Are children really such bundles of joy?

We love them, of course, but new research suggests that having children makes us unhappy – it’s just that none of us feels able to admit it.

It is the one maternal feeling no
mother wants to experience, the ultimate in parenting taboos: admitting
(whisper it) that life might have been better before you had children. Now new
research purports to show that starting a family doesn’t make parents any
happier than their childless counterparts.

A book out next month will cause
controversy by suggesting that parents exaggerate how much better off
emotionally they are with children around. Nick Powdthavee’s The Happiness
Equation paints a bleaker picture of parenthood than most parents would own up
to recognising.

His findings will unsettle those
parents convinced their children enrich their lives. But Mr. Powdthavee’s views
may actually chime with more mothers and fathers than a quick glance around
your local park would suggest, according to the magazine Psychologies.

Far from turning their lives into
one long treat, say mothers in an article for the monthly, having children left
emotional scars and endless worries that turned their lives upside down.
Marsha, 50, described being “locked in a daily battle” with her son, who left
home at the earliest opportunity, while another, Laura, 40, said she “missed
the creative output” of her former life.

Descriptions of constant struggles
with children suggest that parenting has more downsides than permanent fatigue
and loss of social life. “No group of parents, whether married, single, step or
empty-nesters, reported significantly greater emotional wellbeing than
non-parents,” found Robin Simon, professor of sociology at North Carolina’s
Wake Forest University. “Of the three major components of adult life – employment,
friendship and parenthood – raising children is the only one that doesn’t
promote wellbeing.”

Of the 1,400 or so mums and dads in
Britain who blog about their lives as parents, few dwell solely on the
negative.

Sociologists blame today’s
parenting struggles on the cult of parental perfection. “In the past 20 years
or so, parenting has taken on this crazy emotional investment, popularly
referred to as helicopter parenting, in which children are at the centre of
their parents’ lives,” Mr. Simon said. “Our parents children wouldn’t have
dreamed of spending so much time with their kids.”

Parents spend three
times as many hours on activities with their children as they did a generation
ago, according to research published this spring by Oriel Sullivan, a
sociologist at the University of Oxford. Educated mothers put in most time,
arguably to compensate for absences from the home.

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