On the Unhappiness of Parenting

Newsweek reports on recent research indicating that contrary to popular opinion, having children makes people less happy, at least until the children leave home. This will no doubt please the happily child-free, who seem to have a thriving set of self-satisfied communities.

Unlike many of my fellow breeders, I feel no desire to persuade the intentionally childless to change their minds. Lurk in their forums long enough and you’ll conclude that inflicting any of them on children would be cruel.

With that said, I think what we have to remember, when considering research like that featured in Newsweek, is that the purpose of our lives is not the maximization of our own happiness. If that’s your aim, then eat, drink, and be merry. On your deathbed, gather about you your pictures of stress-free European vacations, those novels you had time to relish, the pay stubs from all the work that being childless enabled you to do.

I will have gone before you, most likely, because having children is hard work, and stressful, and at times it sucks the very life from your bones. But I will go, God willing, to the sounds of my children, and their children, having knit myself into a community not of selfish convenience, but of blood and toil and heartache and joy. I’ve made every mistake it’s possible to make as a husband and father, but this is where I belong.

So go immerse yourself in the wonder of You, and I will pour myself out for this helpless flesh of my flesh. Go live your sterile marriage, and I will struggle to preserve this union that has brought forth life. Have your happiness, and I will take my portion of suffering, and we will see whose joy is greater, in this life and the next.


  1. al

    And yet it will be the Christians, I hope, who care for the childless aged. It may well be that their selfish hearts are hardened by the visit from The First Church youth choir, singing What ‘ere My God Ordains is Right but perhaps God’s grace will bust ’em wide open instead.

    I pray for the latter.

    al sends

    PS? we at http://www.afterthebasket.wordpress.com love this here blog.

  2. MMM

    Nice post, except I’m on the childless side. But I’ve spent my working years serving other people’s children, and witnessed every stage of life from life to death, and I have been happy.
    Because I am childless I cannot say what I would have been like as a parent; as Aslan said, no one ever knows what would have happened. However, I can say that not having children has made me a better servant to the world, and I have been pleased and grateful to be of service, and if that makes me a doorwoman in the house of God when we all get there, then so be it. But I dare say that no one would ever refuse me as a babysitter or teacher, and for that I am glad.

  3. Marc V

    Hmmm, does this mean that adoptive parents will have even less happiness caring for those who are not “flesh of my(their) flesh”, genetic strangers in need? I’m not trying to put you on the spot, Tony, but that silly Newsweek article, obviously written by the childless and those who have rebellious teenagers.

    What is very striking about parenthood for me is the constant opportunity to be teachers, and thus be like Jesus. His ministry centered on teaching, where many called him “teacher” (or rabbi) though he was not trained as one. The main lesson I receive from my children is love (with a minor in patience!). It’s difficult to not feel pity for those who choose to remain childless and miss out on the heart expansion.

  4. Paul

    MMM – I think Tony is expressing dismay at those couples who deliberately choose childlessness out of selfishness, not those whose circumstance leads them there, nor those who choose childlessness as some choose singleness, as a sacrifice made to serve God and His people more effectively.

  5. Heather

    I’ll assume we aren’t targeting those who have severe trouble becoming pregnant. At 29 I’ve seen more than my share of friends miscarry time and time again. They want nothing more than to share their lives with a child, but it doesn’t seem to be in God’s plan. Must they adopt to be accepted into the norms of society? And at what age will I start being “pitied”? Those of us who are single and established want nothing more than to deck those who ask “So… when are you going to find someone and settle down?”. Then once you are married, it turns immediately to “So… when are you going to have children?”.

    I haven’t yet decided if I will have a child. Being a product of divorce, I have a fear of possibly having to raise a child without a father. People leave, things happen. Do I really want to put my child through what I lived through? I can only hope I make better decisions than my parents did.

    My point being, everyone has their own back story that no one will ever know. And please, Marc, try a little harder not to feel pity. The heart expands in many ways.

  6. Robert Talbert

    The punchline of the article is that (according to the research, which I should probably look up and digest) there’s no statistically significant difference in “happiness level” between those with children and those without. So, it’s not that having kids makes one UN-happy, or not having kids makes you happier than if you did have kids. It’s just that kids don’t cause happiness.

    But isn’t this totally obvious? Nothing can “make” a person happy. We can only choose to take satisfaction and pleasure in something, or choose not to. We can be sensitive to the joy of God’s creation and His gifts to us, or insensitive. Only God Himself can enter in and “cause” happiness. No kid can do that.

    PS: @Marc, both my kids are adopted and the whole thing about them not sharing my genes is absolutely a non-issue.

  7. CJ

    And Alison liked you so much she sent me here as well, and I like what I read every bit as much as she thought I would.

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