unbridled joy, and it is a relief to discover that I’m not alone. Looking after children is often boring, or stressful, and I haven’t got anywhere near the delights of parenting teenagers yet. There are many times when I would rather be cooking dinner, or trundling around the supermarket (ALONE!)

I just wanted to share this with you all, in the hope that it brings you the feeling of relief that it did me. You’re not a bad parent if you don’t enjoy every moment of it – you’re just like the rest of us!

On the other hand, the good moments more than outweigh the bad. In fact they are the best. The first time your baby smiles at you, all the cuddles and kisses, their sense of humour, all the “firsts” that make you so proud.

Some studies show that happiness levels with your spouse rise back to near honeymoon stage once the kids have left home. So there’s something to look forward to!

*Flourishing, by Maureen Gaffney, Penguin, 2012

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