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 Playborhood.com 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.