Happiness as parents

The Atlantic featured an interesting article from Paul Bloom recently about what having kids does to a parent’s happiness. Here’s the TLDR:

(1) On average across multiple studies, parents reported a decrease in happiness and marital satisfaction.

(2) This happiness decrease is uneven however. It depends on how old you are, whether you are a mother or father, and where you live. Countries with good child-care policies have significantly higher scores relative to countries that don’t (the US reports the largest drops). Mothers report a steeper drop than young fathers.

(3) But, despite all this, parents still describe parenthood as “the best thing they’ve ever done.” There are two explanations. The first is memory distortion – we forget the pain and remember the peaks and ends. Another is attachment.

(4) “This relates to a second point, which is that there’s more to life than happiness. When I say that raising my sons is the best thing I’ve ever done, I’m not saying that they gave me pleasure in any simple day-to-day sense, and I’m not saying that they were good for my marriage. I’m talking about something deeper, having to do with satisfaction, purpose, and meaning.”

(5) “The writer Zadie Smith puts it better than I ever could, describing having a child as a “strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.” Smith, echoing the thoughts of everyone else who has seriously considered these issues, points out the risk of close attachments: “Isn’t it bad enough that the beloved, with whom you have experienced genuine joy, will eventually be lost to you? Why add to this nightmare the child, whose loss, if it ever happened, would mean nothing less than your total annihilation?” But this annihilation reflects the extraordinary value of such attachments; as the author Julian Barnes writes of grief, quoting a friend, “It hurts just as much as it is worth.””


The sub title of the piece did a great job laying the stage for these takeaways – “Research has found that having children is terrible for quality of life—but the truth about what parenthood means for happiness is a lot more complicated.”

It resonated.