Happiness is the Truth
September 29, 2009 · Posted in Parenting · Permalink

truth_000Maureen Dowd’s New York Times Op-Ed, Blue Is The New Black, has everyone buzzing. She writes that most happiness data in our country show that womens’ happiness in the last few decades has declined. In particular, the research shows that being a parent is a sure fire way to experience unhappiness.  She sites Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor at Wharton who co-wrote a paper called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness”.

“Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children. It’s true whether you’re wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early.”

Wow. That’s a bombshell. Or is it? Anecdotally, I would have to say that the data bears out. Not because children don’t bring you some of the greatest joy and pride and hilarity.  Not because having a deep connection with your child is one’s of life’s most satisfying experiences. It’s because in truth, most of us will have a lot of suffering as a parent.  And suffering is hard.

Somehow most of us still hold on to the idea that it is possible to have a family life without huge challenges. We interpret them as a failure.  Much of that disatisfaction, sadness or frustration  comes from the difference in the fantasy vs. the reality of family life.

Our expectations are completely out of whack, and the fall from that air brushed image is compounded. The pressure women felt in previous generations to have a clean home and well behaved children is nothing compared to pressure women feel to be perfect now. Talk honestly to real women and they will tell you they had no idea that raising children would be so hard, so confusing, so filled with worry about “doing it right”. They never anticipated they would have a child with a huge challenge like a diagnosis of sensory integration disorder or learning problems. They did not expect their children to have such deep inner lives with worries and quirks and periods of behavioral or emotional turmoil as a matter of course.

If we didn’t think of these struggles as failures, or uncommon, maybe we could raise the happiness factor. Savoring the delicious moments when it all feels so right, but not expecting things to stay that way. Steadying yourself as the hard phase emerges with the help and support of others who also know that parenting comes with equal parts of joy and suffering. The real deal of raising children is so much more nuanced and deep than the images portrayed in the media.  The happiness quotient could be higher if we were realistic and honest with ourselves and others about just how complicated, rich and challenging parenting can be. That is the truth.

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  1. kcf
    September 30th, 2009 | 11:17 am

    I have always said that for me, marriage was/is a walk in the park compared to parenting. Parenting was/ is hard hard hard, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Which is not to say that I would have missed a single moment of it.

  2. CRV
    October 7th, 2009 | 9:10 pm

    After the birth of my son my happiness took a nose dive, precisely because the fantasy I had did not match the reality. It took me over a year to identify the discrepancy, explore and develop a new self-identity and learn coping techniques to strike a balance and be able to enjoy the ups and deal with the downs. Of course, it’s a work in progress…

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