A friend posed this question this week, and let me tell you – it left me floored.
“Of course my kids make me happy,” came my immediate response.
My other friend, a fellow parent of three kids aged under 10, chimed in with a similar reply.
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But then I thought about it. Really thought about it. Has having kids made me ‘happier’?
I’m not sure.
Having children hasn’t made me a happier person, per se. Depending on the day you catch me on, parenthood has contributed to me becoming busier and more overwhelmed, proud, frustrated and fulfilled than I was pre-offspring.
It has definitely cracked my heart apart and opened me up to a range of emotions that I don’t think I’d have come close to experiencing, had I not had children.
When they were born: I was flooded with raw, primal, unconditional love.
When they’ve been really, really sick or hurt or in danger: I’ve felt pure blinding panic, coupled with an urge to do immediate deals with the devil in order to restore them to good health.
When they’re not sleeping, sick or grizzly overnight: I have reached a level of outrageous exhaustion that, hand to God, I didn’t even know was possible. Brand new parents should be given free cake, kindness and hugs from every person they encounter for three months after bringing the baby home, because holy moly, that newborn phase is the real deal.
When they’re “challenging”: I have known what true frustration and fury is. My need to dig deep for patience, tolerance and kindness peaks in these moments.
When they do something unexpectedly sweet or kind, or get rewarded for effort or behaviour: my heart swells and I’m overwhelmed at the joy they bring to the world.
Interesting, a recent study found that parents in Australia (and Great Britain, and the US) were less happy than their counterparts who didn’t have children.
But I suspect that perhaps, striving for happiness misses the point completely. Kids don’t necessarily make us happy (and what a burden we place on them if this is what we expect them to do!)
Rather, as ‘The Happiness Doctor’ Dr Mark Holder comments, “I wonder if happiness is the best outcome measure. Perhaps instead, research should also examine the relationship between having children and meaning in life.”