Some recent studies are showing that having children do not make parents happier and that childless adults may be more satisfied with their lives.
Simon points out what any parent knows very well: Children, especially young children, can create lots of work and stress. “There are very many positive things that come out of having kids, but it’s a mixed bag,” she says. “They are demanding. They are a responsibility, and it’s a responsibility that doesn’t end.”
Very true. But as Jonah Lerher points out, what is true on a day-to-day basis may not the same over the long haul.
Changing a diaper isn’t enjoyable, and teenagers can be such a pain in the ass, but having kids can also be a profound source of meaning for people. (I like the amateur marathoner metaphor: survey a marathoner in the midst of the race and they’ll complain about their legs and that rash and how the race seems like it’s taking forever. But when the running is over they are always incredibly proud of their accomplishment. Having kids, then, is like a marathon that lasts 18 years.)
My take is that the kids aren’t the problem; it’s all the other stuff. You just aren’t able to do all the stuff you used to enjoy doing before you had kids and if you think you can, of course you’re going to be unhappy when it doesn’t work out that way. You need to be prepared and make a conscious choice: “I’m choosing to enrich my life with a child *but* as a tradeoff, I won’t be able to live the way I was before.” Even worse, many don’t have a choice. When both parents need to work to make ends meet and there’s no extended family to pick up the slack, throwing a child in the mix can add stress into a situation where time and money are already scarce. As noted at the end of the NPR story, the US doesn’t value family as much as it could.
But Simon says that the importance of studies of parental depression lies in their providing a groundwork for fighting it. “People ought to understand where this unhappiness comes from,” she says. “I would say it’s not from their kids per se, I would say that it comes from the social conditions in which contemporary parents parent.” Parents, says Simon, are far too often left on their own and have very few support systems. “We don’t have family friendly policies,” she says. “We don’t allow people, I believe, as a society to reap the full joys of parenthood.”