I read an article from 2016 that said people without kids, in the United States, are way happier than people who have kids. Because you are reading a parenting blog, I’m assuming you are one of those people with kids and this news is less than inspiring.
Maybe it even confirms the thoughts you’ve had when you are up for the third time that night dealing with a child who claims bad dreams, monsters under the bed and shifting shadows to keep them from sleeping. Or when you walked in on a toddler creating a masterpiece with a purple sharpie on your new white upholstered ottoman. Or when you get a call from the principal saying your high schooler has been caught cutting class for the fourth time this year and major disciplinary actions are going to be taken. Or when you stumble upon the web history of your middle schooler and can’t believe the content they’ve had access to and hidden from you for who knows how long.
Whether you’re trying to go back to sleep after the multiple interruptions from a sleep adverse child, or trying to fall asleep the first time that night, consumed with worry and anxiety and uncertainty of the actions of your older child, maybe you read that about people without kids being happier and think, “Yup. Makes sense. I love my kids. I’m crazy about them. But the level of stress that surrounds them, the level of emotional energy required of me, the fear I’m constantly dealing with wondering if I’m doing enough, or not doing enough, is debilitating. And yes, if I’m honest, happiness gets crowded out a bit when I’m trying to manage all the other emotions that come with raising kids.”
If that’s you, you’re not a bad person. If that’s not you, tell me your secret. Because the truth is, I think all of us have been there at one point or another. We’ve all felt sucked dry and drained of life. We’ve all remembered our pre kid days with rose tinted glasses, imagined that life we used to have with more freedom, more money, more sleep and yes, maybe even more happiness.
But here’s the good news. (Yes, there is good news.)
The same study that reported people without kids to be happier, said those who did have children, have higher highs and lower lows. We tend to remember the lows more easily. But think about the highs. The first time your newborn slept through the night. The first time you heard your toddler say, “mama” or “dada”. The first time they touched the sand, or sat on Santa’s lap. When they walked out the door to their first school dance, when they brought home their first character award, when their eyes lit up when they saw you in the carpool line, when the teacher called to say how hard they’ve seen your child work. Think of the first time you heard “I love you”, “I’m sorry”, and “forgive me”.
Parenting is hard. And at time it’s a happiness suck. But it’s also a giver and creator of some of the richest moments you’ll ever know. Author and theologian C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
In other words, love hurts. But it also changes the metric for happiness. Love that is hard and asks a lot of us rewards us in ways we would never know to look for before. We find we are capable of a lot more than we ever thought we were. That love isn’t an absence of difficulty, and happiness isn’t either, for that matter. That love is looking for and finding a different kind of happiness than we may have had before, but that’s okay.
In a month that is devoted to love and all things romantic and rose-y and perfect, it’s a good thing to remember. That love comes in different forms. And happiness does too. That you can simultaneously long for the days when you could enjoy a leisurely brunch out with no paper placemats and rolling crayons, but also, shamelessly sneak in to watch a sleeping baby because the idea of going a full twelve hours without seeing their face seems impossible.
Love and happiness change with kids. But they don’t go away. The metric just changes. And the sooner we begin to embrace the highs and lows parenthood brings, as opposed to trying to avoid the lows altogether, which ultimately eliminates the highs too, the happier we will be with where we are right now. In a month devoted to love, work on changing the idea of love completely. But introducing a new kind of happiness and satisfaction with the life you live now and the kids you’re raising now, too.