”Becoming a parent has defined me; I am the happiest i have ever been.”
This is the sort of stuff people say out loud in public. This is the sort of stuff you hear in interviews or read about in glossy magazines – but is it actually true?
What if you don’t feel that way? What if you were happier before?
I watched a really interesting TED talk the other day which was about encouraging honesty in parenting and dispelling some of the most popular myths – one of which was that people often wax lyrical about how happy they are since they became parents.
They looked at four (yes four!) independent studies tracking individuals happiness over the course of their marriage and you can see the findings below. The green line is the average result.
TED – Let’s talk parenting Taboos by Rufus Griscom & Alisa Volkman
There is a huge drop in reported happiness from becoming pregnant which only recovers when your nest, um….empties.
So all this stuff we are hearing, or reading, or saying, is it just rubbish? Well you can hardly argue with the data can you, and to be fair it’s not exactly surprising.
In the ‘before time’ I was so busy having impromptu nights out, reading trashy magazines on the sofa and going to the toilet on my own that I hardly had the time to feel unhappy. And now? Well It’s not acceptable or advisable to bring young children out for cocktails, I stopped buying magazines after it became clear they would get eaten before i had a chance to read them and toilet trips, I’m afraid involve too much personal probing to be enjoyed.
Becoming a parent means a large proportion of your time is dedicated to the pursuit of making sure your children are happy which naturally means your own happiness is being sacrificed somewhere along the way. And if their happiness depends on, for example, you pretending to be a friendly tiger that provides infinite rides on your back whilst they kick you in the ribs, then what hope have you really got?
But don’t worry there is good news. ‘How is this good new?!?’ Well the good news is that if you are feeling like a miserable bastard right now – its OK because so is everybody else. There is no need to feel bad, because It’s normal and normal is good.
And the other good news is that……oh hang on a minute, when they are teenagers you are well and truly screwed. So, sorry, no more good news for another decade and a half.
But there is a little anomaly here that the stats don’t quite give a voice to. It’s the get out of jail free card, the one that your offspring often play with precision timing, just as you are about to put your head in the oven.
For example I might be wearing my scuzziest coco-pops and red wine stained dressing gown and it might be mistaken, somehow, for a glamorous ball-dress. I might then receive a comment along the lines of ‘Oh Mummy you look like a beautiful princess today’ which might make me spit my coffee out all over the breakfast table. And this little exchange may turn an already bad day good, more than making up for the pre-dawn threats of decapitation by plastic screwdriver.
I guess I am quite happy to spend 80% of my time, a little less happy than I was before if the other 20%* of it is spent laughing, like I never did before.
(*May possibly be more like 90:10)
This post is linked up to the #badmumsclub linky. This time it’s hosted by the fabulous Morgana at But Why Mummy Why but make sure you check out the posts from fellow members Aimee at Pass The Gin and Alison at Not Another Mummy Blog – both equally as wicked ;)
**************P.S. I have a new book OUT NOW! You can nab it on Amazon here or in your lovely local bookshop :)
I guess as we bear children are reason to be happy change and we are probably grumpy due to early waking’s and feeling a bit worse for wear because we need alcohol to release the days stresses? So true that the little things make it all worth it. Interesting that people are happier once the spouse has died too, is that because there is no more crap to clear up? x
Yep exactly that – it’s bloody hard work so impossible to be happy 24/7 when you are stressed and tired. Totally worth if for all the little things though, even when they seem few and far between ;) x
Ah Katie, another classic post. I can smile while reading it because my boys are at preschool and E is at the childminder and I’m drinking hot coffee while playing on the computer. For once, I don’t have a child attached to my leg demanding I put the Milky Bar kid advert on YouTube. Happy days. xx
Bliss! You lucky thing! x
Oh God, it gets worse? I am going to start saving up for boarding school. Except I can’t let my babies goooo! That chart is blimmin’ depressing but fab post. Freshie ;) x
ha ha i’m afraid so – a confusing conundrum! x
That really is the most terrifying chart ever! I kinda prefer this one by PhD Comics (http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1563). Not that “joy” is the same as “happiness”, but as A Tool With Which to Terrify Parents it makes me panic less!
I actually don’t think I’m less happy now than before I had M, but I can’t say I’m more happy either. It’s just different now, and bonkers, and very VERY up-and-down. Though I sometimes think I’d be capable of being a lot happier if I wasn’t quite so numb with tiredness…
That’s a brilliant graph – and so true, much more pronounced highs and lows :) x
Haven’t come across any of these independent studies before, but they make for interesting reading. Whether (or not) I’m any happier than before I had kids I’m really not sure: life is just different and I’m none the wiser.
I can hardly even remember a time before kids – no idea how i used to fill a day ;) x
Finally…I feel normal!
YAY :) x
Love it. It is a strange rollercoaster sort of happiness isn’t it. When we had Gabe and his “probs” I got wise words from someone and they were you need to be selfish to survive this intact. I am quite selfish now in doing stuff I want to do and being me (instead of just a lego piece holder and tea party participant) xxx
That’s such good advice. It’s easy to feel guilty for not being engaged or playing at every opportunity but it would drive you mad, you have to be selfish sometimes x
I love this Katie (as always). I think having children has made me happier at times, but also sadder, more afraid, more stressed, more tired and more of a wino! The highs are higher, the lows are lower. In the middle, there’s a lot of just plodding along too. Am I happier overall? Yes, probably. But that’s not the whole picture and it’s irresponsible of us to pretend to the world that it is xx
Exactly that Kiran! Sometimes parenthood is painted as being all sunshine and rainbows which for the most part is utter tosh. The highs are totally worth it though x
That is one TERRIFYING chart! I actually feel happier overall since having the kids, as I was caning it far too much pre-them, and now I feel more grounded and more driven. I wish I wasn’t so tired all the time, and I miss seeing my friends as much (most don’t have kids yet), plus Adam and I do bicker more and shag less, which is baaaaad. Oh well, onwards and upwards until the sweet release of death I guess! #everycloud
The sweet release of death lol! I definitely think it helps to have got the partying out of the way before kids, waiting until you are ready must make it a lot easier to adjust x
I love this! I think it is so true, and I think the expectation and perceived pressure to be happier once you have children makes it harder to accept when you are bloody struggling and everyone else appears to be super happy and have it together constantly.
I think I am happier in general since having my daughter, I spent a long time trying to become a mother and that was hard and this life is so rewarding. However I’m also more knackered, more emotional, less confident and worry more which I guess all make me less happy so I don’t think it’s a clear cut thing. Great post, thanks :)
P.S I’m a gin-drinking rabbit – can we be friends?!
Thanks for your comment Louise, i think you have hit the nail on the head there. And of course we can be friends, you sound just my cup of tea :)) x
I have two teenagers which probably explains why I am at my happiest when I am up and alone – predawn! And why revenge is sweet as I can only get them out of bed by poking them with a plastic – or metal screwdriver!
ha ha yes that is one thing i am looking forward to! x
I suppose I wonder why the charts look like that, and whether the questions posed precluded hard work and happiness existing at the same time. Parenting is hard work, and I suspect is only going to get harder, but it doesn’t mean it can’t also make me happy. I mean I love knitting and quilting, but there are days when I threaten to throw the sewing machine out of the window if the thread breaks one more time, or I’m just not in the right frame of mind for the pattern, but even then I wouldn’t say it’s not making me happy. Perhaps the problem is not happiness but the Pollyanna myth; that everything has to be constantly sunshine and unicorns or we’re not doing it right – and that’s one myth that can happily be disposed of.
I’m not saying that motherhood defined me, I am both a mother and so much more, but I am incredibly happy and content in my life, and I hope that’s true for most people.
No idea actually Carie, the talk didn’t really focus on that. Probably as it was all a bit tongue in cheek and jovial, as you say more about the myth of parenthood being perfect.
I guess it’s all the worry, stress, lack of sleep etc that really impacts peoples happiness, especially if you weren’t property ready or prepared for it x
Ah – I’m with Debsrandomrantings on this one. I generally stalk around the house trying to avoid my teenagers, and am happiest when I’m in the bath, door shut and earphones firmly in!
Someone actually once said to me that she now knew she had ‘never felt really emotions until having children’. Wanker.
She’s dead now.
OH man I couldn’t pass that by. I am laughing my head off here. Ding dong the wanker is dead. x Soz for hogging the comments x
Oh dear :-/
Really interesting post Katie. I thought about this long and hard and I began wondering what would happen if we were all offered a little parenthood ‘taster session’ and then given a button to press which would whip you back in time if you decided it wasn’t for you. Would any of us actually push that button?? Because there’s a little voice at the back of your mind that asks if, when you describe those cute moments or funny habits of your children, you aren’t just rustling up a silver lining to make all the hard times seem bearable. Having said that I did think about it and there’s no way I’d push that button. Erasing those little people – its just unthinkable really and therefore, happiness just becomes a lot more complicated post birth I guess…X
Parenting is definitely a funny old roller coaster of happiness. I am ultimately happier than I was before, but in a different way.
Ooh very interesting post. If I think about I would say the highs are very high and the lows are very low. Everything is just a lot more intense after kids I think. Even the bickering about how you’re putting on the kids pjs for the millionth time whilst your hubby is staring at his phone. I think I was pretty miserable (as well as being elated etc.) the first few months. I was absolutely exhausted and just plain grumpy from sleep deprivation and just looking for the point when you’ll get a bit of a break.
On days (like today) when I may have happily sold my daughter on eBay (teething and grumpy) I read blogs like this and I feel happy again!
I think being a parent is hard and at times you do want to take to the M62 with a skipping rope, but you’re right when you say, some split seconds are just worth all the other agro!
I don’t want being a parent to define me but it does, I can’t escape the societial and cultural definitions if me as a fake parent. Am I happy? In some aspects yes, very. More than at any other period of my life. In other areas I am unfullfiled and unhappy (the work bit of life). I do think that as they get older it changes so much. It’s less tiring, less full on. Less stressful. Less defining.
I think it’s quite sad if having children ‘defines’ someone. I want to be more than just a baby grower, baby haver and parent – It’s a huge part of who I am but there’s more to me than that.
Great post again. The first few weeks with LP were incredibly hard. The first six months with Little Man as well were hell. I’m happy now, 13 months in! x
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