A brand new study involving interviews and surveys with more than 5,000 people of all ages, statuses and sexual orientations over a two-year period, discovered that couples who reported being happiest of all are… those without kids. This finding doesn’t surprise me too much. I would say I was probably happier in my marriage before having a kid. That is NOT to say that I am unhappy by any means. And I am certainly more fulfilled and feel connected to Drew in a different way now that we have a child together. In many ways, our relationship is stronger and better and more satisfying and fulfilling. But happier? Eh, I wouldn’t say that. Drew might. He probably would, actually. But for me personally, I equate “happiness” partly with feeling carefree — like, how you feel when you’re on vacation or when you sleep in until 10:30 on a Saturday morning and don’t have anything you HAVE to do that day — and that is something I definitely DON’T feel as the mother of a young child who has to plan — sometimes weeks in advance — just to go out to dinner with my husband.
Actually, it’s a bit of a relief to hear that the way I feel is the norm. This is something you don’t hear couples talk about very often, if at all. Who wants to admit feeling less happy in a relationship after having kids? Women, especially, rarely talk about this. Occasionally, you’ll hear men quip about how they never have sex anymore or their wives never pay attention to them now that they have kids. And mostly, that’s a meme that pops up on tired network sitcoms, not real life.
In my real life, and in my relationship in particular, there is true, genuine happiness. But there’s also a sense of loss I’m still not fully adjusted to. Or, maybe I AM adjusted to it, but I’m still not HAPPY with it all the time. I love who Drew and I are as parents and I love who we are together, but I also miss the couple we were before parenthood, when most of our time and focus could be devoted to each other. But I also know in the great scheme of things, that if we are lucky enough to have a 50- or 60-year marriage, then ten or fifteen years of parenting a young child/children is just a fraction. And, hell, it gives you something to DO for a while. Fifty or sixty years is a LONG time. As Drew says, there are only so many vacations you can take and movies you can go see and bars you can sit and drink in before it all gets a little boring. Having kids breaks it up a little — gives you a different kind of adventure for a while. But it doesn’t mean that, while you’re in the throes of it, you don’t long for a break from the break.
Anyway, my point is, I’m not surprised by the study findings. Being a parent is really hard work. It’s rewarding work, but that doesn’t take away from the enormous amount of effort that goes into it (especially if it’s done well and thoughtfully and lovingly) and mathematically, you can’t put a huge percentage of your energy into something without sacrificing it from somewhere else. It’s just mathematics that a lot of effort and energy couples put into their relationships gets re-funneled into parenthood once kids come. And if it doesn’t, then you’re probably a shitty parent.
There’s more to the picture, though. In addition to finding that couples are generally less happy together after having kids, the study also discovered that women are actually happier as individuals once they have children. Their relationships may not be as happy, but they, as women, are. Not surprisingly, when asked if they are happier as individuals, men said they wish they were still having as much sex as they used to. Maybe those tired network sitcoms are right after all…
[via The Guardian]