Children Do Not Equal Happiness — by Laura Houston
Last week one of the women in my mother’s group said she felt sorry for her sister who had elected to remain childfree. “Now she will never know true happiness,” she said. I begged to differ.
I am 22 months into motherhood, and I cannot honestly say that I am happier now than I was before. I can, however, say I am just as happy – it’s just a different kind of happiness. There is great freedom and pleasure in childlessness. My husband and I decided if the second round of IVF did not work we would forego adoption, take up SCUBA diving and travel the world. I would buy a minicooper and join a few wine clubs. He toyed with going back to school for his master’s degree and tenaciously pursuing his career. We were going to work for happiness together – children or not.
But what I find different in the happiness of motherhood is I experience more intense bursts of joy at unexpected times. And it’s the little things that bring it on. For instance, I just went into the boy’s room to check on them. Wyatt is curled up with his teddy bear and snoring. Lyle has his head propped up on his stuffed moose with his mouth open in deep exhaustion. They looked amazing. They looked secure. They looked peaceful. So, yes, my heart jumped out of my chest.
But let’s be honest. This is the easy time for a mom to be happy with her children. They don’t talk back yet. They hug on demand. They laugh at me and with me, and their laughter is an ecstatic song to my ears. It’s the challenges coming down the road that can bring great unhappiness with parenthood.
Let’s take a look at my friends John and Sandy. They are both successful stockbrokers and were once deeply in love. Then they had a son. Watching John with his newborn was like watching the opening scene of the “Lion King.” He was in love with that child, and he swore to be the best father ever. He declared his son would be a professional athlete and a natural scholar. John boasted about his son’s little achievements on Facebook, in Christmas letters and in emails. It was annoying and wonderful all at once.
Fast-forward two years. The minutia of parenting has overcome John and Sandy. They shove the kid off on the grandparents, friends, aunts, and siblings and strive to recapture the happiness they had before parenthood. They place their son in daycare and stay at work until 7pm or later. When they are home, their child has the TV as a companion, and they buy hundreds of toys to entertain him but never sit and read to him. Fast-forward three years and their son is now a hot mess. He is not performing in school, he is behind his peers in emotional development, and he has a behavior disorder. John and Sandy are miserable.
And it’s just going to get worse. The teenage years are fast upon them. John said to me once: “Failing at parenthood is the greatest source of unhappiness a person could bring upon themselves.” He admits he might be a bad parent. And now he’s really not a good friend because he is miserable, and he drinks way too much.
John and Sandy banked on parenthood being easy for them. They have the money, the intelligence, and the time, but they both lack the dogged persistence and patience it takes to pull off raising a child. Sometimes I sympathize. After all, I am not there yet. I’m not even on year two. I might get tired and quit. And then I will be miserable and unhappy. And that’s an unhappiness that stays with you. Unless some miracle happens and your kid turns out great after years of neglect, you may feel happy for him or her, but you will never feel any satisfaction in your heart as a parent.
So kids or no kids, happiness is not going to land on anyone’s lap. And as wonderful as children are they don’t guarantee fulfillment, meaning, satisfaction or anything else we might expect. As soon as I post this blog entry, I’m going to go back into the boy’s room, look at them sleeping, and hope that with dogged persistence, I can keep that look of happiness on their adorable, round faces while teaching them how to find it themselves.