Being a parent is one of life’s greatest joys. Mostly. Except for the little things, like diaper blow-outs, crazy toddler tantrums, and never being able to pee alone.
And then there are those years between about 10 and 18 when you wonder what happened to your sweet, cuddly baby who has somehow morphed into an eye-rolling, door slamming, angsty being who gives you whiplash from all the mood swings and hormones and feelings.
But there’s joy. So much joy. And a recent study proves it. The study, conducted by researchers at the Heidelberg University in Germany, found that people with children are happier than those without. You’re happier, dammit.
Well, sort of. There is one SMALL caveat. The children need to have moved out of the house first. That’s right. You’ll be happier AFTER your little birdies have flown the coop and left you as an empty-nester.
The researchers, led by Christoph Becker, looked at the link between family status (marriage and parenthood) and mental health and well-being. They surveyed 55,000 respondents aged 50 and older from 16 European countries.
They asked them to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 0 (low satisfaction) to 10 (high satisfaction). Participants were also asked questions related to quality of life, social support networks, and depression.
“Overall we observe that marriage is consistently positively correlated with well-being and lack of depressive symptoms…We find that children are positively correlated with well-being and lack of depressive symptoms. However, our analyses show that this overall positive association is due to children after they left home.”
And while this is good news for our golden years, the news isn’t so great for our child-rearing years. The study also concluded that:
“Resident children are negatively associated with well-being.”
Those kids you have still living at home? I’m sorry to say, are not contributing to your overall mental health and wellness. You may want to consider taking up yoga and drinking green juice.
The study cites previous research to back up this claim. Over the years numerous studies have shown that parenthood “does not appear to be associated with enhanced mental health. The risk of depression is especially pronounced for women with parenting stress and poor physical health, but less pronounced for those being supported by a partner.”
It is not until our children are adults AND out of the house that researchers found a positive correlation between happiness and parenthood.
So that 30-year-old still living in your basement, using up all your WI-FI, and eating all of your Häagen-Dazs ice cream? Is not bringing you joy.
The researchers believe the reason independent children make us happier is due to a decrease in stress and an increase in social support that adult children provide (fingers crossed).
“As stress associated with balancing the competing demands of childcare, work and personal life decreases, once people get older and their children leave the house, the importance of children as caregivers and social contacts might prevail.”
Might prevail. That’s encouraging.
It’s no secret that raising young children taxes us financially, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Yes, being a parent is an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience but it also carries the weight of its constant companions: worry and stress.
Do these lessen as our kids mature and find their own way in the world? Hopefully. At the very least we finally get the chance to put up our feet, drink our coffee hot, and bask in the glory of the laundry being done. At last.
And what about those grandkids that you are so looking forward to? Yeah, they may not bring you quite as much happiness as you thought.
“Grandchildren correlate positively with life satisfaction and network satisfaction, but negatively with quality of life and lack of depressive symptoms.”
So while having grandchildren may leave you feeling satisfied, having to take time out of golfing and travelling to care for said grandkids could put a damper on your quality of life.
Regardless of what any study says, the reality is that we love our kids and couldn’t imagine life without them. Okay, maybe for just a minute or two…And although there may be difficult moments, hours, days, months, or even years, I don’t know of any parent on the cusp of empty-nestdom, who doesn’t wish, once in a while, that time would have been kinder, and slowed down, just a little.