Parenting: Is it Making You Miserable?

Yesterday someone posted this New York Magazine article on Facebook called “All Joy and no Fun – Why Parents Hate Parenting.”  It’s a very interesting read to say the least.

Apparently every study ever done that has attempted to measure the relative happiness level of couples with children vs. couples without has concluded that the child free couples are universally more measurably happy.

The article also discusses how every parent instinctively rejects this notion outright, but still the evidence piles up.. apparently the stresses of parenting on an every day basis cause all sorts of stress, depression and marital strife.

Having experienced the marital strife first hand, I can certainly understand the premise.  Attending to the every whim of an often ungrateful, uncooperative unRELENTING little being is often thankless.. and yet, no parent regrets having their children!  Which is another observation the article makes – people tend to regret NOT having children but not the other way around. Which leads the author to conclude that there is some immeasurable transcendent satisfaction that we get out of childrearing – it’s just not always evident in the day to day drudgery that parenting can be at times.

I’m curious how having children has effected your own happiness and the state of your marriage/relationships?

I don’t think I’m necessarily “happier” but I am more fulfilled.  And obviously I can’t imagine life without Jasper!  But did it almost kill my marriage? Yes.  Do I refer to the Jasper’s first year as the “dark ages”? Yep.  Honestly, the thought of doing it all over again is terrifying to me, even though every time I see an under 1 year old my ovaries ache..a lot.

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big feet bunny says:

i disagree about parents not regretting having children.maybe it is hard to admit, but i personally know of women who regret having children. people have written books about it. i know a lot of moms who are jealous of childless women their age.

Kristen says:

Okay, chiming in super-late here, but did I just read that it ‘almost’ killed your marriage? As in everything’s a bit better now? I mean, I saw the beach pictures of you all together and wondered, but is it true? I hope so, and you were not alone that first year. I hope I am not intruding here. But that article is very interesting and thank you so much for it. I can tell you that we are terrified at the thought and thinking of having a second child. Terrified, yet, isn’t that what everyone else does? But then maybe people think that they’re more prepared for the second, or the second won’t be the same?

Jaimie says:

When my son was born, there was definitely a period of painful adjustment. I told myself (and still believe) that it was growing pains, as I was growing into a new role and new version of myself. Growing and changing is not painless or easy. But overall, I vastly prefer it to stagnation (not to say that child-free people stagnate). Parenthood has forced me to step it up and develop certain qualities, and I think I’m the better for it.

In some senses, becoming parents has put a strain on my marriage. I think my husband felt (and still feels) that he “lost” me a little bit, my time and affection, when my son came along. However, I also think that we have found new things to love and admire about one another as parents.

Finally, when I am mourning the loss of my own free time or hobbies, I remind myself that this is a season of my life. I had 30 years to pursue my own interests, and the time will come again when my children are busy, don’t need/want me around so much, and then I will come into a new season in my own life again. It’s not forever.

Kristina says:

This is an interesting article, I’ve read others like it in the past. I don’t really think it is true for me. I am happier than I have ever been now that I have my little one and my marriage is stronger than it was before my son came into our lives. I’m not sure what I attribute it to, but I think it probably has something to do with the fact that we completely lucked out and had a very easy baby. He’s happy most of the time, slept through the night at an early age and is pretty independent already (at 14 months). My husband and I also really work to do things together without our son. We get a babysitter often so we can just hang out together and we try to find things to talk about and do that have nothing whatsoever to do with babies (sometimes that’s not easy, but we try!) Also, and I really don’t know if this has anything to do with anything, but I never really wanted to have children until I met my husband and even though we wanted to and actively tried to get pregnant, I really didn’t have any expectations about what parenting would be like. I never imagined quiet nights snuggling with my baby or some kind of instant immediate love for my child, I just knew that the first few months would be hard and just let that time be hard. I know its practically impossible not to have some expectations about parenting, but I guess I was just really laid back about it, which made it much less stressful.

I have seen children put huge strains on relationships, and I can completely understand why that would happen, but I feel totally lucky that we were able to make it out of the first year in tact and (I think) better than we were before.

Jacqueline says:

This article made total sense to me. Loss of freedom, loss of autonomy. Those have been the two toughest losses for me, and I still wrestle with them.

Another biggie: Moment to moment happiness vs. retrospective evaluations. I think the end paragraph sums up a real truth:

“The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight.

It’s a lovely magic trick of the memory, this gilding of hard times…for parents, this sleight of the mind and spell on the heart is the very definition of enchantment.”

It’s what I’ve been trying to put my finger on since my son’s birth. A year of contradictions. Sweet and sour. In the moment it’s mayhem, in hindsight it’s wildly rewarding.

jbhat says:

The article’s title is certainly provocative–which is what a good article title should be, to draw in readers. But do I buy the premise? That having children should be fun, rewarding, and make me happy? I never did see it that way, and it’s not why I became a parent. Quite frankly, one of the reasons my husband and I wanted to become parents is because we thought we’d be good at it. And I think we are, but we certainly are learning as we go.

They say parenting is one of the hardest jobs. Of course it’s true, and it’s one of those statements that people perhaps hear, but don’t truly “get” until they become a mom or dad. Being a “good parent” requires energy, thought, planning, sacrifice, research, discussion, humility, flexibility, the courage of your convictions, and a host of other qualities or assets that may take a person out of their comfort zone, or that may not be “fun.” For me, parenting also involves a lot of worry, whether they be rational or irrational concerns, and being worried is not necessarily a comfortable state of mind. I find that I worry more than I ever did when I didn’t have a child. It’s probably good, I guess, because it keeps me on my toes and reminds me that it’s no longer all about me. It’s about me being there to help guide my children into becoming happy and well-adjusted people, and to do my darndest to keep their pathways safe and sound along that journey.


ariana says:

Annie, I’m glad our experience was a little bit helpful for others :)

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading all of the comments from both sides!

Cathy Mahoney says:

after going on and on how difficult life is with kids for yourself and a marriage, I now want to say some nice things as well – about the moments that make it all worth while…
I remember when I was pregnant with my first son (which happened much faster than I thought it would-we actually wanted to wait alittle longer until I am settled in my job but we all know, when you try hard it doesn´t work and when you want to wait it happens right away-the little ones have their own mind from the beginning ;O) however my friend said: great now we have an alibi child- we can hang out on playgrounds, toystores and amusement parks, have tons of fun and it will be for the kid ;O)
these are the things that are great -when you see your child having a blast going down a slide-you forget the sleepless nights for a moment, when they play soccer in the garden and know all the players from every country -it makes me smile everytime I listen or when I bring them to bed at night-which is not an hourlong procedure anymore but my favourite time of the day with them, they can wash and dress themselves, I do brush the little one´s teeth though, but then I read them a story, ask them their favourite thing of the day and tuck them in- when I see their happy faces and- with all the mistakes I make they know they are loved which at the end I think is the most important, then they feel save and able to develop their personality and become great people.
sorry I know it´s long…

Annie says:

I have been following your blog for a while and I remember my heart breaking for you when I read your “Becoming Alone” post. Now that my son is 10 months old, I can totally understand how much of a strain having a baby puts on your marriage and I wanted to tell you that what you wrote really helped me to remember to not forget to work on my marriage after the baby came. I’m so glad that you and your husband were able to work through the hard times together. Thank you for being so honest and sharing your experiences with me!

Michelle says:

I don’t know… I just don’t think I agree with it for us (or me… I shouldn’t speak for the MR). yes, it is hard, but I have a feeling that without Jack, something else would be hard. And, it would be something petty. And, as much as I hate to compare my child to our dog that died 2 years ago, I was used to working my life around a needing personality. I remember feeling lost like I didn’t know what my purpose was, and when I had my monster, it all made sense. This is what I was made to do.

Now, I feel the pull to make a decision on whether he will be an only or not. And, I want my decision to be what is best for him. I would have more babies in an instant. But, is that what is best for my boy? And my husband (he says he is just fine with one… his reasons are financial though)

But, to get back on subject, I really do think personally I AM happier as a parent. Yes, I had more free time and money and my home was ALOT cleaner, but I have a really great kid and a wonderful husband.

Lauren says:

My husband and I are pretty good about finding time for friends and outside interests but struggle with finding the time to do things together alone, mainly because it means we need to find childcare. We do have friends/family nearby but struggle with not wanting to “burden” them or take advantage. This is one time where I wish we had grandparents locally… :) Right now I would say we are averaging date nights once every 3 months or so. Sad.

We are a two income family and while in theory I would like to have a second (our first just turned one), I agonize over how in the world we will pay for childcare for two small children. And it really kills me to think I would base this decision on the dollars and pretty much know I would regret it someday, logically I don’t see how we could make it work.

I knew having a baby would be a lot of work but was pretty surprised to realize that as he gets older and becomes more mobile it is only becoming more challenging!

Kimberly says:

I think this is an interesting perspective. I do believe it largely depends on individual parents and individual babies. I, for one, feel like I was BORN to be a mom… I’ve always been a “kid” person, have what I like to call a “masters degree in babies,” (Early Childhood development and special education) and I was blessed with a baby who has relatively easy temperament. Not that we didn’t have our struggles early on, but they were minor and short-lived. But I rarely feel like I really need a “break” from my son. SO, as a mother, I would have to say I am equally if not more happy than I was before I was a mother. My dissatisfaction probably comes more from my inability to be with him all the time, since I had to go back to work full-time when he was 12 weeks old. I was able to scale back to a 3-10 schedule when James turned 1, which I feel boosted my overall happiness immensely.

That being said, my marriage apparently was crumbling without my even realizing it… which I attribute more to my husband’s individual attitudes and personality rather than parenthood… by the time I realized we were in danger, he had pretty much checked out. And I got pregnant again. I am not sure how much having a baby contributed to the current sad state of our marriage… we largely agree on parenting issues, rarely argue or fight… we just sort of drifted apart, I guess. And ONE of us is not willing to put the effort in to get us re-connected. It’s heartbreaking…

Kristy says:

I love being a mom and I feel like I am right where I should be at this point in my life. It is a busy life… I am a teacher with a 2 year old, and 8 year old step son and another one on the way! I can say my life is defiantely crazier than before. I can also say that parenting is more work thatn I ever imagined. I have learned a few things though that I think help me stay sane through it all. First, there HAS to be time for my husband and I to be alone. I am lucky to have my mom who lives close by and LOVES to babysit. My husband and I go out together… alone.. weekly and we try to do an overnight trip (just the two of us) every once in a while. This really helps. I also think it is really important to have time alone to do what YOU want to do (minus spouse)!

As for my marriage, I think as parents, we have NEW things to argue about that were not there before (instead of arguing about the garbage being taken out, we can argue about the poopy diaper that did not get changed…). However, I feel that since having our son, my husband and I are stronger than we were before. Those first few newborn months were ROUGH and we made it! We have learned to support eachother and communicate with eachother in a way that we never did “pre-baby”. Now, when we go out with the kids in public, we are like a team on a mission… a mission to avoid screaming tantrums in public. We have become a well oiled machine of parents working together… most of the time anyway. I am impressed with us, my husband and I, that we have made it this far and are on our way to having another baby! Plus, I am not dealinging these kids alone, so this marriage HAS to work :-)

I think, like anything else, parenting takes practice, and we don’t give ourselves enough time to “get good at it”. We expect that its a job that is going to click right away and when its tough we are stressed. I know I was not the greatest teacher the first year or two that I taught 4th grade. I had to learn the “tricks of the trade” and take time to develop my craft. I think its the same with parenting… it gets a little easier once we have some experiecne and have some sort of clue what we are doing (both alone and with our parteners).

Good luck everyone! Cheers to the madness!

Cathy says:

First and foremost I love my son more than anything and I would do anything to ensure his happiness, health and well being. I feel that needs to be said before I mention my negative comments! Having him put an enormous strain on my marriage, especially due to my son’s reflux issues during the first year. A medical issue that I do not wish upon my worst enemy’s child!

Reflux was the beginning of a long journey into topics and issues that I never thought we would have to deal with! From lifestyle/health choices during my pregnancy (that I wish I was aware of) to choices that were made for me in the delivery room that I had no control over… I quit my 15 year career that was my LIFE… I could go on but I think you can see the strain financial and marital…

However, it proved to me how resilient my husband I are, continually doing the best that we can to make it work and to provide what we believe for US in OUR situation is the best daycare around…mommy being home full time. (I don’t want to offend anyone… we would do daycare if we could!) It is very difficult some days, I find myself (believe it or not) envying my husband for being able to hold multiple “adult” conversations throughout the day at work and at the same time I know he envies me for being able to be with our son!

Sorry for the long post, but I felt an enormous weight lift from my soul… if only for a moment!

Cathy Mahoney says:

I can definately understand the article- For nothing in the world I want to miss my kids-but yes they do make things difficult sometimes; you can´t go anywhere when you want to because you have to take care of your child and when you finally could-at night, you are so tired you just don´t want to- same when it comes to sex.. ( I only speak for myself- I´m sure there is tons of supermoms who do manage to go to the gym anyway..)
even though mine are already older -9 and 5- they still come first and you have to plan your life around them-school, kinderagrten, afternoon activities, daycare… it´s hard sometimes to do things for me or stuff that I would actually like to do. but it starts getting better…
and marriage wise…well there is basically only 2 things we argue about-money and the kids…
I could go on for hours but i guess you get the picture…

Fiona says:

I needed this today….thanks so much everyone. I can echo most of what has been said here….selfishly nice to know I’m not alone! x

ariana says:

I love reading all of the different thoughts/reactions to this..

A common thread seems to be the loss of time for YOU. I think that probably does get better as our kids get older – at least I hope so!

Shane, the financial aspects are huge, at least for us the cost of two kids in daycare is prohibitive and being a single wage earning family is not an option either. Sad that the ultimate decision may end up being based on money (or lack thereof!)

Shane says:

Let me try to pull together a whirling mess of thoughts on this one… I’m afraid if I wait to polish these thoughts I’ll never go back and comment… so pull up a chair and sit back:

1. I feel that how I think about happiness has changed from pre vs post baby. So I’m not sure how a survey could accurately compare the two phases. Having a great Saturday play day w/ Ava and G is awesome. Pre-baby having a full day of skydiving was also awesome. So I think the criteria has changed for my happiness — I think I have less pure happy times now, but the magnitude of the ‘happy’ is much more than before. Maybe now it’s a Quality vs. Quantity thing.

2. Marriage Strain — I don’t feel like we’ve had ‘marriage’ strain. I feel like it’s LIFE strain. At times I’m sad and frustrated that I’m not able to find a balance that feels right. Time to work out and get back into my pre-baby shape (yeah, I’m a father and I pulled a reference to ‘pre-baby’ fitness) – no time. Time to do things around the house – projects for home remodel, building things, hacking ikea items, tingering w/ software — Nothing there either. No personal and focused time around the house at all. Hell, just having time for Ava and I to talk about things and stay on a single topic for more than a few minutes — doesn’t happen. Thank goodness for IM so we can ‘talk’ during the day.

So yes, I feel LIFE Strain. and with Baby2 (Baby S) on the way, my personal Fear Factor is on the climb.

One area that I feel has helped us avoid some marital tension is that we are in alignment on most Parenting things – how we did sleep training, discipline, feeding trade offs, kid toy/gear purchases. While one of us takes the lead on certain areas – we keep each other updated and we both are involved in key decisions.

Another source of marital tension is financials (I feel for the families that have gone through layoffs!!). We spent a lot of time with financial viewpoint discussions, planning, etc even before we got married. We’ve developed a good financial management approach that works well for us. We did it pre-baby with the kid stage incorporated so it’s been good for us and hasn’t been a source of any major tension. Although I still stress about $$$ — hard not to do when we are in the middle of a remodel.

I’ve mentioned it in a previous post, but the Equally Shared Parenting book helped me think about Parenting Life in a more holistic way. I still need to go back to those ideas and start to act on them though — it’s on my List.

Samm says:

I defintely miss the “me” and “we” time that we had prior to having a child. I miss my hobbies, gym, friends, dinners, movies, books, etc. THose tihngs made me really happy. And its true – i often feel beaten down at night after work and caring for my daughter.
But it comes down to how you define and measure happiness. Maybe TODAY I would have been happier if I didn’t have 1,000,000 things to take care of that all revolved around my child. But if you look at the course of a year or 10 years or a lifetime, I’m willing to bet that those years will be much deeper and happier with my kid in them.

I kind of feel on the opposite end of this. I don’t really feel like because of our son we had marital strains. However, we finally got married when our son was 4 months old and yes our first year of being married was hard, but I think we can both honestly say it was not because of our son.

I think that our son brought us closer together and actually pushed us more to make it work. And I think that now having a 2 yro (which is a lot harder then the first year) and dealing with all that comes with that has made us unite against that terrible two force that wants to break us apart.

Emilia says:

When DS smiles or laughs, my entire world lights up and I am the happiest I have ever been. However, when he is upset, whiny or pitching a fit, I want to stick my head under my pillow until it is over. But the happy times totally outweigh the bad ones.

I wonder what ages the children of the parents were too. Cause I can imagine a teenager might make life much worse than a smiling toddler.

Kara says:

We almost broke up 3 times in the first year. New baby + layoff + new demanding travel job = marriage on the rocks. It’s better now and continues to improve – but what a hellacious ride to get here. My heart wants another baby so bad but my head thinks my heart must be insane.

Our marriage counselor says that statistically, marital satisfaction drops with the first child but just a small percentage more with the second. I guess you already know what you’re getting yourself in to if you go for #2. Still seems like a risky endeavor at this point though.

Thanks for the honesty – always nice to be reminded I’m not alone!

Lisa says:

I don’t judge my happiness by whether or not I have children. I was happy before I had my daughter, and I’m happy now. There are different things that stress me in my life now that I have a child but it didn’t mean my life was stress free when I didn’t have children. With all that said, I’m so thankful to have my daughter and I cannot imagine my world without her now! I’m blessed by her!

chantal says:

The first year is definitely hard, and parenting has really affected our marriage and not always for the better. However, how can you really measure the degrees of happiness and pride you get when your child busts out with their first sentence? Or sings you a song while dancing in their highchair? How can you measure your feelings when you hear your child shrieking with laughter over something, or when they’re being so ridiculously cute you think you’re going to burst? I think studies like this are kinda dumb because you can’t really measure that stuff by finite amounts.

Parenting is hard and will always be hard, and it puts a strain on your marriage. Some days I really am miserable… but other days I love being a mom so much it more than makes up for it. And being a mom has given me a new confidence in myself, and suddenly I have the ability to tell someone who is not that important to me to eff off when they deserve it, which I never had the courage to do before. I guess it’s made me realize what’s really important and what deserves my attention and what doesn’t. That’s something else you can’t really measure – your ability to see yourself in a new capacity and to learn from yourself rather than others.

ariana says:

Thanks for your honestly Mel, I think we can all relate..

Melanie says:

To say that parenting has strained our marriage would be an understatement!! It’s the hardest thing in the world!!! I just have hope that someday this terrible tantrum phase has to end and we’ll get our lives back. But for now, yeah, it’s making me a little miserable :-(