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The (un)happy parenting gap

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

A new study shows that kids aren’t necessarily the way to happiness for parents.

There is no doubt that watching a child grow up is one of life’s privileges. You only have to take a quick peek on social media for streams of kids ‘covered in food’ or ‘standing in school uniform’ photos uploaded by seemingly contented parents. On that evidence, then, you might expect parents to be happy people. However, a recent study showed that this is not the case. The European SWELL-FER (Subjective Well Being and Fertility) found a negative correlation between a person’s overall happiness and becoming a parent.

As Shani Orgad, author and professor of media and communications at London School of Economics, says in her post regarding the study: “This is what some researchers dub the “parenting happiness gap,”” with parents in the USA being the most unhappy compared to non-parents in that country.

Mums “more stressed”

Some 10-year research carried out by evolutionary anthropologist Dr Anna Machin, and highlighted in our last issue, found that dads play a vital part in parenting. Yet despite this, according to Bright Horizon’s Modern Family Index 2019, it is still the mother that acts as the ‘main’ parent in terms of childcare and looking after the house.

In fact, mums are more in danger of experiencing stress than dads. Orgad interviewed women who’d quit their job in order to commit to full-time caring of their child and found that many of them “continuously blamed themselves for failing to live up to the ideal of work-life balance.”

Whether or not unhappiness in parents, particularly mums, needs a quick response from governments, employers and society in general (as cogently Orgad puts forward) or the science of happiness lies somewhere within us is up for discussion.

Either way, it probably won’t stop the grimace at seeing another Facebook photo of a child of someone you can’t remember off to their first day at school.

Read the full article in Parenting for a Digital Future here.