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Parenting and Marital Happiness

What effect does parenting have on marital happiness? Most of us quickly say that being a parent is the most wonderful, transcendent experience we have ever had. If we were honest with ourselves, being a parent is tough and if we aren’t careful, our marriage can suffer as a result of having kids.

In our Parenting 101 class last night, Hillary and I showed this video from the TEDWomen Conference in which Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman describe four parenting taboos.

The fourth taboo they discuss is the following: “you can’t say your average happiness has declined.” They show the following graphic from the book “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert.

From "Stumbling on Happiness"

According to this graphic, our marital happiness nose dives when we have kids and doesn’t go up until our kids go to college. Yet most parents say they are happy and satisfied with kids. On Griscom and Volkman’s website, Babble,¬†Elizabeth Mitchell dives deeper into this myth of happiness that parents have. Mitchell argues that as we become parents our framework of happiness changes. She quotes Gilbert as saying,

“It turns out that if you average all the moments, they balance out a little on the negative side. Being a parent lowers your average daily happiness. But average daily happiness isn’t all there is to be said about happiness. Indeed one could make the case that average happiness across a day isn’t what we’re trying for. As human beings, it’s not our aim. It shouldn’t be our goal. What we should be looking for is special transcendent moments that may even come at the cost of a lower average. In my own experience that’s probably not a bad description of a day with a kid. You know, lots of ‘no’s,’ ‘not yet,’ ‘not now,’ ‘ask me later,’ punctuated by brief moments that are sublime. As social mammals, these are the moments that give us great, great pleasure. That moment when the kid looks up and says, ‘I love you, Daddy.'”

How does this relate to your experience? How has your framework of happiness changed as a result of having children? Next week in our Parenting 101 class at church Hillary and I are asking the question, “How go from just managing our marriage to flourishing in our marriages?” So often if feels like we are just managing schedules, date nights and kids’ activities. How do we change that?