It turns out, what we bring to parenting impacts our happiness in parenting. That may not be a surprise result of psychological research, but grasping the idea can make a difference in your approach to your job as parent.
As my children are older, I’m honest with them about how difficult parenting can be. I don’t want them to have unrealistic expectations, if they decide to be parents, but I also don’t want them to block all desire to be parents. It’s a hard job—and the hard job is worth it. My 14-year old son is less likely to just accept such talk now, so I decided to dig into the research to figure out if I could tell him how the ideas of “hard job” and “worth it” could go together.
The research turns out to be fascinating—and not at all simple.
I’ve been writing about paths toward happiness with our children over the past month: cultivating compassion, grateful kids, and teaching mindfulness for self control. All of that addresses helping our children to ground their own happiness, though. What about your happiness as a parent?
A study published earlier this year asked “when, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?” Studies that ask a simple question of “Are parents more or less happy than non-parents” contradict one another. This study (Nelson et al.) reviewed studies to ask the more nuanced question. Their review finds a complex relationship between parenting and happiness.
“We propose that parents are unhappy to the extent that they encounter relatively greater negative emotions, magnified financial problems, more sleep disturbance, and troubled marriages. By contrast, when parents experience greater meaning in life, satisfaction of their basic needs, greater positive emotions, and enhanced social roles, they are met with happiness and joy” (Nelson et al.).
What the parent brings to parenting can make the difference. The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center broke down the links to happiness, as outlined in the study, in age, gender, parenting style, and emotional bonds. Though there are still questions to be asked in more research, it is quite clear from long research that attachment leads to secure adults. If we are the parents are not secure in our attachments, though,
For us, that could mean that
“parents who do not feel secure in relationships seem to be more susceptible to declines in their relationship with their spouse during the transition to parenthood” (Nauman).
The review study (Nelson) looked at that transition to parenthood as a particularly important time. That is the phase many of our customers are going through as they meet us to talk about baby stuff, but we always understand that their underlying needs are much bigger than a cloth diaper or a pair of socks. We try to address the immediate needs as well as the deeper needs.
If you are interested in a review of the review, I suggest you read the full article at the Greater Good Science Center for an outline of factors in well-being and characteristics of those parents found to have greater well-being.
The conclusion may seem obvious that parents who know what they are getting into are more likely to find happiness in their parenting.
It’s important to know, as well, that
“happy parents often mean happy kids: Research has shown that happier parents engage in more positive parental behaviors and also influences positive outcomes in their children, like their child’s motivation, achievement, and relationships with peers.” (Nauman)
It’s worth finding your happiness in parenting. It does matter for the happiness of your children.
S. Katherine Nelson, Kostadin Kushlev, Sonja Lyubomirsky, “The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?” Psychological Bulletin, Vol 140(3), May 2014, 846-895.
Emily Nauman, “What Makes a Happy Parent?” August 19, 2014.
- Cultivating Compassionate Kids
- How to Raise a Grateful Child
- Teaching Children Mindfulness for Self Control