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?