Thursday, 15 April 2010

Does having children make you happier?

I get my girls back tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to it.  In fact, I'm really looking forward to it. 

But I've also really enjoyed this week.  And if I'm honest, I haven't really missed them.  I have loved my millinery course and I have loved doing the sort of things we used to do before we were parents.  We have done something every night this week: we have had dinner with our neighbours, who (like the song says) have become good friends in the five years we have lived here, we have been to the cinema, we have had friends round for dinner, we've even been to the opera... 

That's normally about six months' worth of activities and we've done it in a week.  And it's been fun.

But more than what we have done, what strikes me is what we, or in fact I, have not done.  I have not been provoked to murderous, blood-boiling, rage.  I have not raised my voice.  I have not been worried.  I have not had to repeat myself fifteen times.  I have had to deal with nobody's bodily functions other than my own. I have cooked no fishfingers.

I have been calm and rational and content.

And so I have been wondering whether I would actually have been happier had we never had children.

Now, I can't actually answer that question.  Because I do have children. And a week without them doesn't mean that I have really been without them. I am a mother.  It is part of who I am, and it tempers everything I do and think and say.  My girls came from me, and although I no longer physically carry them with me, they are, nonetheless, always present.  I can no more understand what it would be like to be without them than I can, really, understand what it would be like to to be an elephant.  I can empathise, or sympathise, or imagine, but I can't understand.

So I looked it up.  If you Google my question you get sixty-four and a half million hits (this may actually be the real sixty-four million dollar question) so I'm clearly not alone in wondering.  I clicked on a few of the first to come up....

"Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers,"
says Newsweek.  The Times agrees:
"numerous scholars have found evidence that parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction, marital satisfaction and mental wellbeing compared with non-parents."
Which seems pretty straightforward really.

But then I think.

And I think that what I have been this week is content.  And then I think about spending time with my girls, worrying, frustrating, annoying as they can be.  And I think about all the millions of moments we have had and hopefully will have with them.  And about just one, unexciting, ordinary moment in the northbound services on the M6 toll road about four weeks ago.  7.30 am.  Been up since 5.  Sun streaming through the windows.  Mmm Bop on the cheesy service station speaker system.  All three of my girls crawling around, giggling.

And I knew, in that moment, sublime happiness.  Us, and our girls, and the sunshine and the cheesy pop.

And I think I wouldn't swap those moments for a lifetime of contentedness.

I think.


  1. It's not just now, though, is it? I mean, if you didn't have children, who would you spend Christmas with when you're in your old age?

    Waxing philosophical for a moment, if I may, I'm not sure we are always best-placed to assess our own mental or emotional well-being. That might sound like an odd thing to say. I suppose I feel that I'm a better person for having children, because you have to become less self-centred. I'm not saying people without children are self-centred, but - as you say in your post - once you become a mother, your equilibrium shifts. Forever. And I think, generally, being less wrapped up in ourselves makes us happier in the long run though perhaps not in individual moments - though logic would suggest the opposite.

    I'm going to shut up now, because it's late and I don't really know what I'm trying to say.

  2. I wouldnt be without my two no matrer how uphappy I was. As the daughter of a mother, who once said that if she had her time again so wouldnt have children, I can not even think about it

  3. I'm so sorry but I am going to state the obvious, I am happier with children than I would have been without them, I think I can say this because of the joy they bring and I always wanted them, they bring me the most pleasure out of everything in my life and I would have felt devastated if I couldn't have children, it was always a priority for me. But I understand and appreciate that not everyone feels like this and that for some women, the opposite may be true. I have every respect for women who choose to be "childfree" and find it frustrating that mums may be portrayed as a domestic goddess stereotype that makes childfree women ridicule their focus on their children. We are all different and while I love my children dearly, they do not define me.

  4. This is interesting I was think very similar things myself recently. I think without them i am more even, if you know what I mean. I shout and scream less, obviously, and there is little frustration in my life. My favourite days of the week are the ones i spend alone. However, without them i think I would feel lost, unanchored somehow, adrift with no purpose, still searching for something. i know that sounds a bit kooky, but it was how i always felt before kids. i used to put it down to wanting to change jobs, go travelling, new boyfriend, whatever, but now i realise it was this feeling of being attached somehow to another human that you only get through parenthood.

  5. I do believe that children make you feel less content on a permanent basis, but then I don't think only things that make you blissfully happy all the time are worth doing. I feel my life is richer, even with, maybe even because of, the sleepless nights, the worry, the frustration. But then we have to convince ourselves of that, eh?

  6. For me children have given my life an extra dimension - greater happiness but also greater worry and greater unhappiness but an extra dimension I wouldn't have otherwise encountered

  7. Mr Planet & I have taken a few holidays and weekends alone together without our daughter (now 22 months old) and love our time to do what we want. I'm happy. Extremely happy. But then Little Planet gives me many moments of pure joy. And I'm happy - with or without her. But the key thing is that with her I experience the full gamut of emotions and so feel truly ALIVE with her in my life.

  8. Thank you all for some really interesting thoughts - possibly another post in there from me with some of the things you've made me think. Haven't had time to reply individually recently, but I promise to do so tomorrow....

  9. As I said: all very interesting...

    Iota - do you really think you're a better person? Or at least perhaps I should say I'm not so sure I'm a better (or at least nicer) person. You're right, I am less self-interested and obsessed, but I feel I've probably simply passed that interest and obsession on to my children which seems, somehow, not that different... I'm also MOST DEFINITELY more crotchety...!

    Mummy Mad - am speechless (which takes a lot for me). I can't believe she'd say that. At all, and most especially to you.

    Linda - I really hope I too don't let my children define me. I think it's very easy to slip down that route, and then you do become "just" a mummy. You're right too, on the pleasure we get out of them. I sort of overlooked that!

    Heather - really interesting. Because I'd agree with you. It is nice to be without them, but then somehow they are your anchor. Beautifully put. Thank you.

    Mwa - just because it isn't fun doesn't make it not worth doing eh??? Yeah, I guess you're right. And that kind of leads me on to...

    Muddling Mummy - interesting point about the added dimension. Maybe it's that whole rough with smooth thing. You have to have the one to experience the other.

    Mrs Planet - why hello! Nice to meet you... As you say, it's the moments of pure joy, like the one I experienced on the M6, or today when S got the giggles, that make you know you're alive.

  10. I love your honesty. I think it is great to be forthcoming with ourselves about all our feelings, even the ones that are suprising or not what we would expect. I am definitely happier with children. They bring untold amounts of joy and enthusiasm and elation to my every day. But with that comes frustration, irritation, and sometimes boredom. But I think that is okay. No one ever said that we were supposed to wax poetic every moment of being a parent. I think being a parent is realizing that life has ups and downs. Even moments have ups and downs and that the beauty in it all is knowing that you are sharing with people you love dearly. Thanks for a wonderful post!!

  11. What a fabulous post. You've really made me think. I had been contemplating flogging mine on ebay (kidding, before anyone rings social services) but what you've said has made me realise that yes, I may be experiencing all time highs of temper loss, I am also experiencing all time highs of love and giggling.


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