Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

The more the merrier: More kids = more joy for married couples November 15, 2009

On The Soup last Friday, Joel McHale made a crack about TLC‘s penchant for shows about families with multiple kids, chiding them for the two things the network seems to do best–stick to a format and ruin a marriage. While media channels continue to drag Jon and Kate Gosselin‘s troubles to the spotlight, a new study by Dr. Luis Angeles from the University of Glasgow reports findings indicating that having children improves married peoples’ life satisfaction and the more they have, the happier they are. For unmarried individuals, raising children has little or no positive effect on their happiness.

When asked about the most important things in their lives, most people place their children near or even at the top of their list. Contrary to previous studies on this topic, Dr. Angeles’ analysis of the relationship between having children and life satisfaction takes into account the role of individual characteristics, including marital status, gender, age, income and education.

For married individuals of all ages and married women in particular, children increase life satisfaction and life satisfaction goes up with the number of children in the household. Negative experiences in raising children are reported by people who are separated, living as a couple, or single, having never been married. Children take their toll on their parents’ satisfaction with social life, and amount and use of leisure time.

Dr. Angeles concludes: “One is tempted to advance that children make people better off under the ‘right conditions’ — a time in life when people feel that they are ready, or at least willing, to enter parenthood. This time can come at very different moments for different individuals, but a likely signal of its approach may well be the act of marriage.”

I might add that, of the happy, successful, larger families with whom I’m personally familiar, it really does seem to come down to partnership–not only between the husband and wife, but among their offspring. Committed partners help one annother, and teach their children to do so as well. In happy families with many children, you’ll often find older children assisting younger siblings without begrudging it, because their parents model that value. And let’s not forget gratitude: parents who demonstrate thankfulness for one another and for their children encourage their kids to be thankful for one another as well.

I also look to larger families to learn better time management and organization. In our house, I’m frequently amazed by the chaos created by only two preschoolers–some might say we’ve already reached critical mass–and I can’t imagine having the energy to bring in a third (and let’s be honest, I’m not getting any younger). 

Having children is, to be certain, a tremendous amount of work. Thank goodness our children also bring us a heightened experience of happiness, although I have to wonder how that balance between work and reward is maintained if beleagured by the constant presence of a film crew?

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