‘Are you happier with kids?’

2012 film <i>Friends With Kids</i> showed the often rough ride of parenting.

2012 film Friends With Kids showed the often rough ride of parenting.

Ever been on a bender that was so out of control and so much fun that no matter how sick you were the following day, or how many people you upset, you still thought it was worth it?

Well, a new study shows that’s what having kids is like, except that bender lasts for the rest of your life.

Open University in the UK has produced a study that proves what all parents already suspect: that childless couples have happier marriages and that children are precisely the little relationship terrorists we suspected them to be.

But there’s a catch, the study also found that childless women were the least happy overall, while mothers were the most happy – just not with their husbands. For men it was reversed with childless men reportedly happier than their breeding counterparts.

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What I took from this study is that not even a room full of braniac scientists can crack the question: “Am I happier with kids or without?”. It’s a question I have been rolling around my mind for years too, not that there is any real hope that I put them back, they no longer fit.

I was very skeptical about having kids, I saw only the downsides and I was right about most of them. Seven years on from having kids my wife and I would agree that our marriage is, if not on the rocks, then both shaken and stirred. Are kids solely to blame? No, but children or their by-products – years of broken sleep, financial pressures, lack of freedom, and the time sucked up by their very existence – are a large part of our relationship issues.

I have routinely described to friends that having kids is the best and worst thing that I have ever done, a path full of dizzying highs and shattering lows (as a friend once put it).

Kids have little respect for your relationship in the early years, They interrupt adult conversation with important news on the “mouse-mobile” they have created with Duplo. They are blasé about sleep in the way that only someone who can sleep any time, anywhere can be. And when they do cutely climb into your bed for a reassuring nap in the middle of the night, they sleep sideways leaving you to bend around them like a pair of parental parentheses.

For me I feel like I went from number one, to number three on my wife’s priority list, though she would argue, quite fairly, that she resides at number four with not even time enough for herself let alone us.

So, do I regret having kids? No, that is too simple. But am I happier with them around? I do a lot of fence sitting between the men and women in the study on this question. There are days when I am and days when I fantasise about my child-free alternate reality, in particular what our relationship might be like.

Of course kids are detrimental to the day-to-day maintenance of a relationship, by their very definition they dilute the mix, take up the space and fill any silence, but I think they are beneficial to the foundation. My kids may have caused a lot of our marriage woes but they are also the reason I am still there battling it out. Not “for the kids” but for a woman I have seen show amazing strength and love to these life-wrecking little people.

I am probably not consistently happier having kids but I have been at my happiest, watching them grow and learn, benefiting from their enthusiasm and hugs that just seem to come from nowhere and yet be so utterly necessary – right then and there. I think I have evolved more through being a father, improved my patience, my tolerance and exercised my imagination through storytelling and playing with them. I would hope these things spill over into being a better partner too.

The decision to have kids was never really based on “happiness” but on love and adventure (and a fairly specific ultimatum) and it has led to a wild ride of crazy stand-in-front-of-a-bus-for-them love, anger, frustration, learning and more bodily fluids than I ever thought I cope with it. It’s been terrible and wonderful, but never boring – and I’m happy with that.

 

62 comments

  • Thanks for an honest article, quite brave really. As for your comment that "I fantasise about my child-free alternate reality, in particular what our relationship might be like." Remember, one day those little people will have lives of their own and this will be your reality. For now, try to make sure the relationship is kept well-enough intact that you will have enough between you to enjoy it. All the best.

    Commenter
    Skye
    Date and time
    January 30, 2014, 9:04AM
    • What a great article. I'm 36 and childless and always thought I'd have kids by now. I may never have them, noting my age. I used to grieve a lot about it but now see that there is a real hapiness in not having them. I think life brings joy and pain, sometimes in unequal measure - regardless of whether or not you have little ones.

      Commenter
      None Yet
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 30, 2014, 11:29AM
    • There is a conspiracy amoungst parents particularly women to trap other potential breeders into the hell that is their lives. It is rare that a parent is honest for fear of hurting their offspring and for fear of looking like hopeless idiots.

      Commenter
      Burt
      Date and time
      January 30, 2014, 4:26PM
    • Burt, you really need to talk to a wider group of people.

      Commenter
      mlk
      Location
      Blaxland
      Date and time
      January 31, 2014, 8:03AM
  • Do people think (and I'm just throwing this out there) that the issue highlighted in this article is becoming worse because the focus of parents has shifted to the point where they treat children like little eggshells that will crack under the slightest pressure?

    I am childless at 29, but I see how my sister coddles her two daughters (one, now in high school - grade 8 this year) that are still BOTH dropped off at school, picked up, taken to ballet... etc and so forth.

    Mate, I was riding my bike to school with my sister from about grade 6 on wards. Also, my parents' lives didn't stop just because they had children.

    I remember as a child my parents would go to social gatherings with friends and family, and if there were other children, great - you had someone to play with. If there wasn't - tough luck I had to sit there and be silent whilst my parents spoke endlessly about boring stuff. You didn't even think of interrupting because you were expected to be seen and not heard.

    This isn't what I see in today's children. There's this sense of entitlement. All children being told that they are "unique and special" (which I understand that to their parents, of course they are) but to everyone else, they're just a couple of brats.

    I think that Helen Lovejoy's decrying of "won't somebody please think of the children" has really been taken to heart by society to the point now where all we seem to do is think of the children and forget our own, adult needs, which includes nurturing the relationship that gave you kids in the first place.

    Commenter
    Adrian
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    January 30, 2014, 9:16AM
    • Good comment Adrian.

      I'm 42 and became a dad at 35, I grew up exactly how you described it, often receiving the reply to our statement of being bored that we "should go and find something to do". Some kids are waited on hand foot (though not in our house) it's sickening.

      Some modern parents are too soft, kids want to sleep in your bed, sorry, back to your own. Kids won't eat the dinner you've made, to bad go hungry because there is nothing else, kids want to watch something else, no I'm watching this, go and read a book or play with your toys, make up a new game (which they always do)
      I and my two girls both look forward to the day they are old enough to walk/ride to and from school and as they are both sensible kids it wont be that far away.

      I also agree with Aaron with the blown up "hardship of parenting" we have rammed down our throats, we haven't found it that hard, sure there are ups and downs but what we have found is that is a rewarding, emotional experience that has brought us closer as a couple and the fun we have had with them in the last few years can't be topped, especially the times spent camping on a beach for up to week at a time with no tv and just a few toys, books and their imagination to keep them occupied, they love it and so do we.

      Yeah they cost you an arm and a leg but so what, It's only money and if I had all that free time that I had before kids I wouldn't know what to do with myself anyway.

      Yes I am happier with kids.

      Commenter
      Jeff H
      Date and time
      January 30, 2014, 11:59AM
    • Adrian, I know this couple that refers to their child as "divine". Seriously? Your child is not "divine", he is not special, and he is not a god. Treat him like one and that's what he will expect for the rest of his life.

      Commenter
      Mila
      Date and time
      January 30, 2014, 12:43PM
    • +1 here Adrian and Jeff H. Both excellent comments. I am a 35yo Dad with 3 year old boy and 10 week old daughter and agree wholeheartedly with both of you.

      A couple of things I'd add: get it out of your system before you have kids. It's not their fault if you never got to do whatever it is that itches you before they came. I will always cherish the music festival freakouts, OS ski trips and endless Sunday sessions, but... there comes a time when you need more than that. Also, I can't handle hangovers any more, kids or not. That said, if we need space, or a drink, or whatever, we make it. Our kids may be special little unique snowflakes, but we are not afraid of occasionally being the snow-plow.

      With regard to the relationship stress - sure it can be there at times, but I look at it like this: it's a bit like moving up a grade in a sports competition. My wife and I were cruising. Life was pretty easy, a bit self-undlugent and becoming stale. Now we are challenged daily, and are becoming bigger, stronger people in the process. It's human nature to seek new challenges.

      Signed, busy, happy, tired, befuddled satisfied Dad.

      Commenter
      M
      Date and time
      January 30, 2014, 1:29PM
    • Brilliant comment Adrian. I'm 32 with a one year old daughter and this is precisely how I intend to raise her. Couldn't have said it better myself!

      Commenter
      Sydney girl
      Date and time
      January 30, 2014, 1:30PM
    • Adrian I couldn't agree more with your comments too true !

      Commenter
      Boris12
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 30, 2014, 4:19PM

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