In the Parenthood

Does having kids really make you unhappy?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  July 7, 2010 10:58 PM

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Scores of studies over the years have shown that having kids doesn't make people happier. Ask any parent, though, and many will say that they adore their children, even when they're frustrated by them -- it's the parenting part that's a chore.

In the most recent edition of New York Magazine, Jennifer Senior explores these studies in a piece called "All Joy and No Fun" and makes several key points, including:

1. There's a difference between feeling happy and feeling rewarded.
2. In countries with strong support systems, like Scandinavia, parents feel happier.
3. The gulf between our familial fantasies and reality is huge.

All of which makes sense, but you know what? I think being able to consider personal happiness so carefully is a privilege afforded to those for whom the basic necessities -- food, clothing, shelter -- aren't an issue. And I also think that happiness is relative.

Data from the United States General Social Survey shows that women today are less happy now than they were back in 1972. The survey has been asking the same question -- "How happy are you, on a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 being very happy, and 1 being not too happy?"-- to 1,500 men and women, of all ages, income levels, educational backgrounds, and marital statuses since 1972.

But the survey didn't ask the question of the same women year after year; it surveyed women in the same age groups year after year. So what made people happy (or unhappy) in 1972 may be different from what affects their happiness today. As Senior points out in New York Magazine, "A few generations ago, people weren't stopping to contemplate whether having a child would make them happy. Having children was simply what you did. And we are lucky, today, to have choices about these matters. But the abundance of choices -- whether to have kids, when, how many -- may be one of the reasons parents are less happy."

Another possible reason for dissatisfaction with parenthood? People are having children later in life, which means that once that squalling bundle of joy does come along, they're all too aware of the things they have to give up. And those things are probably ones that made them feel very happy with their lives.

"There's a loss of freedom, a loss of autonomy. It's totally different from going from your parents' house to immediately having a baby," points out Jean Twenge, who in 2003 (with researcher W. Keith Campbell) did a meta-analysis of 97 children-and-marital-satisfaction studies stretching back to the 1970s. Their analysis also found that the more affluent a couple was, the less satisfied they were in their marriages once they became parents, probably for pretty much the same reason: "Now you know what you're giving up."

I'd argue that, all else being equal, the people who are unhappiest as parents are the ones who were unwilling to believe that having kids is a major lifestyle changes, and that raising them is a lifelong challenge. (Once that diapers-and-bottle stage is over and you've made it past the Terrible Twos and the Terrible Teens, you still get to worry about their well-being for the rest of your life.)

Parents, what do you think? Are you happier or less happy now that you've had kids? Or do you think you're happy, but in a different way?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.

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48 comments so far...
  1. I can't imagine life without my kids. I've never been happier. I think the opposite is true - I married and had kids relatively later in life (married at 33 kids at 35 and 36). I look back and say "what was I waiting for?" Yes, my wife and I got to travel the world on business and pleasure when we didn't have kids. But now I feel like I've goten that out of my system and don't miss it. Now I look forward to taking trips with my kids and showing them the world. Our biggest struggle now is trying to decide to have another child.

    Posted by TR July 8, 10 10:08 AM
  1. I love what Lylah said about the very fact that we have time to consider our happiness means we all have it pretty darned good in this world. That's very important to remember.

    So happy with my family. I got married young (at 22, pretty young in this day and age) and had my two kids at 26 and 30. Given that I had my first child only four years out of college, I didn't make much money at my job and in the end it would have cost us to send him to child care...so I have been happily staying home ever since.

    I don't love every minute of my life every day (who loves changing diapers?) - but I didn't before I had kids, either.

    I look at some friends and family members who are married, in their late 30's, and without children - and I simply do not envy them. I'm not saying I think they should have children...not at all. Do I wish sometimes we had more money, do I wish I had more time to myself, do I wish we could travel more (and I don't mean road trips with snacks and juice boxes stashed in the back)? Of course. It's great to have wishes and hopes and dreams - and always work a little bit to achieve them.

    Most of all, I love that when I send my munchkins off to college, I'll only be in my 40's. Still a lot of life left to live at that point. Maybe by that point I'll know what I want to be when I grow up.

    Posted by RH July 8, 10 02:00 PM
  1. I would have to go with happy, but in a different way. I'm much more grounded, much less focused on myself and much more tolerant of the sharp turns life inevitably takes, with or without children. I now understand that it's not all about me, and that I actually have a lot less control over my life that I thought. Since I realized that, I've felt much freer. Plus, despite all the work involved, kids are a blast. Sure there's a lot of drudgery involved in child care, especially babies, but there's a lot of fun times too. Not just the transcendent moments described in the articles you cited, but also the more banal or normal times, like bath time, or splashing around in the water table, or taking a walk on the beach looking for shells. Being a parent is a good life, and sometimes a great life.

    Posted by Cran July 8, 10 04:21 PM
  1. i'm so glad someone did this study...now maybe some of my friends and relatives will quit badgering me for not having any kids.

    Posted by june Rn July 8, 10 04:21 PM
  1. I think the key to happiness is the understanding of how to effectively give to others....the old saying "it is better to give than to receive" rings true. Having children provides an easy avenue to acheive happiness. The problem lies in the person that never learned how to give to others. If you haven't learned "how" to give, and have only learned to focus on your needs (a small example - you were always given whatever you wanted as a child, but never taught the lesson of working for what you want), you likely will be unhappy with children.

    So my two cents - the people that are unhappy with children were missing out on real happiness of substance long before the children entered the picture.

    Posted by spaceman July 8, 10 05:18 PM
  1. I am soooooooo unhappy. I can barely breath on a daily basis. my kids are 2 and 5 and of course i do love them, but i really think that being at home is not for everyone. being an at home mom makes me feel trapped. Have you ever tried 7am to 7pm without one minutue to yourself, 5 days a week, 4 weeks a month? no sick days, no mental health days, no vacation. I had my first child at 32 and my second child at 36. We knew what we were giving up, and do love the kids, but the CONSTANT is way more than i bargained for. my kids do not watch tv, (their choice, not mine), they do not play well together, and they refuse to be alone. The entire time I am in the shower, someone is crying. It never ends and I am so defeated by the end of the day, I can see my life falling apart around me....dirty house, gaining weight....just a hot mess! every now and again i pull it together and get a burst...it just does not last long. Happiness for me is NOT staying home full time.....but farming them out to a daycare is also not high on our list. aaahhh....lifes decisions, what a tangled web! I am at least happy to hear others may feel this way toooooo! and please don't tell me to cheerish these moments, I promise....I am over these moments!

    Posted by Sarah July 8, 10 05:40 PM
  1. I never wanted children and never had any. I was not given everything as a child- it was always "we can't afford it", "you don't need it", etc. So I am VERY happy with my sports car and can trade it it when I want to. Try doing that with kids. Let other people have the headaches.

    Posted by Liz Pakula July 8, 10 06:29 PM
  1. I sympathize with Sarah, and have lived through that experience myself, but it does get better. Consider part-time employment soon? Even if it isn't enough to pay for the child care, you'll still enjoy the relaxation of going to work. And at three, a child can actually begin to benefit from part-time preschool.

    Posted by TF July 8, 10 08:55 PM
  1. Sarah - as a husband of a woman who realized early on that staying at home wasn't for her (and who has two very well adjusted teenagers now), I'd say farm the kids out before you go insane. Why wouldn't you?

    Posted by David July 8, 10 09:29 PM
  1. I think Sarah hit the nail on the head. I love love love my kids (boys, 2 and 4) but it is neverending and my kids just suck the life out of me. I am waiting with baited breath for the day I can return to work. Being home full time is very very very very difficult, isolating and often unrewarding. There are plenty of good days and funny days but PLENTY of chaos and my kids just don't get enough of me no matter what I do. I sometimes feel like I don't give them enough and by the end of the day I'm so exhausted I have nothing left to give. I too don't want my kids in day care full time and my husband and I both feel that for now my being home with them is worth the salary sacrifice but IT IS A SACRIFICE. My advice for anyone expecting a child is DO NOT STAY HOME FULL TIME. At least work part time, if for nothing else than your sanity and sense of self..

    In the long run I know my kids are benefitting from having a parent home full time and despite all the life sucking I know I'm doing the right thing but it is a huge sacrifice for that parent and I wasn't prepared for how lost I would feel without a separate life (career) for me. If I had it to do over again I would maintain a part time job just for me

    Posted by J July 8, 10 10:08 PM
  1. Nothing worthwhile in life is easy to obtain or maintain: jobs, marriages, sports cars, homes, and most certainly kids. Certainly all of the above also make you unhappy at some time. I would simply argue that all of the above (sports car aside, perhaps!) are things that have survived through time because they, on net, make us happy. Sure, we all complain about jobs, but with out them we starve. Much happier that I don't starve.

    Of course there are those people who have everything and are unhappy, and those who have nothing and are happy. They are the outliers.

    Sarah - Yes, I have tried it and it is really stressful. I promise it will get better. Our kids are now 4 and 7 (only 2 years removed from you) and life is much easier in all the ways that you are stressed now. Other stresses, but not the exhaustion that comes with a 2 years old plus the energy of a 5 year old. Hold on! And find a friend to help you out emotionally.

    Posted by bv July 8, 10 10:34 PM
  1. I think the happiness question is more nuanced...I have moments of blissful, transcendent (as the article had mentioned) moments of happiness. Witnessing life as a mother of three has brought me depths of emotion that I had never before experienced. However, being able to view life as a parent has not only been enriching but also harrowing. The pressure of caring for such dependable beings in an age of overachievement has left me exasperated, depressed, and lonely. I perceive and experience judgement from all angles. I continue to push through these challenges because I believe that being a parent has made me stronger, smarter, and more resilient. Perhaps, a shift in how we view parenting on a societal level could help counter some of the grimmer realities of day to day care.

    Posted by AMHenry July 8, 10 10:54 PM
  1. I am a physician and mother of a 10 and 12 yr old. Staying home full-time was never an option for me so my husband and I both work part-time and share the parenting ever since the youngest was born. Not only am I happier but my children are actually more independent and appreciative of me because I am not their maid and nurse 24/7. They both attended preschool since they were 3 and benefited from the social interaction and their separation from us. So for Sarah and others in the same situation, definitely don't feel guilty about putting your kids in a school or daycare and work or volunteer part-time.

    Posted by serena July 8, 10 11:42 PM
  1. Sarah has hit on an interesting point: It isn't the kids, per se, that drive you nuts. It's the fact that you're on duty all day every day.

    Personally, I don't think this is really how parenthood should be...and it isn't how it's always been. My grandmother raised a family of nine children, and when I ask her how she did it, she just smiles and assures me it wasn't as hard as it sounds. Why? Because her mother and aunts were all right there to help her each and every day. How many of us have that now?

    This, I think, is why so many people are unhappy after they have children: There just isn't enough support for parents in our culture. Most of us don't live near parents or siblings, so we don't have the built-in support systems available to so many parents in other cultures. We're expected to go it alone. And in traditional households where dad works and mom stays at home, almost the entire burden of child rearing falls on mom. No wonder so many women are ready to pull their hair out!

    Sarah, my suggestion would be that you focus on building yourself a stronger support system. If you don't have family or friends who can provide that, hire a good babysitter to give you a breather for a few hours each week. Just knowing that you'll have a little time to yourself every day can work wonders. And do look into preschools. Having your children in preschool--even a couple of times a week--can offer the kids tremendous opportunities to learn social skills with other children while you have a little time to breathe.

    Posted by Robin July 9, 10 02:47 AM
  1. Nice to see a few comments from those who didn't have children. I knew when I was a teenager that I never wanted to have children. I see so many unhappy mothers who slap,beat,kick their children in public. Tell me they are happy.

    I come from a family of 10 siblings, 8 are still here. The parent bug never bit me. Best of luck with raising children in this day and age. I am sure it truly is a challenge.

    Posted by sophie08 July 9, 10 04:48 AM
  1. Sarah, I think the key to a positive stay-at-home parent experience is to get out of the house: join a gym that has child care, go to libraries - I'm in metro west, so we're surrounded by 6 very high quality libraries with rich programming for kid - , search out a preschool with financial aid -both kids should be eligible, sign up for community mom'/parent groups, find affordable classes for the kids, get a mother's helper maybe a neighborhood middle or high school student who will watch the kids while you take a break, have a cleaning person come a few times a month if possible, have a girl's weekend away. If you feel like you're ready to go back to work, your kids are at the age where they would thrive in a high-quality child care program. Five and two year olds are super social. This is a great choice that I would feel good about especially if you click with the teachers and program - one that matches your parenting philosophy.

    Posted by Rachel July 9, 10 05:16 AM
  1. Reminds me of the old Three Stooges line, "Are you married or happy?"

    Posted by Old Dude July 9, 10 08:51 AM
  1. This conversational strand is fascinating as it transcends the cultural expectation that staying at home is so blissful/working parents are bad for children, etc. One thing I would add is that not all daycare is awful, and that raising children with an at-home parent is not inherently superior. Sure, there are some bad day care centers, but there are many who are staffed with excellent teachers. Children in high-quality daycare also benefit academically and socially. I think we parents confuse our role as at-home parents as something that is the only good way to raise children when it is one of a variety.

    Posted by Steve July 9, 10 09:19 AM
  1. Sarah, I'd like to suggest that you look up your local MOMS Club chapter. MOMS stands for Moms Offering Moms Support. It won't solve all of your problems - and you can only get out of it what you put into it - but I think it would help you to feel less isolated to get involved with what other Moms are doing in your town. They work together to form playgroups, a calendar of inexpensive (mostly free) weekday activities, Moms Night Out, and small but important charity projects. Getting involved can give you a sense of purpose beyond the physical caregiving you are doing with your children, give you a chance to exercise some of your skills, and give you a chance to make some friends. Give it a try! What have you got to lose?

    Posted by RH July 9, 10 09:23 AM
  1. Sarah: I feel your pain. I work full time and have two kids and between the mad rush in the morning, working all day, and then coming home and trying to give kids attention, and then having to do whatever needs to get done, I hit 10pm before I am done for the day. And then there's that guy, my husband, who I should probably talk to for a few minutes. Oh, and that thing we used to do ... what was it again ... oh yeah, sex. (Granted I'm not with kids all day, but there are times at work when I can't tell the difference, if you know what I mean.) When I do get a vacation day its time to spend with the kids or do things in the house, and I still feel run off my feet.

    I think you and I and many like us need the same thing; its not the exotic vacation we miss or the fancy dinners out, its just having some time alone. Some time for ourselves. And see - in spite of what the media would have you think - work outside/stay at home moms have a LOT in common.

    Men are much better at demanding this. My husband is home with the kids in summer, and he will ask for a night off with the guys and of course I let him have it. I should do the same, but I feel too guilty about needing time with the kids.

    A friend whose son is in a part time nursery school-she does shift work-was dropping him off at school and didn't have to work that day. She was contemplating all the things she could do with her time. Could you imagine? A Day All to Yourself. Its like a dream. I almost cried.

    I bet there's another mom in your boat who would be willing to watch your kids so you could have some time, if you returned the favor. And don't feel like day care is "farming" them out. If you get a good quality daycare/preschool, your child is with people with early childhood ed degrees, tons of experience, in a setting that's custom designed for kids, with curriculum, and opportunities to socialize. My day care providers were my mentors, giving me all sorts of advice and insight.

    No, kids won't make you "happier" but I think your choices are what they are, and if having kids is what you want, then you need to be prepared for the reality. I love my kids and time with them does make me happy, although a little time with me would be nice too.


    Posted by Anne July 9, 10 09:33 AM
  1. I think it's important to remember that none of the researchers wanted these results to be true. They are counterintuitive. Everyone wanted the research to confirm their belief that children are a boundless happiness. However, the results are the results. We can argue. We can disagree. But unless we find that the studies were badly designed, we can't say the data is meaningless.

    If you have not read Stumbling on Happiness, you should. We are notoriously bad at predicting what will make us happy. The book is very enlightening.

    Posted by Susan July 9, 10 09:38 AM
  1. Noone is happy all the time and what makes you happy changes with time. What my children have done for me is to help me to realize that no matter what is happening in my life, good, bad or indifferent, that I have love and joy in my life that transcends anything that life will inevitably be thrown at me. Mere happiness is nothing compared to that and I am grateful every day that I am their mother.

    Posted by PTM11 July 9, 10 10:06 AM
  1. If I can have moments of happiness each day, I am satisfied. When I stop to assess my happiness level if I do not feel an impending sense of dread, I feel successful. If I do feel an impending sense of dread (which has happened many times, as I've spent much of my adult life fighting depression), it is my responsibility to do something to help myself, including asking for help - as hard as that can be. I have built my current life around these philosophies.

    I am 36, expecting my first child in a few months, and although I have not yet met my child, I would not give up these months of pregnancy for any sports car or European vacation. I have felt so much happiness carrying this baby, that - studies or no studies - I am already a happier person because my husband and I decided to have a child.

    I have no idea what the future will bring, just as I could not have predicted my life up to this point. But if I get to a point where I feel nothing but despair, I'm going to do something about it, as I have worked hard to teach myself to do. One of my responsibilities as a parent and a spouse is/will be to keep myself healthy - physically and mentally. I fully expect to have unhappy times, but if I stand back and look at my life and think, "wow, I am generally really unhappy" I will be doing something to change that, for my own sake, as well as the sake of my husband and child.

    Posted by oona July 9, 10 10:27 AM
  1. I'm in the same boat as RH, having had children early. I had my first at 22, less than a year after graduating college, and had two more plus a step-child before 30 so I have been a mother my whole adult life and don't know any different. I consider myself happy and fulfilled. We struggle financially compared with the older parents of most of our children's friends, that's for sure, but I think that's the only downside to being a young parent. Like RH, I will be 41 when my first heads off to college, 49 when the last one goes out the door. I'm looking forward to having that time in my 40s, 50s, and 60s to dedicate to my career, travel, build my nest egg, etc. My first child was a surprise, so I had to re-frame that part of my life and give up the visions of grad school in a new city and partying my way through my 20s.

    I'm happy that things worked out the way they have so far. Motherhood has made me much more focused and grounded - I know what's most important to me at this point in my life (doing the best we can raising our kids, who only get one childhood) and don't feel guilty about putting everything else (my job, having a perfect house, etc.) second for now. It's freeing to see life in phases of imbalance and not try to balance everything and be superwoman to everyone all the time.

    To Anne, I have been much happier in recent years because I take A LOT of time to do things that I want to do. On a monthly basis, I go to a garden club meeting, 2 PTA meetings, a working mom night (pizza and wine with other working moms), teach a weekly religious education class, go out to dinner with at least one group of friends, go to a class at the gym 2-3 times a week and bike, walk or swim another 2-3 times a week. I do most of my workouts either right after work or when the kids are in bed and the rest of the activities are in the evening when my husband is home and can take care of the kids. It took years to build up to this but there is no reason I can't also have time to myself doing things I like, and my kids like that I have friends and do things. My husband is just as capable as bathing the kids and putting them to bed as I am. So go ahead - find something you want to do and do it. Or even just schedule a night next week where you go out for a couple of hours after dinner and even if you have nothing to do, sit at a book store drinking tea and reading. Parenting need not be endless drudgery 24/7 - if you're married, there is another parent there who can take over for a while!

    Posted by Jen July 9, 10 10:29 AM
  1. Anne and Rachel and others have such good advice.

    Like Sophie, I never felt strongly about having children. I was forced into the parenting role as a child. As a result I had a checklist of what I would have needed to be able to be a Mom: marriage, financial stability, a decent place to live, access to good schools and a husband who would be a very involved and supportive parent. I am happily married but the other parts of the equation weren't attainable.

    What I notice most about parents who are unhappy is that so often their situations have changed at some point and what they dreamed about as a young couple hasn't been attainable. Sometimes parents who initially have a great plans and good situations get sick, lose their jobs, get divorced, have parents who get sick or are difficult, move so often that the stay at home parent has to establish a support network over and over, or have some bad fortune that makes parenting a constant struggle. They love the children, but the parenting is hard. Also, some children are harder to raise than are others. I have a niece who is almost pathologically stubborn. And then there's discipline; an arrogant, evasive or disrespectful child is eventually going to turn that on the parents. One of my neighbors has a teenage daughter who just treats her like dirt. It's really sad.

    The other thing that has really stuck out over the years is that it seems that a lot of people don't have a good grasp of what is involved in raising a child before becoming pregnant. My niece and nephew were in a program at school where they had to bring an electronic "infant" home and do various things to take care of it. It was wired so that its needs were random and randomly timed. My sister said that my niece had no interest in it and that she took over and did eveything. Even though my sister covered for her, the message still got through to my niece that she wasn't up to parenting anytime soon. When my nephew had it, he took perfect care of it. It made them both think about what it would be like to actually be responsible for an infant. What a great program!

    Posted by call-me-Auntie July 9, 10 10:31 AM
  1. I never knew Scandinavia was a country.

    Thank you, Globe! You are always so informative!

    Posted by MervG July 9, 10 10:38 AM
  1. It's not the kids that make moms unhappy, it's the other adults. The nosy, nitpicking, guilt-tripping hypermommy culture wears on us. No matter what you do, you've got someone next to you telling you it's wrong, selfish, stupid, or against whatever half-baked evolutionary parenting theory the guru on Oprah announced yesterday. The latest is that kids won't learn to communicate properly if Mommy answers the phone in their presence. It used to be that they wouldn't learn to talk if you let them watch Blues Clues for a few minutes while you drained the boiling pot of pasta or went and scrubbed the toilet. Same hooey, different day.

    Ever fix your kid a plate at a potluck, realize that another mom is watching to see if you cut your kid's grapes in half, and when you do, she literally claps her hands and says, "Oh, your suuuuch a good Mommy, it's so important to cut up their food" and launch into a lecture about choking risk? I don't really care what Grape Lady thinks so much as I care that it's socially acceptable for a complete stranger to pass judgment on my worthiness as a mother based on a two minute interaction and loudly announce her findings in a roomful of people. It's not acceptable to do that about someone's religion, or line of work, or anything else but parenting. Next time someone makes a sweeping parentier-than-thou judgment, mentally substitute "Baptist" or "Jewish" or "history major" for the whatever it is they are talking about and see how rude it would be.

    Posted by di July 9, 10 10:56 AM
  1. This is a very interesting coversation in. Our main problem here is that we have everything we need for survival - food, cleanwater, shelter, and a good amount of safety. So, we have time to look into the question, "are we happy?". I love my 2 kids. I would even think of a 3rd kid because I am a little crazy. But, is my life ideal at the moment - no, but the response is, it is okay. I work all day, go home, and work more. Am I supposed to enjoy it - absolutely not every moment of it. I think motherhood/parenthood is idealized for commercial reasons in society. My parents love being grandparents but would nerve repeat parenting again. I don't think parenting was ever fu. We live in a society where we are expected to be happy every stage of life. That is not reality. I love my kids, and my job. I would still have kids again. But, it ain't a walk in the park.

    Posted by YS July 9, 10 11:04 AM
  1. if it drives you crazy send them to daycare.keeping that at home with you all of the time only makes them completly attached to you and suffocates them from getting experiences like the kids do at daycare.children wont learn how to communicate with other children if they're at home all the time with only 2 other people.sending them to daycare wont only give you a break but will benefit their education and personality as well

    Posted by bob July 9, 10 11:06 AM
  1. sarah...this column has become about others trying to help you cope.... you most likely need an attitude adjustment and just decide to be positive and happy and do things to create that outcome. You have so much company... have you found things in your community to look forward to with your children, are there library programs? playground groups? Walking groups... I suspect your husband is not participating all that much or well. How do you not feel rewarded? Is he dragging you down still after dealing with the children all day, is the budget so tight you aren't able to do anything fun or for yourself? Work on you and when you feel positive; then maybe a part time job would work for you. Good luck! Lots of us have been down that same road and have no regrets...stay positive..

    Posted by Barbara July 9, 10 11:17 AM
  1. Happiness comes from attitude, not circumstances.

    Some may complain about the challenges of raising children, while next to you sits a women who wants to have children, but can't. Would she not trade places with you? Would she not be happy to do so? Life happens. How we meet the challenges defines our character and our levels of happiness.

    Posted by Noah July 9, 10 12:11 PM
  1. "...in other countries, such as those in Scandinavia..."

    Thanks, MervG. Hope my correcting the typo didn't ruin your day. -- LMA

    Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse Author Profile Page July 9, 10 12:18 PM
  1. So grateful that I came of age when women started thinking that it was okay not to want to get married and have children.

    I never felt any desire to have children, so I didn't.

    I'm happy with my life and my choices.

    Bravo to the moms who admit that it's no fun sometimes. And, to the one who's obsessing over what other mothers think of her, I hope you will learn to be more confident with your own decisions and stop feeling judged by others. Junior could choke on half a grape, too.

    Best wishes to all of you.

    Posted by Just-Cos July 9, 10 12:56 PM
  1. I am also a stay at home mom of a 2 and 4 year old. It is tough and exhausting. It is true that the support system isn't the same. I also agree that people do think they are experts on parenting and pass judgement. I don't care what people think but it does happen everyday. I agree with everyone to find time for yourself such as the gym or a part time job where you can socialize with adults. It can be very isolating. It is nice to see that people are in the same situation or have come through to the other side. Thanks to everyone for their honesty.

    Posted by ccmom2 July 9, 10 05:14 PM
  1. I can understand how the stress of raising children can make people feel less happy than those who are childless, and that was clearly shown by the studies cited in the NY magazine article.
    What I am interested in seeing is a study that compares the relative happiness of people later in life who did or did not have children. I think that the main reward for having children must be reaching your senior years and having adult children to take care of you, and grandchildren to dote on (this coming from someone in her 30s with a 1 year old).
    When you reach your 70s and 80s, many of your friends are gone and you tend to be more sedentary and isolated. I imagine that those who didn't have children are more likely to feel lonely, and maybe they are more likely to find themselves in difficult circumstances (without children or grandchildren at hand to help them navigate healthcare, finances, etc).
    Of course having children is no guarantee that you will have good relationships with them when they are grown, or that you will have grandchildren -- but my point is I wonder if it is possible that the negative effects of having children when you are in your 30s and 40s are maybe offset by the positive effects when you are in your 70s and 80s.

    Posted by NL July 9, 10 07:50 PM
  1. Everyone’s talking about this week’s New York magazine piece – DOES PARENTING MAKE YOU UNHAPPY?

    TV Host and parenting author Rene Syler weighs in with her take

    Really interesting read for all parents (and non-parents) out there!

    http://www.goodenoughmother.com/2010/07/does-parenting-really-make-you-unhappy/

    Posted by Allen24 July 10, 10 04:32 PM
  1. sarah, have you spoken to your doctor about possible continued postpartum or other depression? i am not saying the stress you feel is not real -- been there, done that -- but there is a level of despair that is not good for you, and even worse for your children. it is not enough for them just to have a mom who is there, you need to be emotionally there -- if not you, then a caregiver -- but for your sake and your children's sake, please find some way to seek out help. i have struggled with depression myself, and there is something in your tone. please, for you and your kids. and consider looking for work, even volunteer stuff -- you need a break too if it is too overwhelming for you.
    but i can say that having done both, working and being a mother can be stressful too, just in a different way.

    i have two fabulous kids -- 12 and 15 -- and the stress changes as they grow. physically demanding in the early years, emotionally and car-bound-wise in these tears, my oldest has chronic medical issues. i have stayed at home fulltime and worked fulltime. both have been amazing and yes stressful experiences. all part of the incredible journey i call my life. i don't regret having kids at all, ever. what i do regret is getting married. my marriage is terrible.

    parenting is not just about the kids. it is about how the parenting partnership with your partner plays out too. it can make being a parent a boatload more work, or it can make it seem like a rollercoaster ride with your best friend.

    i will say that as a person i have become warmer, kinder, more patient, and emotionally-richer through my experiences as a mother. it teaches you to go back and see the world again through different eyes. without my kidsm,, i could not be the person i am today.

    Posted by chloe July 11, 10 09:34 PM
  1. Oh boy! I can relate to the comments of just about everyone. I was an older mom when we decided to have children. I had my first son at 38 and 41 with my second. I've been middle class since birth, so no silver spoon in my mouth! I feel bad for even writing this...but if given the opportunity to go back in time, I would have chosen to be child free. Ouch! And I absolutely love my two boys!!! I feel awful for admitting my "big secret", but I think it's only fair to hear the other side of the story. I'm sure I'm not alone.

    I've been a single mom for 9 years. My boys are now 13 and 15. They are really great kids! I'm so lucky they are healthy and happy (happy as teenagers get! ). I still feel horribly guilty for writing this!!!

    Being a single parent is extremely difficult and I think people should look at the reality, 50% of all marriages fail. And don't automatically think "Oh, we'll never get a divorce!" Life happens...some things you have no control over. I was a dedicated wife and knew without a doubt, I'd be married forever. Surprise!!! One should consider whether they can afford raising a child/children with their own resources...food, clothing,education, insurance, housing. And don't count on child support...I get 400.00 a month for both boys. I know...crazy! You won't believe how expensive children are! Do you know how much a teenager can consume at one meal? Unbelievable...and they're both slender! So, ask yourself, do I have a strong support team...and an open line of credit at the bank?

    Unfortunately, to the parents that responded to the article; it doesn't get easier when your children get older. Both my boys were such cuddle buddies...always with the kisses and hugs. That helped me deal with the exhaustion. But now, as teen boys, they would rather have their cell phone/computer taken away for ETERNITY than be seen in public with their mother! Horrors!!! Not all bad, sometimes they sneak me a hug, only if no one is around for miles and miles! .

    I strongly encourage all couples to think very, very, VERY hard before they decide to have children! I have been a middle school teacher my entire life, so you know I love kids, but it's very difficult to provide for them. I've had to go to the food bank on many occasions and haven't been able to provide health insurance in the past 6 months. Please don't think I must be wasting my money...I can't remember when I was able to afford anything for myself or take them to a movie. It's so hard out there with kids! Even though I'd give my life for my boys, I wouldn't know what I was missing if I'd chosen to be child free. Kind of a Catch 22!

    Posted by Jana Shea July 12, 10 04:56 PM
  1. At 14, I decided parenthood was not for me but a career was. At 73, I'm glad I stuck to my guns - hard to do in the 50s and 60s when everything was about "togetherness". I've retired from my career in computers, which hadn't even been invented when I first decided to devote my life to something I'd be good at. And with the world in such chaos, I'm not sure my kids would have all that much to look forward to. My husband and I don't hold out much hope for the future of the human race. Depressed? No, just glad we'll be gone before the worst hits and enjoying what time we have left (really, I am enjoying life now as much as I enjoyed the 40-year career).

    Posted by RuthK July 13, 10 02:51 PM
  1. I actually wrote about the New York Magazine article, so rather than posting a comment here, I will just say feel free to check it out at www.RealMommyChronicles.com
    This really is a fascinating topic, right? We know how much we adore our kids so how can we be considered LESS happy???

    Posted by RealMommyChron July 13, 10 03:39 PM
  1. Bob - wow. My poor deprived children, they never spent a day in day care. I wonder how they learned to relate to people of all ages? My children were suffocated from getting experiences - what experiences exactly? My kids went to the zoo, playground, had access to art supplies, educational material, played with neighborhood kids, kids at the Y, learned how to interact with adults - and actually enjoy hanging out with adults! My poor, poor children.

    I have four children and I stay home with them. Was it hard in the early years, especially when the baby was born and the oldest didn't turn 5 for almost 5 more months? Yes, it was hard, but we went to the Y, zoo, etc. My husband would take them to the Children's Museum on Friday nights, so I could be alone. Other times when it had been frustrating, I would ask my husband for the night off - he saw to their needs and put them to bed, etc. The "baby" is now 5, there are still frustrating days, but I have been forced to grow in many areas, and overall life is a blessing - as are children.

    Posted by Bostonbells July 13, 10 03:57 PM
  1. Seems like people are less happy after having kids because they over-think everything... like the daycare/stay home debate, what extracurriculars, when to introduce another language etc. NEWSFLASH, your kids will be fine as long as you treat them with respect and teach them to respect others (and build a sense of community). So I'd say do what makes sense for you and don't drive yourself crazy following the latest trendy idea of "what is best for kids" and then beating yourself up because you can't meet some ideal. Somewhere along the line, parenting became all about sacrificing for the kids... but just because you have children it really doesn't mean you have to stop thinking of yourself too (my friends in Europe start kids at preschool at 2 or 3 years even if they are at home so that they can pursue their hobbies. Imagine admitting that here!) I had that a-ha moment years ago and really enjoy my kids and life so much more now (as opposed to anxiety attacks when I thought I had to be super-mom).

    Posted by cathieq July 13, 10 11:56 PM
  1. There is a great book out there for moms who need to reclaim their lives after becoming a parent -- The Mother's Guide to Self Renewal. It has a multi-step program that really makes sense, and there are facilitators in many cities who have group meetings once a month to check in on progress and discuss strategies -- http://www.reneetrudeau.com

    Posted by Amy H. July 14, 10 12:02 PM
  1. My wife (internist) and I have one child, we love him dearly, however, the demands of primary care are KILLING her. Thus, neither one of us can bring our best to our child or our life as their is NO balance. Friends are few and working as a PCP is an increasing NIGHTMARE scenario.

    Think twice about balance and quality of life issues before having children, you will not get there as an afterthought very easily if ever.

    Posted by Shari July 18, 10 02:02 PM
  1. I have three girls 13, 10 and 15 months, I think I was much less stess out with my two older oldes, now I am very unhappy with everthing. Don't know if it's cuz I older. But I think You should have kids at a younger age! Cuz it is much easyer.

    Posted by aaaaaa August 16, 10 12:52 AM
  1. Anyone who thinks that children make them happier need to quit lying to themselfs and others. Children are a result of nature taking its course and not about lets see what kind of reward were going to get after 21 years or so. wow i never would have thought the world would become to be so Delusional. yes we love our children but no were not happy

    Posted by john September 2, 10 06:32 PM
  1. Living in apartment complexes for the past 30 years,i constantly see up close,parents(mostly mothers)who are unhappy .It's horrible to hear a mother or father yell loudly at their child at 8am to get in the fu&*ing car right now!!" i hear parents(again mostly mom's)speak to their kids like this all too frequently. how very sad!!

    Posted by Dennis September 5, 10 12:45 PM
  1. i am soooo unhappy!! i love my kids but it stresses me out so freakin much!!!! i have a 22 month old and a 5 month old. i was 19 and 20 when i had them. im 21 now. i think thats such a young young age to have kids!!! honestly i cant understand why anyone would even want kids. they are precious and beautiful but to me thats all they are. its just to much work for anyone. unless you for some odd reason like to hear crying and changing diapers and not sleeping. ive needed my moms help since day 1 and im gonna need her help till well probly till they grow up. sad huh? im sorry. i just had to get all this off my chest. my moms tired of hearing me complain about my life.

    Posted by Brenna September 29, 10 01:57 AM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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