Significantly, once kids leave home, things seem to improve. The same study suggested that the happiness level of empty-nesters was comparable to people who never had children. The authors suggest that while kids are still living at home, "the emotional demands of parenthood may simply outweigh the emotional rewards of having children.
How to Enjoy the Often Exhausting, Depressing Role of Parenthood - The Atlantic
While postpartum depression usually dissipates within a few months or a year after the birth of a child, regular old parental blues can wax and wane over the entire period during which your child is living at home. There are additional factors, beyond the fatigue associated with caring for a child, that contribute to it. Luckily, there are ways to combat it. Another important reason that parenthood can be so difficult is that it puts an enormous strain on the central relationship in the family : the relationship of the parents. Couples can often experience a drop in marital happiness that affects one's overall well being.
After having a child, people often notice that they are not communicating as well with their partners as they did in their pre-child relationship; they may not handle conflicts as well, and may report an overall loss of confidence in the relationship. In fact, the negative changes can seem to outweigh the positive. Though people who don't have kids also experience a decline in happiness throughout their marriage, it is gradual, without the sudden drop associated with having kids.
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Other factors, like age and how settled you are in life may also influence how parenthood affects you. Older parents are generally less at risk for depression than younger ones. Parents still in their early 20s appear to have the hardest time because they are struggling with their own move from adolescence to adulthood while at the same time learning to be parents. This may be because younger first-time parents aren't totally grown up themselves, and there is more risk for a "disordered transition from adolescence to adulthood. Other factors that can affect both your relationship with your significant other and your feelings about parenthood include whether the pregnancy was planned or not, one's mood before the birth of a child, and the degree of sleep disruption you experience as a new parent.
Though not all of the variables that affect our relationship to parenthood are within our control age, our partner's behaviors, our children's specific needs , there is a lot that is within our power. Changing our attitudes toward parenthood can make a big difference in our perception of it. Below are some things one can do to derive more joy from the experience and minimize the melancholy. Despite all of the evidence that parenthood can be hard on the psyche, parents also experience times of fulfillment that are hard to beat.
Sometimes it's the little moments of parenting -- like the way your toddler says "bsghetti" or how she hums when she is coloring -- that make the difference, and paying attention to these can have a big impact. Some studies have found that when people are actively parenting, it's these specific moments in time that are linked to the highest levels of happiness. Having kids generally entails some level of sacrifice, as some parents are eager to remind their kids.
But reminding yourself of the cost and the benefits can actually help your attitude toward parenting. It may sound a little dire, but recalling how much you have sacrificed to have your own kids can actually help you appreciate the endeavor more. When people were asked to recall the financial sacrifices they'd made for their kids, they also reported being much happier as parents than those who were not asked to recall the financial pain of parenthood. This could be viewed as simply a rationalization, but the same study found that parents who were first encouraged to idealize parenthood and visualize all the pleasant things involved reported many fewer feelings of negativity about being a parent.
Focusing on the positive also minimized the negative. Rather than lamenting the costs associated with your child's education, try to focus on the many ways in which it will benefit him or her. Say to yourself, "Yes, it costs a lot, but my child is getting a good education, learning to think critically, making friends, and learning to play violin and basketball.
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As most parents will tell you, leisure time -- doing fun activities by yourself or with your spouse -- is a key to parental happiness. In fact, studies have found that after women became mothers, they enjoyed their leisure time more than before which is not surprising, since there is much less of it after the baby comes along. Personal time, either by yourself or with your partner, is an important part of maintaining your sense of self -- and your sanity. Pursue a project you want to do; take a walk, visit a museum, listen to a CD you love.
In the same study, women also rated their moods as less negative toward their relatives after the birth of the child, which could suggest that having a baby makes one a little less hard on family members. Spending time with your spouse is also an important tool for getting through parenthood. Though couples' alone time drops off sharply after a baby is born, it tends to climb in the months after -- maybe not to pre-baby levels, but still.
And the kind of leisure time couples spent before the baby is born has a lot to do with how well the relationship works after the baby is born. For example, women who spend more time enjoying leisure activities with their husbands before having a child are generally happier in the first year of their child's life. For men, the situation is similar: the fewer leisure activities men do by themselves , the less conflict they experience after the baby is born.
So make sure that you have a night out with your significant other, whether or not you're a parent.
If you haven't yet had a child, make the most of your time together, because it will translate to the strength of your relationship postnatally. And if you already have kids, make sure to give yourselves a night off once in a while, since doing so can increase your bond with each other, which will be a benefit to your child as well. Parents are a self-conscious, self-serious group these days. The "helicopter" phenomenon -- parents who monitor their kids' every move and pack their kids' schedules full of extracurricular or educational activities -- is becoming more widespread.
But as helpful as we try to be, sometimes we do too much. And doing less can also make parenting more pleasurable. At the playground, stand back and be slower to step in. Kids need play -- as much as parents -- to help them learn their way in the world. Studies have found a decline in free play in the last few decades that is not only linked to, but may actually cause, the increased levels of depression, anxiety, feelings of helplessness and loss of control, and other negative effects that we seeing increasing in kids these days.
When you focus on a list of tasks your child "should" do, you end up creating power struggles. Instead of your "holding him responsible," he becomes motivated to take responsibility for himself. It's a subtle shift, but it makes all the difference in the world. Begin by helping your child, until she learns it. She'll learn it faster if you can be cheerful and kind about it and remember not to worry about spilled milk. Encourage her to help by handing her a sponge as you pick one up yourself, even when it's easier to do it yourself. As long as you aren't judgmental about it--so she isn't defensive--she'll want to help clean up and make things better.
So when your toddler spills her milk, say "Oops, milk spilled. That's ok. We can clean it up," as you hand her a paper towel and pick one up yourself. When your preschooler leaves her shoes scattered in your path, hand them to her and ask her to put them away, saying kindly "We always clean up our own stuff. You will have to do this, in one form or another, until they leave your home. But if your approach is positive and light-hearted, your child won't get defensive and whine that you should do the cleanup.
And when kids hear the constant friendly expectation that "We always clean up our own messes Don't worry, I'll help Here's the paper towels for you; I'll get the sponge All children contribute to the rest of us in some way, regularly. Whatever behaviors you acknowledge will grow. As your children get older, their contributions can increase appropriately, both within and outside the household.
Kids need to grow into two kinds of responsibilities: their own self care, and contributing to the family welfare. Research indicates that kids who help around the house are also more likely to offer help in other situations than kids who simply participate in their own self care. Of course, you can't expect them to develop a helpful attitude overnight.
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It helps to steadily increase responsibility in age appropriate ways. Invite toddlers to put napkins on the table, three year olds to set places. Four year olds can match socks, and five year olds can help you groom the dog. Six year olds are ready to clear the table, seven year olds to water plants, and eight year olds to fold laundry.
Again, notice that you're inviting and empowering your child, not guilting and burdening them. Unless you want your child to think of contributing to the family as drudgery, don't "make" him do chores without you until they are a regular part of your family routine, and one that your child does not resist. Your goal isn't getting this specific job done, it's shaping a child who will take pleasure in contributing and taking responsibility.
Make the job fun. Give as much structure, support, and hands-on help as you need to, including sitting with him and helping for the first thirty times he does the task, if necessary. Know that it will be much harder than doing it yourself. Remind yourself that there's joy in these tasks, and communicate that, along with the satisfaction of a job well done.
Eventually, he will be doing these tasks by himself.
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That day will come much faster if he enjoys them.