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According to science, mothers are unhappy

Ah. Another day, another news piece about the miseries of procreating. Super-dupes!

Various media outlets are delightedly pouncing on a “study” about just how stupid you were to have kids. My fave headline so far? “Sorry, Mummies, But Having Children Doesn’t Actually Make You Happy, Science Finds.” Written by a dude with a vendetta against mommy blogs — how refreshing! — this gleefully smug blip of an article starts off like this: 

“If you read the average ‘Mummy blog’, you could be forgiven for thinking that having children was the one, true portal to happiness and life satisfaction. But it turns out having a child may actually be a portal to a life of eternal misery surrounded by stinking nappies and expensive, ungrateful brats.”

Charming stuff, right? The dismissiveness — only toward mothers who dare confess they love their kids; no mention of irritatingly happy dads here — is striking. I’m less than impressed with any “news” that tries to get my attention with a thesis statement that roughly translates to: “Those women who say they are happy? They’re lying. They’re not. And I have proof.”

Fine. Where is this magical proof that all self-confessed “happy mummies” are lying through their teeth? Excellent question. The “study” itself is shrouded in mystery. This is the extent of the sciencing that I could find:

“Andrew Clark, of the Paris School of Economics, said at a conference in London this week, ‘Children are a great idea, thinking about having children is a good idea. Having them is a good idea. Having them is a good idea for up to 12 months… We could not find systematically large effects [on well-being] from children.’”

That’s all you got? Imma need a little more before I get on board the “you’re stupid if you think your kids make you happy” train.

The Daily Mail also covered this conference, and quoted Clark as saying, “Is having a family good for you in the long run? Having a partnership is… We found a positive effect from having a partner that doesn’t go away over time.”

So, basically: Nice job on snagging a partner. But breeding with them? Bad move. Your life’s about to tank, and it’s all your fault. You may think you like your kids now, but hey, you’re wrong.

The scientific method behind this research is, so far, only clear to those at the Paris School of Economics. I couldn’t find the methodology online that they used to determine “Partner good; babies bad.”

I have no doubt that there are many parents who would press rewind on their life’s remote and snag a do-over with fail-proof birth control and a majorly chill life of world travel and disposable income. But for every disgruntled, regretful mother or father, there’s certainly another who can’t imagine life without their kids. I’m one of them, and there’s nothing cloying or self-serving about that statement. I thought I would like being a mom. I lucked out because it turns out I was right. And I’m not often right. I like — and love, so sue me — being a mother. My kids complicate my life, and there have been times when I have wanted to flee to a sheep farm in New Zealand with a new identity. But would I trade them for anything? Nope. And if you don’t believe that, that’s really your problem, not mine, isn’t it?

I’m no Pollyanna, either. Stinking nappies? No argument there. My two daughters have an entire landfill devoted just to their Dora the Explorer Pull-Ups. Kids are expensive? You betcha. The cost of those Dora the Explorer Pull-Ups alone would have scored me a balcony cabin on a round-the-world cruise. So you got me there, Dude Who Hates Mommy Blogs, Researchers Eager to Link Having Children with Eternal Misery and Media Ever On the Ready to Discredit Women.

If you haven’t noticed, dads and not-dads don’t get called out in the follow-up articles about research like this. Women get the backlash — as usual — and good luck trying to escape judgment. You’re a mother who loves being a mother? You’re lying. You’re fake. You’re a mother who is unhappy being a mother? You’re a horrible person. You deserve terrible things to happen to you. You’re a woman who decided not to have children? You’re selfish. There’s something wrong with you. You’re not normal.


Why are we so afraid of happy parents? More important, why the hell is our society so afraid of happy mothers? Why are we so obsessed with proving what a pain in the ass parenting is? What’s with the schadenfreude-laced articles about the joy of parenting being short-lived at best?

Unless you’ve been stalked for years by throngs of terrifying mommies rioting on your property and throwing bricks through your living room window with notes declaring that babies are the only reason to go on living, I can’t see the threat in the whole live-and-let-live approach. If you tell me you have kids and they rock your world on a regular basis, I choose to believe you — and I’m smart enough to know that doesn’t mean you’re saying it’s all roses all the time. If you’re glad you didn’t have kids, I choose to believe you too, and it makes me happy that you knew that about yourself. And if you are struggling mightily because you thought having kids would make you happier than it does, I’m never going to rejoice in your misery — or say, “Andrew Clark told you so.” I’m just going to pour you a glass of merlot… and listen.

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