News in Parenting: Do Kids Make Your Life Better?
We all know that having children is stressful. It baffles me to look back and realize all my parents did for me: the cost of keeping the fridge stocked, the time spent driving me to and from activities, and the sheer amount time it took for them to do laundry every week. Kids add a lot more work to parents lives, but most parents say its all worth it. What do researchers say?
Well, it depends on who you are asking. Researchers at the University of Miami did a study to find out who is healthier: parents or people without children. The verdict? People without children. This was especially true for females. It was found that women with children had a higher body-mass index and ate less healthy foods than women without children. It’s pretty easy for any Mom (or nanny for that matter) to tell you why…it’s because of time constraints! Sure, we try to mimic healthy eating for our kids as often as possible, but after a long day of running from swim meet to track practice, what Mom really wants to go home and make a healthy meal? It’s so much easier to just drive through McDonald’s or throw in a frozen pizza. Even with one toddler, life can get too hectic, as I just drove through McDonald’s last week with Abs after a long and exhausting morning at the water park. I just wanted to get food in her and head to naptime. I’m sure many mom’s can relate.
However, this isn’t the only thing the study found. They also found that Moms get less exercise than women without children. This is pretty obvious for all parents as well. You just don’t have the time. However, the lack of exercise and the bad eating habits can be detrimental for both parents and children. Studies have shown that healthy adults are happier adults. Another study, unrelated to the first, reveals a link between parenthood and higher depression rates. Let’s just say, some of the research out there makes having kids look quite bleak.
Yet, a new study shows parents to be significantly happier than their childless counterparts. Sonja Lyubomirsky had a hard time reconciling the difference between the published adverse effects of children and the seeming joy that they bring. How could all the studies be true? So Lyubomirsky set out to compare, not the health, but the overall happiness of adults with and without children. Her study, published in Psychological Science, shows that parents are in fact happier than their counterparts. Surprisingly, this contrast is shown more drastically in men than in women. Apparently fatherhood is a purely joyful thing, and childless men don’t know what they’re missing out on. The increased happiness is also more apparent in older, married parents, which makes sense as they have more financial stability and a partner to lessen the stressful loads of parenthood.
Lyubomirsky’s study was three pronged: she had subjects fill out surveys discerning overall happiness, she had subjects carry beepers that beeped every five minutes asking them their happiness for the exact moment, and she had subjects fill out timelines which labeled what they were doing every time the beeper beeped. By this she discovered that, not only were parents happier than non-parents, but they were the happiest when they were interacting with their children. And who can blame them? I’ve heard it said that a day without laughter is a day lost, but if you have children around you run no risk of losing your days – kids are funny. It’s not just the things they say, but the way they say them, the way they act, and the way their faces contort when they’re trying to get a giggle out of you. What parent could even feign unhappiness?
But you know what makes even happier parents? According to Holly Schiffrin in her article published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, parents are happier when they aren’t absorbed by “instensive parenting”. Intsensive parenting is parenting by ideals that make the child the center of the parents world and that a very active role needs to be taken on by the parent in order to ensure the child is well adapted and educated. Being raised by a working mother who valued her own happiness as much as her children’s, I can say from personal experience that it makes for a very happy and healthy family.
So, how do you reconcile the happiness of relaxed parents with the unhealthiness of their life style? I’m not exactly sure. I suppose you continue following the research and living your life to the best of your ability. If you are a parent, you try to live healthier and enjoy the happiness that your children bring you. If you are currently weighing the possibility of having children, decide what’s best for your lifestyle. And if you are a nanny, relish in the fact that you can embrace the benefits of both worlds, by enjoying the happiness that children bring during the day and living a healthy life in your time off.