I don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to have kids. May-be it’s the way I was brought up or may-be wanting an offspring is hardwired genetically or it’s just what society sees as a norm. Who knows, I’ve never really thought about it until recently.
Don’t get me wrong our baby is very much expected and her arrival celebrated once she’s here. However I wanted to get this off my chest before I become a parent and therefore a little biased.
Before my wife became pregnant, we felt quite a bit of pressure from our parents, especially from her side, since she’s the oldest child and they didn’t have any grandkids yet. There was also some level of peer pressure. We have been in a relationship longer than most other couples in our circle. A lot of these couples have kids, many of them have more than one, but we were (by choice) still childless. Other people’s expectations were not unbearable, but they were there. So, naturally I became a little skeptical if someone urged us to have kids, because “they are so much fun”. Really? If they’re so much fun, why most of the parents are so stressed out? Or why do they complain so much?
With that being said, I can see that kids can be fun. I have 2 little cousins and when I’m with them we have a blast. That’s what I do – I have fun with them. I didn’t have change their dirty diapers, put up with their “terrible two” tantrums, worry about getting them to the “right schools” or try to figure out “new math”. Roughhousing with little kids is fun for me. All the other stuff doesn’t sound like it would be.
Can it be that other parents are deluding themselves – having already sacrificed time, money, and energy to parenting, they persuade themselves that, of course, their children make them happy? And on top of it try to convince others (couples with no kids) to join the “fun” ride as well.
We’re already expecting, so we’re pretty much in a situation where we cannot undo the deed. That’s fine; we planned on having our baby. However recently I really got emotional about a small phrase that I had already heard several times from other parents. We’re talking about us having our baby soon when the other party wanted to reassure we’re on the right path by saying:
“Don’t worry; kids are the best things that can ever happen to you. When you’re parent you’ll get it. Sure it’s tough sometimes, but they will make you happy, believe me!”
Really? All the sacrifice, the sleepless nights, tension between the spouses can be dismissed with “it’s tough sometimes” and then disguised in rainbows, butterflies and unicorns?!
I had and still have hard time to believe this. So, I put some time and effort into analyzing this for myself.
Here are three reasons why my baby CANNOT MAKE ME HAPPY!
1. It’s all about choice
How can kids make me happy, if I wouldn’t want kids at all? People have different takes on life, and this should be respected. I wasn’t ready to have kids, when I was 25 and I’m glad we didn’t. It wouldn’t have made me happy at that time! I can’t say that having no kids will make someone happier either. There are plenty of couples out there that want to have kids, but they can’t. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Both can be desirable, but it depends what you prefer.
2. What (social-)science says?
In the 1980’s economists and psychologists came to an understanding that parents are a less happy bunch than their non-parenting peers. Over decades science has come along and recent studies say IT ALL DEPENDS.
Different studies agreed on few things. First, parents feel that children give their lives a bigger purpose. Second, they found a lot of evidence that grandchildren make people happier. Grandparents get a lot of the benefits without having to put up with all the hassle. So that’s why my in-laws were so anxious!
Even further, a study by the Open University in England revealed that childless couples were happier with their relationships and their partners than parents were. I can see that happening. Kids take up the energy that either spouse could otherwise give to one another.
Another survey showed that mothers, in fact, are happier than childless women. Average man with children, on the other hand, is more likely to be unhappier when compared to men in relationships who don’t have kids. Talk about kids bringing happiness, huh?
3. No-one can MAKE me happy
Kids won’t MAKE me happy. Nothing or nobody will. My happiness is my choice. It a decision and requires conscious and consistent contribution from my part.
This little baby comes into this world with no mystical powers. She’s helpless, naked and needy. She can’t take care of herself and I would expect her to fill my happiness-meter? It’s unfair, because when the reality hits, then I’m disappointed or I may even resent the little being for failing to fulfill my impossible expectations.
So, do kids suck the joy out of life?
I’m not trying to be a buzz-kill here. I understand that when entering parenthood I can experience exuberant joy. However, I also understand that the only thing my baby can do is MAKE me a parent. The rest of it is on my (not her tiny) shoulders.
So, if or when my childless friend asks me “Are kids the key to happiness?” I hope I have the guts to say something else than the advice I got. Right now I would say something diplomatic (because of lack of experience). Something like this: It all DEPENDS (like the research says). Being a parent or even an expectant parent you definitely experience higher highs and lower lows. However, children can put a damper on your marital satisfaction. So, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but it may turn out alright :). If everything else fails, hopefully you’ll have grandkids one day, I’ve heard they do bring happiness.
Bonus material! I promised you bonus material every time and today is no exception!
Most of the studies revealed that mom and/or dad may experience higher levels of happiness with the new role in their lives. Same time if anything it has a negative effect on the relationship between spouses. There just isn’t as much time to devote to the relationship.
Who says that I or you have to be part of these stats? The problem is not the kids, but deprioritizing one another. With this shift in your relationship, it’s more important than ever to take conscious actions to nurture the relationship with the mother of your baby.