Society and the Unhappiness of Being a Parent

The problem is that society doesn’t support parenthood in the ways it should. We simultaneously tell parents that “it takes a village” and turn our backs on them.

A few weeks ago The Washington Post published a report on a recent study on parenting and happiness.

The headline read,

It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner

Much like many studies reported in the media the headline didn’t exactly match what the study concluded—or even what it studied for that matter. The truth is that although happiness levels drop during transition into parenthood (usually the newborn phase up to two years), after everyone has adjusted they tend to return to “normal.”

But it wasn’t the study that prompted this post. Instead it was the reactions I saw echoed over social media. Many parents (mothers in particular) were reporting that they believed that becoming a parent did in fact make them unhappy, maybe not as unhappy as if their partner died, but unhappy nonetheless.

And these weren’t all new moms who were coming to terms with their new role. Many seasoned mothers were chiming in to say that they too were less happy than they were before becoming a parent.

Sure, their measurement of happiness before and after kids is, for the most part, subjective. If they’ve been parents for a while they might simply be remembering the “good ol’ days” through rose-tinted glasses.

And maybe their expectations of parenthood didn’t match the reality for them. We’ve all been presented multiple misrepresentations of parenthood, and many of these misrepresentations are in conflict with each other.

A huge part of what makes us unhappy when we have children is that parenting is just plain difficult. It is one of most difficult things you will probably do, and most people don’t know how hard it is until their own little “bundle of joy” has changed their life completely.

But no matter how hard it proves to be, quitting is rarely an option. When it gets tough, you have to stick through it.

Even when you’re completely alone. (Most of the time)

Even when you’re depressed. (Been there)

Even when you know you can’t be good for your kids. (At least a few times a week)

Even when you think it will kill you. (I’ve felt this one too)

Just knowing that there are parents out there who feel like parenting is going to kill them is more than enough to make me ask, why? Why is parenting so hard? And more importantly, does it have to be?

Of course there are things about parenting we cannot change or avoid, like toddler meltdowns.

But then there are the things we could change or avoid if our society were structured differently. The problem is that society doesn’t support parenthood in the ways it should.

All of this stems from the individualistic nature of this society paired with the idea that children are property and solely the responsibility of their owner/s (i.e., their parents).

We don’t see them as people first. And because of this we don’t care when they’re hurting. They are someone else’s responsibility after all. They deserve to suffer, not because they did anything wrong, but because their parents are mentally ill, or couldn’t find adequate work.

I have heard people say to parents, “Well, you shouldn’t have had kids if you couldn’t afford them.” Ignoring the child starving in the background, their suffering a punishment for their parent’s hard times.

But children are people and they deserve much more than we are currently giving them. They are the future. They are the legacy of the human race. All of them. We have an ethical responsibility as a society to look out for children, even when they don’t “belong to us.”

But instead of being a member of the village we tell parents it takes to raise their kids, we tell them that it’s all on them because they decided to have children. We act as if those children aren’t a part of our communities. As if their existence solely benefits those who directly care for them. As if they do not have the potential to benefit society as a whole.

They could be the doctors that help us in old age, the builders of our nursing homes, our caretakers, the people who ensure everyone has food, the creators of medicines that benefit us, etc. Who cares if they carry a particular amount of your DNA in them, or if you have adopted them?

The truth is the children of today will be the ones maintaining and improving our world when we are too old to do so. They will do this, and we will benefit without being able to give a great deal back.

If we’re going to place most of the burden of raising up the next generation on parents then at the very least we can offer all parents more support as they raise up the future. Things like PAID parental leave, raising the minimum wage, and universal health care are only the very least we can do.

Think of making our society more supportive of parents as paying it forward, or making an investment in the future.

We all need to support governmental and nonprofit initiatives that help parents give their children the best start possible, while at the same time becoming a more community oriented society in general.

We need to think about the parents we know in our life and ask ourselves what we can do to make their life easier, and then offer that help. We need to create accessible support systems for isolated new parents. We need to stop sitting around waiting for the government to force us to help (via taxes) and just help each other, not because we have to, but because it’s the right thing to do. Because parents are people. Because children are people. Because fighting for scraps gets everyone nowhere.

The future of our society—of all of humanity—is influenced by how we take care of our (i.e., ALL) children. All the small stuff adds up and has the potential to result in a much brighter future.

And as an added bonus, we won’t have studies “proving” that parenting makes people unhappy, or parents claiming that having children has made them less happy. People will have more incentive to have children for the right reasons. Our communities will be happier, because the people who make them up will be happier. If you care about that sort of thing.



 Navarre Overton is the founder of Raising Revolution. She is a stay-at-home mom, feminist, freelance writer, and student. 



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