The parent trap: do children make us more stressed and less happy?

anna.serlachius, Kommentit: 0

I remember being in my early twenties and listening to a presentation discussing the impact that having children has on your happiness. One of the world’s leading psychologists was presenting results from a study demonstrating that your happiness decreases dramatically after having children, and more alarmingly does not recover until your children have grown up and moved out. I remember all the parents in the audience that day and their collective moan, almost as if to admit to themselves and everyone else-yes, parenting sucks.

The vast majority of studies which have examined this issue have found similar results. Not only does having children seem to decrease measures such as life satisfaction and positive emotion, but it also seems to have a negative impact on marital satisfaction and even mental health.

Of course the findings are not quite that straightforward. Many prominent psychologists have argued that the measure of happiness which is most affected by having children is the more ‘superficial’ type of happiness associated with pleasure and positive emotions, while other aspects of happiness are often enhanced by having children, such as having more meaning and engagement in your life.

Do I believe in the parent-trap? No. I also think that most other parents would say that the positive aspects of parenthood rule out the negative aspects of parenthood. But to really enjoy being a parent and to reverse the trends seen in these types of studies, parents need an arsenal of coping skills and most important of all-they need social support.

Human beings are social animals, and never is this social support needed more than when you become a parent. Time spent with family, friends and the community offers a new parent a valuable outlet to share experiences and learn from each other, as well as tangible help with child rearing. However, the reality is that a lot of new parents feel increasingly isolated. The old African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is no longer a reality in many Western societies. It is increasingly common that parents with young children live far away from their extended families. These days having grandparents around to help care for your children is a luxury, definitely not a given. The social support that used to be in abundance for a new parent (as is still the case in more collectivist societies) must now often be found elsewhere.

Learning to effectively cope and even thrive during significant life changes, whether joyful changes such as becoming a parent, or more unfortunate life changes such as ill-health, requires resilience and a positive mind-set. One does not become resilient by avoiding change or challenges; rather resilience is cultivated by overcoming these challenges and growing from them. Becoming a parent has its ups and downs, but like all major life events, it also offers a golden opportunity to learn, grow and ultimately thrive.

To learn more about our programs offering coping skills training, please see our training courses.

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