Having children: synonymous with happiness?
Having children can be one of the happiest experiences in a person’s life, but this is not necessarily true in 100% of the cases. Although in today’s society there is constant pressure for motherhood to be seen as a blessing, something wonderful, and always as something positive, the truth is that there are media voices that are beginning to talk about the less idyllic aspects of motherhood, and explain to us that not everything that glitters is gold.
Recently the journalist Samanta Villar has raised controversy due to some statements for the newspaper ABC where she expressed that after her recent maternity she is not happier than before and that having children “is losing quality of life”. The attacks and criticism from social networks for these statements are a clear example of the idealization of motherhood.
But what does science say about the relationship between psychological well-being and motherhood?
How do children influence the relationship?
One of the areas that can be most influenced by the birth of a new family member is marital satisfaction . The organization of the couple’s system must be reviewed and adjusted, and may even be considered a crisis. This is because that baby needs all the attention possible, and the couple’s relationship takes a back seat.
When it is time to take up again the role of the romantic relationship, problems appear such as the loss of intimacy of the partner , which can affect communication and sexual relations.
A meta-analysis conducted by Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell and Craig A. Foster and published in 2003 in the Journal of Marriage and Family shows that the transition to parenthood can be made:
1. Increase stress
The increase in the number of tasks the couple has to carry out after the baby is born increases their stress level and generates tension in the couple’s relationship . The latter is due to less time available for communication.
2. Interfering with the relationship
The presence of the new family member can negatively affect the partner’s companionship and their sexual relations .
3. Overloading the roles
As the number of tasks to be carried out increases, parents are forced to perform new roles to the point of being overwhelmed by them.
4. Creating negative evaluations about marriage
This is especially true for women who have less traditional values .
What do the studies say?
The authors argue that there are also cases in which the birth of a baby can produce positive effects on marital satisfaction, thus indicating that some variables can mediate the relationship.
The meta-analysis consisted of 97 articles, corresponding to a total sample of 47,692 participants. The results showed that:
1. Decreases satisfaction with the relationship
People with children had lower partner satisfaction in 90 of the 97 articles analysed. 55% of the people without children indicated that they were satisfied with their relationship, compared to 45% of the people with children.
2. The more children, the less satisfaction
Couples with more children report a worse marital satisfaction than couples with fewer children .
3. Affects women’s satisfaction more
In women, with motherhood, satisfaction in the couple decreases to a greater degree compared to men who enter fatherhood.
4. The effect increases with socioeconomic level
People from high socioeconomic level show less couple satisfaction than those from lower levels.
Consequences for personal happiness
Regarding a person’s happiness when a baby is born, a recent article by authors Jennifer Glass, Robin W. Simon, and Matthew A. Andersson published in the American Journal of Sociology where 22 European countries and the USA are analysed shows that not all countries report less happiness when people are parents.
The USA and Ireland are the countries where the least happy parents are found, while in countries such as Finland, Norway, France and Spain people who have children are happier than people without children.
The authors of this article argue that the lack of policies in favour of parents that help to reconcile family and work life creates greater anxiety and stress for parents, thus diminishing their happiness. The results may seem surprising if we compare the ease of reconciliation between the Nordic countries and Spain.
Motherhood is idealized
As we have seen, having children can have negative effects on the quality of life of people. The loss of satisfaction in the couple, the effect on people’s sex lives, stress and anxiety are some of the effects that the arrival of a new family member can have on people.
Thus the idealization of motherhood, silencing all these negative effects, does a disservice to people who suffer emotional discomfort due to those important changes that happen with the birth of a baby. It can also cause a false feeling that the services and aids for family reconciliation are sufficient and thus limit the revision of government policies in this respect.
- Glass, J., Simon, R. W., & Andersson, M. A. (2016). Parenthood and Happiness: Effects of Work-Family Reconciliation Policies in 22 OECD Countries. American Journal of Sociology, 122 (3), 886-929.
- Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K. & Foster, C. A. (2003). Parenthood and Marital Satisfaction: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65 : 574-583.