Friday, 9 July 2010

Is parenthood all joy and no fun?

There's a fascinating article in the current issue of the New York magazine, called 'All Joy and No Fun. Why parents hate parenting'. It's a longish article but I'd really recommend you read it. It's certainly thought-provoking and raises some interesting points. I'm going to highlight just a few of them.

The article begins by stating that although it's a common assumption that having children will make you happier, several studies have proved that parents are not happier than those adults without children.
“The broad message is not that children make you less happy; it’s just that children don’t make you more happy.” That is, he tells me, unless you have more than one. “Then the studies show a more negative impact.”

The way children are thought of these days has changed as the western world has moved into more modern, prosperous times. Whereas in earlier generations, children would be considered 'economic assets' to their parents, helping with whatever work their parents had to do each day (farming, assisting in the family shop...), nowadays we view them as little beings to be 'sculpted, stimulated, instructed, groomed.' We raise them in a much more protected environment.

The subject of organised activities for children is mentioned and the fact that we tend to be very pro-active in encouraging a constant stream of stimulation for our children. There are other cultures who sit and play with their children, with much more relaxed attitudes to child-rearing and no comparing or competing with other parents.
Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work.” Yet it’s work few parents feel that they can in good conscience neglect, says Lareau, “lest they put their children at risk by not giving them every advantage.”

Later, the article discusses the more modern tendency for delaying having children, as parents work hard, advance their careers and save money. Often they then have high expectations of what having children will mean to them, which are invariably unrealistic and disappointing.

Another study is mentioned, one which revealed that those countries with a stronger welfare system had more children and happier parents. Longer maternity leave, state-funded childcare and healthcare possibly give parents less to worry about and less to be unhappy about. Just this week an American mum and I were discussing differences between the attitudes towards stay at home mums here in the UK and in the US. My American friend felt lucky that her family supported her and her husband's decision for her to stay at home. She suggested it was quite rare back home where many women return to work after 6 weeks or so, leaving their children in daycare. Often, she told me it's because of a sense of obligation, not necessarily because that's what they want to do or because it makes them happy. I don't want to make any sweeping generalisations of the US but it was interesting to hear this friend's impressions.

There are further discussions of parenthood and happiness raised in the article but I'll let you take your time and read the article yourself. Personally, I feel pretty happy as a mum most of the time. I think the title of this article, 'All joy and no fun' perhaps describes to an extent how your life changes as a parent. I think all of us would agree our children bring us immense joy but with parenthood comes responsibility and compromise and it's therefore natural that some of the 'fun' things we used to do before we had children disappear. I like how my husband described parenthood as giving your life a sense of purpose.

It's hard work being a parent and that hard work is something you can never have a grasp of before becoming a parent. We all have tough days, challenging behaviour and difficult situations to deal with and it's always the bad stories shared. After all, who's that interested in hearing about how wonderfully well-behaved another person's child is?! For me, the smiles, laughter and tender moments experienced with your child far outweigh the harder side to parenting....but then again, I only have one child to deal with!

Do have a read of the article and then come back and let me know your thoughts in the comments. Are there any particular parts of the article that you relate well to? It's a big question, but how do you rate your happiness as a parent, compared to before you had children?



  1. Fascinating. I just finished reading the sister article to this in The Independent.

    I am in total agreement, I love my children, but sometimes the only time I feel true happiness is when I am not with them - ie, taking a walk by myself, going to the cimema (on rare occasions) with my husband or going out with friends. It's hard to admit that.

    Then again, seeing my 2 year old boy doing 'ninja leaps' that made him looked like a deranged monkey made me laugh till I cried this morning. And I could play cards with my daughter forever in the shade.

  2. Thanks very much for your comment and for letting us know about the related article in The Independent. Here's the link for anyone interested:

    Time alone and time with your spouse without the children is really important and good for our well-being and happiness. We all need a break every now and then and shouldn't feel guilty or a bad parent for taking that time out.

  3. A very interesting post and article.I think this subject is somewhat taboo as we all feel that we should be enjoying our children at all times and indulging in cooking, painting and other wholesome activities whenever possible.Personally I have found being mum to 2 boys the most difficult thing I have ever done. I have spent a lot of my time hating it and them.Shocking isn't it, to admit that? As they get older I am far more patient and enjoy their company more.I have to say that I am very proud that my inner feelings have been unknown to those around me generally. Most people seem to think that I am happy, calm, loving & a lovely mum.Inside I have often screamed with frustration and dreamt of leaving on a jet plane armed with my credit cards and the contents of my savings.I think my salvation has been my determination to find time for 'me'.My boys do not rule my life. I would do anything for them, but not just because they want me to. I will read other comments with interest.

  4. As a U.S. working mom, I have to think that longer maternity leave and healthcare would help ease the strain a great deal, but that motherhood would still be very hard work.

    Overall, though a lot of moms seem to want to deny it, I think the article is pretty on target. This job is one of the hardest we'll ever have, but also the most important and most joyful. And we'll be whining about our empty nests before we know it.

  5. Hi Sarah and Deb, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. It's great to read your views.

    Sarah - I think you capture how a lot of mums feel. People see a happy, loving mum on the outside and have no idea of the really difficult times that can really wear us down.

    Deb - you make an excellent summary of the fact that motherhood is one of the hardest jobs but also one of the most joyful.

  6. Just read the articles and to be honest I'm still trying to organise my thoughts.

    Did I think being a parent would make me happier? I'm not sure. I'm pretty certain that 'being happier' wasn't the reason I chose to have children.

    Am I happier now, than then? Maybe, maybe not - but I don't think I expected to be happier. That wasn't the point.

    Of course parenting is tough, and I'll admit to sometimes wishing I could go back to my carefree pre-child days. But as carefree as those days were, I'm pretty sure I wasn't happy every day then either. Is it perhaps a case of the grass being greener?

    Like you, the smiles, laughter and tender moments far outweigh the harder side to parenting.

    Facinating post xxx

  7. Thanks for reading the article and sharing your thoughts Lucy. I think you're right that we all know parenting isn't a walk in the park and being happier isn't the reason we choose to have children. We have no idea how hard it is, until we become a parent but then there are always going to be ups and downs whatever our personal situation. Like you say, maybe it is a case of the grass being greener! xxx


Thank you for reading. I'd love to have your comments and thoughts!