The parent trap: do children make us more stressed and less happy?

anna.serlachius, Comments: 6

I remember being in my early twenties and listening to a presentation discussing the impact that having children has on your happiness. One of the world’s leading psychologists was presenting results from a study demonstrating that your happiness decreases dramatically after having children, and more alarmingly does not recover until your children have grown up and moved out. I remember all the parents in the audience that day and their collective moan, almost as if to admit to themselves and everyone else-yes, parenting sucks.

The vast majority of studies which have examined this issue have found similar results. Not only does having children seem to decrease measures such as life satisfaction and positive emotion, but it also seems to have a negative impact on marital satisfaction and even mental health.

Of course the findings are not quite that straightforward. Many prominent psychologists have argued that the measure of happiness which is most affected by having children is the more ‘superficial’ type of happiness associated with pleasure and positive emotions, while other aspects of happiness are often enhanced by having children, such as having more meaning and engagement in your life.

Do I believe in the parent-trap? No. I also think that most other parents would say that the positive aspects of parenthood rule out the negative aspects of parenthood. But to really enjoy being a parent and to reverse the trends seen in these types of studies, parents need an arsenal of coping skills and most important of all-they need social support.

Human beings are social animals, and never is this social support needed more than when you become a parent. Time spent with family, friends and the community offers a new parent a valuable outlet to share experiences and learn from each other, as well as tangible help with child rearing. However, the reality is that a lot of new parents feel increasingly isolated. The old African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is no longer a reality in many Western societies. It is increasingly common that parents with young children live far away from their extended families. These days having grandparents around to help care for your children is a luxury, definitely not a given. The social support that used to be in abundance for a new parent (as is still the case in more collectivist societies) must now often be found elsewhere.

Learning to effectively cope and even thrive during significant life changes, whether joyful changes such as becoming a parent, or more unfortunate life changes such as ill-health, requires resilience and a positive mind-set. One does not become resilient by avoiding change or challenges; rather resilience is cultivated by overcoming these challenges and growing from them. Becoming a parent has its ups and downs, but like all major life events, it also offers a golden opportunity to learn, grow and ultimately thrive.

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Comments: 6

As a soon mother to be, I couldn't be more thrilled. I also admit that I have no idea what parenting will be like. But I'm certain that it will be as fulfilling as it will be challenging. From all my friends who are parents I've only heard positive things about life with a child/children. Everyone has pointed out that their lives are not the same, yet all the changes have made their lives more meaningful albeit not easier. Yet one thing that I couldn't agree with more is the fact that parents need to ensure that the baby does not isolate them from the rest of the world. Your sweet little symbosium at home is bound to suffer when the parents don't get a chance to breath, and by this opportunity to have a breather I don't mean that the child should always be left at home. I will do my best to not fall into the parent trap, let's just hope that the lil'one is an easy one!
Jenni, 07. Feb. 13

As a mother of an young baby boy I see myself learning more about enjoing the present moment. I have always been a big planner and maybe thinking more ahead than concentrading to now and here. This is something that I have discuss a lot with my husband, how I usually have had such a rush thinking (and stressing) about what do I need to do tomorrow, next week, next summer that I forget and am not able to enjoy this day! As becoming a mom I still do think about the future, but I think my boy keeps me so much more focused on today and all the things he is learning and teaching me. And the thoughts of the future are filled more with positive hopes and not so much stressing . Allthough I do have to admit that I have caught myself wondwering how to fullfill all the expectations of beeing good employee and a mother as I will star working again soon.
Marianne, 15. Mar. 13

fhiGBZAlRdO, 08. Nov. 19

aVPuOsRKNtfWAJZQ, 08. Nov. 19

JcslXFpZnhgSRem, 25. Feb. 20

dphYnqXaBs, 25. Feb. 20

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