Raising Richmond: Parenting and happiness

Earlier this month, New York Magazine published an article exploring the notion that people with children are less happy than their child-free counterparts. In response to that, today we answer the question: Are you happy (or happier) being a parent?

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Earlier this month, New York Magazine published All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting, an article by Jennifer Senior exploring the notion that people with children are less happy than their child-free counterparts. More than two weeks later, Senior’s article has drawn over 560 comments (and counting) and continues to spark conversations among and between parents and nonparents alike.

So in response to this article and the dialogue it’s inspired, we’re tackling this question: Are you happy (or happier) being a parent?

The Salgados

My husband always adored Bill Cosby and thought he was hilarious. Even as teenagers before marriage and children, he would belly laugh over his parenting bits, which were a comical take on his slight annoyance of life with kids who he called “those people”.

As a bright and shiny aspiring preschool teacher and child development major, I was always horrified. My entire life was spent around kids, enjoying their company and investing in their futures. Even though I knew Bill Cosby really probably loved his kids and life, I said a secret prayer that I would never become like that.

Fast forward sixteen years to living in a house with less than 1200 square feet with a dog and four kids, (two of whom are total firecrackers) and on a tight income with both parents working. I am physically and emotionally spent in ways I never really imagined. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you there are days when I fantasize about what I would do with total freedom, things like go to the bathroom by myself, sleep till 9am, and go for a spontaneous weekend trip to NYC. I totally get Bill Cosby now, I nod my head like I’m in church and laugh till I cry at that old bit now. I sit by my husband on the couch and hold his hand, my ally and friend in a world where we are greatly outnumbered. I laugh in knowing there is a confidence in believing the truth and joy still existing.

And then a new study comes out, telling me I am not as happy and fulfilled as my peers without children. Apparently, because I work and have four children, I am downright miserable. I laugh after finishing the article and wonder why it even matters. I must be a glutton for punishment as I chose this life four times over. I think about how Lucy (age four) told me last week that she wished her poop was pink with glitter, how I missed a concert because the babysitter had an emergency, how Jack waited until he lost two teeth to double up on the tooth fairy, how exhausted I was after cooking a dinner no one liked, how Josiah believes in our family kindness work, how our kids are on the computer way too much just like us, how the baby insists on playing the running hug game, how hard and joyful it all is.

Truth be told, my highs have always been as big as my lows. I can’t imagine it would be different with children or not. I choose “those people” and this beautiful mess over and over again just as I choose happiness. We are not so simple to be or feel just one thing, and I happily embrace it all, for that is what living truly is.

The Catrows

Want to know a 100 percent guaranteed way to get under my skin? Say to a mother- or father-to-be in your best doom-and-gloom voice, “Ohhhh, just wait until the baby comes…”

I’m never sure what people are trying to accomplish with a statement like that. I think part of it comes from a genuine place of not wanting to sugar coat things for their friends, but I’d wager a hefty sum that part of it is also prompted by that age old saying “misery loves company”. I find it frustrating that so many people’s minds automatically go there when thinking about having kids; it paints an unfair picture.

Parenting is hard. Parenting brings with it expectations and tasks and obstacles that can be a giant pain in the ass… but so do most things that are worth doing. Any job you have, any relationship you build, any challenge you take on in your life will have those elements as well. I don’t know why parenting is supposed to be immune to these, especially since it involves the creation and rearing of another human being, of all things. It’s a big job with big responsibilities. And really, really big rewards.

When questions about child-rearing and happiness come up, particularly those comparing the happiness of nonparents to parents, all I can say is “It’s not that simple.” To be frank, if someone were to suggest that I’m personally less happy now than I was before I became a parent (which I suppose the New York Magazine article is indirectly suggesting by saying that my nonparent counterparts are happier than I am), well, I’d call bullshit. Again, it’s not that simple.

There is no way our life will be all flowers and sunshine with a toddler running around; it ain’t gonna happen. But the pre-offspring life I shared with my husband wasn’t all flowers and sunshine either. As we all know, there’s a give and take with everything. Am I thrilled with the fact that my mornings no longer start at 10 or 11am? Negative. But I can tell you (and this is the God’s honest truth, as cheesy as it may sound) that there hasn’t been a single morning in the almost two years our son has been with us that I haven’t been happy to get out of bed and see his face. For someone who struggles with anxiety and The Sads, that is huge.

For me, becoming a mother was a very primal, biological need that I felt down to my core. It was never “Let’s have a baby so we can be happier!” Parenting was something we actively chose but never expected to be easy. And sure, the “stuff” of parenting weighs heavily on me, but that doesn’t mean it overshadows the joy, the silliness, the sweetness, and the new kinds of happiness (both in the day-to-day and retrospective moments) that are now part of my life as a mother.

I can never know, with all things being equal, if the child-free versions of Ross and Valerie Catrow would be happier than who we are now. But I do know that overall, we are happy — happy with each other, happy with our lots in life, and happy with our choice to open that life up to our sweet little man. Early mornings and all.

Ok, your turn

What are your thoughts on parenting and happiness? Are people without kids happier than those with kids? Is it the other way around? Can we ever really know for sure?

  • error

    Report an error

Patience Salgado

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Jeb on said:

    Obviously it boils down to choices. I know there are people without children who quietly ache over the fact that they’ve never had kids. I know there are people with kids who feel trapped. Then there are those without kids who may love ’em but would never want to be parents, and of course those of us whose fulfillment in life is wrapped up in raising our little ones. It’s simply ridiculous for a columnist to write about being wah-wah-wah miserable, cherry pick some psych research to support her thesis like a hypochondriac trolling WebMD for symptoms to claim, and then throw it out there as a cathartic experiment in how many people she can rile up. Or something. She’s probably still pissed that Daria went off the air too.

  2. Kristin Melton on said:

    I too heard the NY Times report on parenting, and saw the follow up on the Today Show. I am totally a beliver that woment put way too much pressure on themselves and make parenting harder. Trust me. I struggle with it every day. Growing up, reading fairy tales and watching romance movies, a fantasy life is created for you. Marriage comes and then the house and then the kids. Where is the white picket fence? When will the dad come home and throw ball in the front yard with the kids? It took me a long time and a lot of life struggles to let go of that fantasy. Sometimes I still yearn for that picture perfect lifestyle that i don’t have. What do I have? I have four fabulous interesting and independant children. They are facinating, demanding, hilarious, smart, opinionated, stong willed, and blooming every day. I too cook dinners that they complain about, make them clean their room and pick up toys, yell at them too much, get frustrated with all of their qualities that I know will serve them in good stead when they become adults, and on and on and on. I always tell them that I love them no matter what. I love them for who they are and who they want to be. I love them for all of lifes experiences that will come along. I love them for their spunk and joy and pull for them every day. I am not perfect. I don’t have a white picket fence. I am full of lifes flaws and foibles. I do my best and I love with passion. That my friends, makes me enjoy parenting. The letting go of fantasy. My life certainly is not going the way I thought it would, but for today, that is ok with me. The 4 kids and I are going to go to the pool on this 100 degree day and enjoy ourselves.

  3. Kristin, I also saw the follow-up on the Today Show. I agree that women (people, really) put too much pressure on themselves to be the perfect parent. I feel like it wasn’t like that for my parents’ generation, but I could be wrong.

  4. Kristin Melton on said:

    Valerie, I think that maybe it is a relative thing… you know? Our parents didn’t have the pressue of “things” that we have, but I am sure they had their own pressures that we don’t face in this generation because they paved the way for us. Hopefully this generation will work out some kinks for our children too. Love love love this topic. Think what you and Patience are doing is just great. I have to go right now, one of my girls is throwing a fit because she wants me to make popcorn for her, and she is beating up on her older brother. She just dumped cold water all over him. Sweet!

  5. Kristi on said:

    I heard about the NY Magazine article and had to read it, and then I made my husband read it, too. While we may be exhausted and crazed in our day-to-day life, we are also ridiculously happy because we have two beautiful, demanding, sweet, moody, and amazing little people in our world. I can agree with the author that we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect parents and that children have become “projects” to be groomed and developed into the most perfect thing possible; but, the piece I found most interesting is the lifetime study of high-IQ students where none regretted having children and 10 regretted not having children.

    Some days I may want to scream if I hear “Mommy, Mommy, watch this!” one more time when I’m trying to make dinner so my 3-year-old can take two bites and be done, but I know I’ll never be disappointed when I turn around. My heart breaks a little when I think that one day too soon, I’ll be the one asking for two minutes when he’s so busy with his life, and I hope he’s never disappointed if he stops to turn around.

  6. Way to get me choked up, Kristi. Geez.

  7. I didn’t read the New York article because I don’t fit the profile it represents. I became a parent after having two decades of adulthood all to myself, and I don’t regret it for an instant. I am a solo adoptive parent, so the choice was wholly my own and made after much millennial discernment and with limited immediate-family support (brother: yes; parents: not so much). My daughters (now 5 & 9) challenge, cheer, amaze and exhaust me daily, and I give thanks. My travel and cultural experiences have scaled down, but my imagination and play ones have ratcheted up. Once a practicing poet, I find my creative outlet in fiber rather than words for now, and am equally satisfied. My late parents – who rose to their grandparent role as well as most in their eighth decade could – have left me without financial concerns, so I still get to work at a non-profit job that I love. My girls may have the oldest mom, no dad (“But we have an uncle!”) and no grandparents, but they are happy and so am I. Parenting may not be all joy, but there’s more than enough of it to make it fun. And the fulfillment of parenting is about so much more than fun ~

  8. kelly on said:

    ok, i just have to say:

    i didn’t have children until my thirties, so i spent a fairly good chunk of my adult life childless and i lived it up: i traveled the world, gave 100% of myself to my career, regularly contemplated my bellybutton uninterruptedly for long stretches, stayed up AND slept ridiculously late at every opportunity, and followed every kind of personal gratification and personal exploration rabbit hole you can imagine.

    as i one-handedly type this, i have a whining toddler climbing on me and shoving his cold, sticky hands (did this bald, two foot-tall primate manage to get a popsicle out of the freezer while i wasn’t looking AGAIN?) down my shirt and a noisily discontent preschooler rudely complaining about the breakfast i made him. by the time i finish this post, the preschooler will spill an entire cup of water on my desk and throw a tantrum about god-knows-what, and the toddler will remove his diaper and pee on my lap. i have no idea if i will finish this comment, or if i will manage to finish ANY task i start today, including taking a shower. it’s our marriage anniversary today, and my husband and i will be lucky to have four minutes of uninterrupted conversation, or um…”celebration.” most days i feel like i am caught in a warped, preschool version of that bill murray movie, “groundhog day.”

    forget contemplating my bellybutton; i don’t even RECOGNIZE my bellybutton anymore. even still, i know beyond the shadow of a doubt i am happier than i was without children. exponentially. happier. quantify that, ny times.

  9. 1st point–go Maggi! Admire you for all you do.

    2nd–when discussing this article with my husband he said: “think about all the best memories you’ve had in your life. How many of them were before kids?” I will be thinking about that question for a long time, and smiling because I know my life would never be as rich without them.

  10. Child-Free in RVA on said:

    The best part about a woman’s right to choose is that I never felt that making babies was something that I had to do–getting married was a choice I made, and together my husband and I chose not to reproduce.

    This is where I’d like to take a moment to thank our moms and grandmas and great grandmas for women’s lib and feminism and for the choices they made and the marches they went to so that we could have our choices that we take for granted today. Thanks for birth control, legislation that protects women’s rights, and for my right to choose what to do with my own body. Thanks, ma!

    I made the choice to be child-free and I’ve never regretted it for one second. I love that I’ve never had to quit drinking for 9 months, I love not ever having to wipe anyone else’s ass, and I really love the freedom that comes with not being responsible for another person’s happiness or well-being. (My first reaction when someone up there mentioned never being able to go to the bathroom alone: OMG/WTF. Pooping solo is a RIGHT, y’all, not a privilege.) My experience being child-free has been nothing short of amazing. And I’m sure the same is true for those who have chosen to have kids. I think life is ultimately what you make of it, and how you utilize the choices that you make.

    The best part of being child-free, I never have to burden anyone else when I get old and rickety–I’m planning on preparing my very own Viking Funeral! Let’s do this thing!

  11. I’m so glad we got a comment from someone who has chosen to be child-free!

    I think it’s important to point out, as well, that we aren’t implying here that it’s impossible to be happy without children. We just want to make it clear that is is possible to be happy WITH them.


  12. Jennie on said:

    Coming from someone that doesn’t have children (of my own) (yet), I have to say that being child- free doesn’t make me a happier person than my friends that have children. There are good days and bad days for me- there are good days and bad days for them. I think children bring a certain joy to life that we all need- I find it in my niece and nephew and friends kids for now, everyone else finds it in their own children. Sure- there are times when that joy isn’t very apparent, but I wouldn’t say that makes parents any less happy then I am, being child free. Sure- there are things that I will miss when kids come along- impromptu trips, late nights, etc- but I can’t wait for the new things- first steps, first words, and endless laughter. :)

  13. On “struggles with anxiety and The Sads”, look into vitamin D deficiency, especially a website on that by Dr. John Cannell. With our young child, we spent so much time indoors that we all became vitamin D deficient (what with all the well-meant dermatological advice to stay out of the sun and the lure of the computer). Most people in the USA are vitamin D deficient these day. I’ve also found that following Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s nutritarian eating style (he has a book also on disease-proffing your child) has given me more energy for parenting (and helped me lose 40lbs extra weight). Of course, I never had so much upper body strength as from carrying around our child as a toddler. :-) So, good points and bad points about parenting. And I might not have learned all this health stuff to my own benefit without having a child.

  14. It seems like this is about cautioning people about the consequences and sacrifices involved in having kids at the expense of making parents look like idiots/martyrs. I hate that scare tactic about your life being ruined when kids come as much as the next person, but then again, it’s pretty F’n true. Kids are a wrecking ball. The revelation for me is that you can adapt an rebuild. Ruination, it turns out, is tolerable. You can amuse yourself looking suspiciously at “those people” as Bill Cosby put it, learning not to kick them to clear a path to the coffee pot, and find ways to cope and to humor yourself. Also, you don’t have to go through it alone. The kids and the spouse can be a hell of a lotta fun while toiling in the rubble of your ruined life.

  15. Jennifer on said:

    First of all- “Kelly”i loooovvveeee your comment. another friend of mine actually cut and pasted your quote out and sent it along with this link in an email today- and I tried posting it as my facebook status. i can relate perfectly. and patience such love and honesty- great stuff. i also read the ny times article and yeah- i do get their points (obviously)- i have a 17 month and almost 3 year old- I GET IT- but i think my problem with the article was the word “happiness”- which i think is a much deeper thing- and i yes- the blessed babes have certainly made me crankier, tired, moodier, etc,,,but I’m happier. I was probably in a much better MOOD for long, luxourious periods of time that physical fitness, a social life outside a playground, a great husband who i had time to love on, all the sleep i needed, recreational reading, drinking, etc…can provided. but the babes- in all of its sacrifice and tedioum -is what is making me deeply, deeply happy. Valerie- i htink you would like the rebuttal to the NY times article that was on salon.com a few weeks ago- it’s the same sort of gist you are getting at.

  16. gianna on said:

    Even through tantrums and biting and getting peed on, I do not in any capacity wish for my pre-child life. I am far happier with my son in my life than I ever was without him. Is it all roses and unicorns..heck no! But it is a much richer and happier life. The good far outweighs the bad. It is a new chapter in my life and I embrace it with a full heart and a smile that is often returned with special moments shared between my son and I.

  17. Annie Mesa on said:

    As someone whose 2 children graduated from college last year and are out on their own, I have enjoyed reading this blog and all the comments from those of you still in the melee of raising young children. I have all the time in the world to myself again (after work of course), can follow my interests and activities without interruption, have adult conversations, sleep late if I want to, etc. etc. etc. I love this time of my life, but I loved the raising children years too. Isn’t the real challenge just to be happy with whatever you have chosen, children or not children? If I could, I would go back in a second to enjoy it even more, even the exhaustion! Cherish all those moments you young parents! It sounds SO TRITE and I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, but it is SO TRUE! Before you know it, you will have grey hair and college tuition bills, and your babies will be much taller, emotionally healthy, contributing members of society because of the solid foundation you are giving them right now! This world needs your wonderful children as wonderful adults! Enjoy and remember that you will get to sleep all you want later!

  18. Jennifer on said:

    Annie- what a sweet note. I’m so glad you posted it!

  19. Julie on said:

    I have way more meaningful fulfillment with my kids than I did before them. I was a very selfish young person, and trying to gratify selfish impulses full-time is not very satisfying, because there is always something you don’t have. But living for the kids…wow. It is like I discovered why it actually matters that I am here in the world.

    Reading the article though…yeah, I do see it has its points. I do long for a new phase in my life journey where I can tend to my own individual growth once my kids are grown, find meaning in my creative projects and travel. And it is hard on my marriage. Mostly because there is conflict when there is so much to do and I seem to notice more of it than anyone else…but if I ask for help I’m “nagging”…so it feels like I’m everybody’s slave. No one is interested in seeing to my comfort or wellbeing, but it is expected that I not “neglect” my kids or God-forbid the needs of my husband. Sometimes, I just want to be allowed to have needs too. Ya know? But I don’t want to be whiny, so I don’t express sentiments like that often.

    The one thing I tell people entering parenthood is to have a good network of trusted sitters for the occasional weekend and/or evening. Things are better if you don’t live like a recluse, go out into grownup land once in a while.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

Or report an error instead