There was a study that made the news recently. It purported to show that having children saps your happiness. A year after having children, mothers particularly, found themselves less happy than those who had divorced or even suffered the death of a close one. Basically, having children makes you miserable. This misery is considered to be partly behind the declining birth rate in European countries. Because children……who wants that kind of buzz kill?
Of course there were those who decried the study. They found it manipulative and subjective, flawed science based upon self-reporting. It seemed to be pushing an agenda, distorting reality to advance a cause.
I found the study to be plausible. And I didn’t find it alarming or even disheartening. It actually made sense, after a few minutes of pondering. It’s not that being a parent is awful. It’s not that sleep deprivation makes us miserable, that the screaming, the pooping the vomiting ruins our lives. It’s that we have grown, grown past ourselves. We are no longer content with successes in our own lives, no longer satisfied seeing ourselves grow and flourish. We want more, so much more. Not for ourselves, oh no, for people who are so much more important. People we want so much more for. People we love so much, we accept the poop, the vomit, the exhaustion. Children don’t make parents miserable. But they do deepen the canal.
While listening to the report on the study, an image of a brook came to mind. Brooks are beautiful, clear and peaceful. They are a source of life, nurturing and enabling life to flourish. But if a brook flows into a river bed, it’s small and shallow and insufficient. What was more than enough in its own circumstances is lacking in a different scenario.
It’s that way with our hearts as well.
What brought us joy before those tiny little monsters that run ruck shod over our lives, still does. But it’s not the same. Because we are yearning for a different joy, different success…..theirs. We aren’t satisfied in our own accomplishments, we want so much more. We want the world. Not for ourselves, but for our babies. And, which a source of frustration, we aren’t in control of that which brings them happiness.
And so our life is filled with happiness, but also worries and stress. More happiness, but more worry. And the stakes are so much higher. Not just for their future, but also for us. We see so much more that we can do, that we can give, so much harder that we want to push ourselves. Parenthood challenges us to be better, to give more, to love as we didn’t know we could. It is exhilarating, but it is a heavy burden.
What filled us up, what satiated us, what enough before is no longer enough. We want more from ourselves, we want so much more for our children. Our heart, our lives have deepened. It’s not that we aren’t as happy or now sadder. It’s that we have turned the corner, seen how much more we can give, how much more we can be.
Do children make parents miserable? No. Not full time anyway. It’s not that children ruin lives simply by being born; it’s that they upend the world they are born into. Perspectives change. Priorities change. Everything changes. When your parameters shift so entirely, the standards by which you measured life don’t hold anymore. It’s part of the responsibility that we take on with parenthood.
Welcoming little people into our lives and into our hearts is no small matter. Life isn’t easy raising children. It’s filled with worry and doubt and frustration. And the measure isn’t our own happiness, but rather the persons we raise our children to be. And those children bring with them something much more than happiness. Something deeper, life altering. They bring joy .
And that’s worth sacrificing for.