You Can Choose to Enjoy Parenting. Or Not.

Lots of studies have been published recently that conclude that most parents aren’t happy being parents. If you believe this research, this is an alarming fact.

Journalists who write about these studies tend to focus on the decision to have kids. They speculate whether these parents would be happier if they hadn’t had kids.

Here, though, I want to focus on another decision: the decision to be happy and unstressed. Seriously.Certainly, there’s a stressful component of parenting that’s out of our control. Being deprived of sleep by crying babies in the middle of the night is stressful. So are serious childhood sicknesses and developmental disorders. We parents don’t have control over these things.

But so much about modern family life that’s stressful is under parents’ control. Soccer moms and dads drive their kids from one activity to the next, often at the expense of peaceful family dinners. Tiger Moms and Dads push their kids very hard to achieve at school, forcing them to study rather than to have fun.

In his upcoming book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, Bryan Caplan argues that most of parents’ stress over their kids is neither helpful nor rational.

It’s not helpful because numerous research studies conclude that genes, not specific parenting practices, are the dominant factor in determining how “successful” children are later in life. Certainly, parents can have a negative impact by being cruel or neglectful, but provided that parents are basically loving and present in their kids’ lives, there is no evidence that parents can make their children more successful by pushing them harder.

Secondly, Caplan argues as Lenore Skenazy does in Free-Range Kids and I do here at that the high level of stress that many parents experience over kids’ safety is irrational. It’s roughly 50 times more likely that a child will die in an automobile accident than as a victim of a stranger abductor, and yet many parents don’t let their kids play outside or walk to school, driving them around instead.

So, I’m hoping that those of you who aren’t enjoying your parenting experience step back for a moment to reflect on how you can stress out less and enjoy yourselves more. As a child of a chronically depressed mom, I can tell you that your lack of happiness takes a toll on your kids.

My wife and I aren’t perfect parents by any means, but I’m happy to say that we experience joy with our children quite regularly. See this and this and this. Joy may even be as commonplace for us as stress is for soccer moms and dads.

Unlike them, we’ll wake up tomorrow (Saturday) with zero plans, and we’ll wander through the day serendipitously with our kids, without a care in the world. The only thing I know for sure about tomorrow is that we’ll have fun.

I know that the joy we experience with our kids is very good for them as well as for us. It’s a very good life.

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4 Responses to You Can Choose to Enjoy Parenting. Or Not.

  1. gina_moreland says:

    Well put, Mike! If ok with you, I’d like to put this on our Facebook page. Hope you’re well.

    Gina @ Habitot Children’s Museum

  2. Meagan @ The Happiest Mom says:

    Love this! I’ve often said that if you expect having kids to MAKE you happy, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Instead, we all need to pursue lives that make us happy, alongside our kids. EVERY job has its more unpleasant tasks (for writers, it’s chasing down invoices; for parents, maybe it’s changing diapers) but that doesn’t doom us to unhappiness!

    Meagan @ The Happiest Mom

  3. Aran says:

    Of course, not all of us can sit back and fund our lives with royalties from our prior songwriting careers, but I do think John Lennon’s “Watching The Wheels” does a pretty nice job expressing an attitude that can lead to a full enjoyment of being a parent:

  4. RobertH says:

    Another good one, Mike!

    It seems that many people, not just parents, are simply confused about what happiness is. And if you don’t know what happiness means, it’s of course hard to look for it and find it. Heck, you could find it, but not know it.

    Though I’ve always intuitivily had (maybe thanks to my own parents?) a fairly good understanding of what happiness is (and isn’t), my appreciation of what’s really going on rose to a new level when I read Jonathan Haidt’s excellent book “The Happiness Hypothesis.” Most notably, the book confirmed what I had vaguely suspected all along – strong relationships with others are the single most important source of happiness.

    When we are parents, our strongest relationships should – by nature – be with our children. And for many people, that’s exactly how it is. But some parents choose to sacrifice strong, healthy relationships for the perceived benefits of tough discipline or simply neglect. The result are children who rebel, withdraw or simply “tune out.” Game over.

    What’s a healthy, strong relationship between parents and children is certainly subject to some debate. And the answer will vary somewhat from family to family, and from one culture to the next. But there are also bound to be some basic principles that will tend to apply across the board.