Does having kids make you less happy?

Raising kids is hard, stressful, and exhausting.  A new book goes so far as to say that having kids actually makes people less happy than people without them.  The author does say, however, that having kids gives something different than happiness:  joy.

After the jump, a review of Jennifer Senior’s book,  All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, along with some reflections.From Marisa Bellack, Book Review: ‘All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood’ by Jennifer Senior – The Washington Post.

Like the 2010 New York magazine article it grew out of, “All Joy and No Fun” explores how children affect their parents and why decades of social science show that parents aren’t any happier, and in some cases are less happy, than people without kids.

Senior uses four of six chapters to dissect the no fun. New parents are unhappy, she posits, because they miss not only sleep but autonomy: “One day you are a paragon of self-determination, coming and going as you please; the next, you are a parent, laden with gear and unhooked from the rhythms of normal adult life.” She emphasizes the strain on marriages, especially when very young children or teenagers are in the house — apparently couples with children have more arguments than childless couples, and their fights are more often about children than any other topic. She probes the maddening self-doubt that accompanies the “murky” goal of raising happy, confident kids. And she endorses the view that adolescent struggles are worse for parents than for teens. “They exacerbate conflicts already in progress,” she writes, “especially those at work or in the marriage, sometimes unmasking problems that parents hadn’t recognized or consciously acknowledged for years.” . . .

I imagine that most parents will agree with her, too, that the joy is real, if sometimes fleeting and difficult to measure. “Meaning and joy have a way of slipping through the sieve of social science,” she writes. “The vocabulary for aggravation is large. The vocabulary for transcendence is more elusive.”

Read the whole review.  But how is this view of “happiness” tied to some peculiarities of today’s culture?  It’s interesting how “meaning” is related to “joy,” and how having children contributes to this sense of “transcendence.”

Also, there is another dimension to having children that this book does not seem to deal with:  having children who have grown up.  This has its own rewards, securities, joys, and even “fun.”


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