In the last number of years a good amount of material has been published about the rewards of parenting. Are parents truly happier? Is parenting worth it? Many of these articles highlight the downsides of being a parent. Dirty diapers. Crying babies. Bulging tummies. Tyrranical teenagers. Authors (often childless) tell us that parents are more stressed, their marriages are less idyllic. They convey the message that parents are less happy than their childless counterparts who travel the world, grow their bank accounts, eat out, attend the movies and pursue ambitious professional dreams. In a culture that values immediate gratification many now assume that parenting is just not worth it. Choosing a child-free life has become an increasingly acceptable option, even among married American women.
Yet, interestingly, when researchers ask parents whether they would make the choice to be a parent again they get an overwhelming response. Yes. 94% of parents would do it again. On the other hand, only 24% of childless adults over 40 would choose childlessness again.
Why the discrepancy? Perhaps the hard work of parenting has its own rewards. Studies support this idea. A study recently published in Psychological Science showed that older adults with children are happier than their childless peers. Another worldwide 2011 Pew Research study showed that while parents in their twenties rated themselves as less happy than their friends without children, this trend equalized during the thirties and then reversed itself in a person’s forties and fifties. After fifty, the more children one had, the greater the happiness. Other studies have supported the idea that the happiness of parents grows as they age. Interestingly, studies also show that parents of all ages, happy or not, find more meaning in life than parents who do not have children. Parenting is hard, creative work akin to planting a garden, playing the piano or painting. But the work of parenting has both tangible rewards and intangible satisfactions. Many of the tangible rewards come in the middle and later years of life as children become interesting adults and as parents begin to realize their own multi-generational impact on a growing family.
Of course there are those who cannot have children of their own. Many of these adults can and still do choose to impact the lives of children in other meaningful ways. But to those who have the option – consider the rewards.
Parenting is not glamorous. But choosing to have children pays great dividends. It is a choice to devote oneself to an endeavor with endless potential and with limitless possibilities for growth and for good – choosing children is choosing to invest in, to advance, and to create life itself.