Analysis

Research says Americans are the most unhappy parents in the world, but why?

Italy, birth rate, parent

Research has found that American parents find it more enjoyable to shop, prepare food, do the dishes, or watch TV than to spend time with their children. In fact, compared to parents in 22 other Western countries, American parents have the biggest gap in happiness levels compared to non-parents. And non-parents are easily and quickly agitated by the mere presence of children. So what is it about the American expectations of parenthood and children that has turned the United States into a nation of people who either don’t want children or are so-called unhappy parents? There are multiple theories.

Devaluing of motherhood

The United States has been following a negative trend of both devaluing motherhood and placing extreme pressure on mothers. Stay-at-home mothers are viewed by society as non-participants in the world — mainly in the economy. These women are depicted as Bon Bon-eating, soap opera binging, (practically) non-members of society. But they are also expected to raise well-behaved, silent, tidy children who never have a tantrum and never cry. And mothers who also work outside of the home are expected to work as if they don’t have children and parent as if they don’t have jobs outside the home. Motherhood is seen as unproductive, yet as a job requiring perfection.

“We really need to get back to honoring and valuing motherhood and telling young women that they can stay home and have babies if that is really what they have a strong desire to do and that they’re not going to be wasting their time, talents, and education if they do that,” Rebeccah Heinrichs of the Hudson Institute told the Federalist.

These opposing but simultaneous views of motherhood are apparent when it comes to abortion. Motherhood, especially full-time motherhood, has become a symbol of anti-feminism to the secular world, and women who choose such a lifestyle are belittled for it. Yet, motherhood is also considered such an important job that women facing unplanned pregnancies are told they are incapable of raising their surprise babies because they are too young or too under-educated. It’s no wonder young women are postponing motherhood in favor of building their careers or turning to abortion when an unplanned pregnancy occurs. They are struggling to fit into this impossible mold of what it means to be a woman and a mother.

Expectations of child behavior

Yes, parenting is hard work, especially in the years when children are young. According to the Institute for Family Studies, American parents are hyper-focused on their children as individuals instead of as members of the family and society. American parents respond with more excitement when their babies kick, roll over, crawl, or take their first steps. Everything their child does — no matter how normal — is a reason to celebrate.

“Self-esteem, in particular, is an American notion; most other languages don’t even have a word for it,” said Kay Hymowitz of the Institute for Family Studies. “This is true even in other cultures known for their individualism. Nordic children, for instance, are heirs of a tradition of modesty and reticence often referred to as Jante’s Law, a set of principles which can be boiled down to ‘Don’t think you’re somebody special.'” Rolling over, crawling, walking — none of these are particularly “special,” yet American parents are often overcome with emotion when their child reaches these milestones. Not so in nations like Denmark.

A study from the University of Connecticut on the differences between Dutch and American parents found that the “contrast couldn’t be more striking.” American parents need to keep their babies stimulated with attention placed on meeting the child’s individual urges while Dutch parents focus on building good sleep habits and teaching the child to live within the family. American parents organize their lives around their babies while Dutch babies adapt to the family schedule. As a result, Dutch children sleep through the night earlier than American children and average two more hours of sleep a day — which would make any parent happier.

Children in other countries such as France are also taught early on that they are not the center of the universe. French toddlers learn to say “Bonjour” to adults because they need to “learn they are not the only ones with feelings and needs.” As a result, reported the Insitute for Family Studies, there is very little “shrieking or whining” to be heard from French children. Another factor that could play a role in daily parental happiness levels.

Lack of support

Another theory as to why American parents report such low happiness levels is that there isn’t enough support for families. Compared to the rest of the Western world, America lacks paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers.

Researcher Jennifer Glass of the University of Texas, Austin, explained, “Unlike its economically developed counterparts, the U.S. has done little to offset the costs of raising children and ameliorate the incompatibility between employment and childcare.”

When society began expecting both parents to work outside the home, the costs of raising children began to include daycare — from about six weeks after birth to age five. Without paid parental leave, women are returning to work less than two months after giving birth. This leads to exhaustion and feelings of guilt which can cause unhappiness. In countries with solid paid parental leave policies, subsidized childcare, and more paid sick days and vacation days, happiness levels among parents are higher.

READ: Pregnancy resource centers provide for women in Texas… and across the nation

A perceived lack of support is what leads many women to abortion. These women feel they are incapable of caring for their children on their own because they are unable to take time off of work or school and unable to afford daycare.

While support does exist for women facing unplanned pregnancies through pro-life pregnancy centers around the U.S., many women are unaware that this help exists. Likewise, while Medicaid can help cover the costs of pregnancy-related health care and health care for the baby, pro-abortion politicians are now pushing not for more support for mothers from the government, but for the government to pay for abortions. Why? Because it is cheaper for the government to pay for poor women’s abortions than to help them pay for the costs associated with raising children. The message that women cannot be effective parents due to circumstances and then aborting a child because of that pressure can lead to depression and the inability to properly bond with future children.

Day to day versus long term happiness

Whether parents are truly less happy than non-parents is, of course, dependent on the family. But while parents may report lower day-to-day happiness levels than non-parents, they also report feeling more fulfilled in life than non-parents do.

Jennifer Senior, author of “All Joy and No Fun,” explains it this way: “[N]o one — and nothing — provides us with so much joy as our children. It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life-tales.”

A study by social psychologist Roy Baumeister found that the more time people spend taking care of children, the more meaningful their lives are — even if they felt their lives weren’t any happier after having children.

In relation to abortion, even the flawed, pro-abortion Turnaway study found that few women regret being unable to obtain an abortion once their children are born. One week after being denied an abortion, 65% of participants still wished they could have aborted their babies, but after birth, that number dropped dramatically to just 12%. By the child’s first birthday, only 7% said they still wished they could have had an abortion. And by the time the child was five years old, only 4% of the participants felt this way.

So while non-parents may report more feelings of happiness in day-to-day life, clearly, there is no comparing happiness once a child has been born. Likewise, children should not be charged with making parents happy. Life may be busier and more stressful because there is another human being who needs attention and care, but one could easily argue that the moments of joy that do exist in parenthood trump any single moment of joy prior to parenthood.

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