Studies continue to look at how happy parents really are and whether parents are happier than non-parents. Of course, the truth is complicated.
The latest study, from the Pew Research Center, concluded that the time parents spend with their kids is more rewarding than paid work—and more exhausting. Using data from the government's 2010 American Time Use Survey, the researchers looked at how mothers and fathers spend their time (on child-care, housework, paid work, or leisure), their emotional state during various activities (happy, stressed, or tired), and whether they considered those activities to be meaningful.
When it comes to feeling happy, being with children (doing everything from playing to bathing to helping with homework) ranked high but not the highest among the four areas of parents' time use. Mothers said they feel "very happy" during 37% of their child-care activities, 43% of their leisure activities (including TV, computer games, hobbies, being with friends, sports), 23% of their housework activities, and 20% of their paid work activities. However, moms believed that 63% of all their child-care activities were "very meaningful," as compared with 39% of paid work. Moms felt that "very tired" after 15% of child-care activities, 8% of housework and 7% of paid work.
Interestingly, all of these numbers were higher for moms than for dads; moms reported feeling happier, more tired, and more rewarded during all of these activities than dads did. That makes me wonder if the moms were being completely honest—or if it's just more important to moms to consider themselves happy and find meaning in daily life.
The study raises a lot of issues, but here are a few things I took away from it:
Being a parent is often an emotional rollercoaster—you can feel incredible joy, pride, anger, sadness, guilt, and pride. And your "happiness" level can seem to fluctuate change every minute/hour/day/week/month/year. At some point, I realized how much my kids' moods (bad and good) were affecting my own mood, and I started making a conscious effort to view their bad moods as a passing phase that didn't have to bring me down too. (I am happy to let their good moods bring me up.)
Look for other little ways to be nicer to yourself. They all add up.
You really can choose to look at the glass half-full instead of half-empty, to focus on what you're lucky to have, not what you wish you had. That doesn't mean you're deluding yourself.
As an editor of a magazine whose goal is "healthy kids, happy families," I realize that being happy isn't always the most important thing. There's a lot to be said for also being kind, patient, understanding, hard-working, open-minded, and just silly.
We've got to keep our sense of humor on the wild ride we're on—here are some ways to laugh today.
Plus: Take our quiz to find ou what your parenting style is!
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