While checking out at the grocery store recently, I came across a “Special Edition” of TIME Magazine titled, “The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for A More Joyful Life.” As a mom, physician, and life coach, I was intrigued to see what advice was offered, so I picked up the magazine and flipped to the contents. My eye landed on an article titled, “The Parenting Paradox” by Belinda Luscombe.
In summary, the author of the article reflected on the question: “Are people who have children happier than people who don’t?” Most of the article was spent discussing the contrast of experiences in being a parent – the simultaneous “joys and tribulations”—and ultimately determined that being a parent doesn’t necessarily make us happier.
Was I surprised by this conclusion? No. Still, I felt an uneasiness as I thought about this further. Socially, it’s difficult to hear that being a parent doesn’t necessarily make us happier overall. Who wants to think that our children don’t bring us a net positive in terms of the happiness we experience in life?
The truth is, no circumstance in life makes us happier. Rather, it’s how we choose to think about that circumstance that causes our emotional experience. Having children and all that it entails is a neutral life situation. We decide what we make it all mean, and then ultimately how we feel. Does this mean that we should try to be happy about our kids all the time? Not at all!
I regularly talk about the idea of 50/50 balance of positive and negative emotion – meaning that our emotional experiences in life will be a balance of positive and negative feelings. Definitions of happiness and success aside, none of us was meant to live a life that is more happy than not. Most simply put, life is meant to be both happy and sad. It is more fully lived this way. (Have I needed to remind myself of that this week as my son transitioned daycare rooms and was crying at each drop-off? Yes.)
For me, embracing this concept has created so much more fulfillment than trying to be happy all the time. One of the things I teach through coaching though is how to alleviate unnecessary suffering and how to maximize positive emotion through being in control of your mind.
Though our children can, and do, bring us so much joy (i.e. make it easy to think thoughts that create joy), having children can also be the circumstance in which we experience negative emotion too – the worry over a sick child, the sadness of leaving them with another caregiver, the guilt of wondering if we are doing the right thing, the frustration with a child that doesn’t listen to our requests, etc.
Questioning our current belief patterns can help alleviate unnecessary suffering that compounds the challenges that naturally come with being a parent. When we can take a step back and examine our current thoughts about what parenthood and parenting is, and what it “should be”, we are then one step closer to achieving the real joy of parenthood.
Take a few moments these next few days to reflect on your thoughts about your experience as a parent and what you think parenting should be like.
1. Do you currently have expectations of what parenting/being a parent should be like that are causing you to feel frustration, sadness, guilt, or some other negative emotion?
2. What would it be like if you let go of some (or all) of those expectations and just looked the whole experience of being a parent – all the ups and downs – as being perfect just as it is?
(Originally published on my “Happy Physician Mom” email list – July 9, 2019)