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.

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.