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Parenting and Happiness

By Melissa McQuarrie

Twenty-one years ago I wrote the following in my daughter’s baby journal: “It’s a lovely morning—sunny, yet hazy in the hills with wisps of fog. The baby and I have had a pleasant morning playing downstairs. She squealed and rocked on her hands and knees as I played her Raffi tape. Then I fed her a little cereal and read her her Spot books. Now, as I sit with her on my lap, feeding her with her little spoon and listening to her smack her lips and say, ‘Hmmm,’ her Baby Beluga tape playing in the background, with just the two of us sharing this happy day, I wonder, did I ever know pure happiness until this moment?”

***

This past weekend I read an article in the Deseret News entitled, “Why Children?” in which the author, Michael de Groote, discussed happiness and parenting. According to the studies cited in the article, the two don’t go together. “Scientific studies have found that having children does not increase happiness. In fact, experts say it has the opposite effect,” says De Groote, and he claims that these findings “are confirmed across decades of research.” He refers to a 1989 study that concluded that “parents with children at home worry more, feel less efficacious and are less happy with their marriages than nonparents,” then goes on to quote a Harvard psychology professor who asserts that most couples’ happiness begins to decline when children come along; this decline is especially acute when children are small and when they become adolescents, with couples returning to their pre-parenting happiness levels only after their children leave the nest. In another study cited in the article, researchers assert that “the best evidence now available indicates that the present young adults should not decide to have children on the basis of expectations that parenthood will lead to psychological rewards in the later stages of life. The prospects for such rewards seem rather dim, at best.”

***

As Latter-day Saints, we believe we have a sacred duty to have children. In fact, the plan for our progression, which we often call the plan of happiness, includes having children of our own and creating families. We believe that we fulfill the measure of our creation by having posterity, and that we will have joy in doing so. Not only do we endorse having children and believe that parenting is one of life’s central purposes, we teach that our reward for righteous living will be a state of joy in which, among other things, we’ll have the privilege of…. being a parent forever.

Yet, if the research De Groote cites in his article has any validity, one could argue that eternal parenting sounds more like eternal misery than eternal happiness. Hmmm. I will say that now that I’ve had some experience as a mother, I’ve learned that, though I love my children beyond words, parenting is HARD. Blood, sweat, and tears hard. It definitely can make you vulnerable and susceptible to pain in ways you’ve never experienced before and it has the tendency to thrust all of your weaknesses to the forefront. And yes, sometimes you can go through periods in your marriage when, despite your best intentions, the demands of parenting leave you and your spouse stressed out and stretched thin, with little left for each other.

But therein lies the paradox. I believe it’s precisely because parenting is so hard that it also has the potential for lasting, significant joy. And I mean joy, not the world’s definition of happiness, which can be fleeting and superficial—and hard to quantify in a scientific study. Joy entails work and commitment. Joy is a richer, deeper emotion, closely tied to its counterpart, sorrow, and children provide us with plenty of both. Eve must have understood this keenly as she nursed her newborns, then later wept over Cain and Abel.

***

It’s been many years since those sunny days I spent with my firstborn, wrapped in a cocoon of new-mother love, full of plans and hopes and dreams. Though parenting has been harder than I ever imagined, that love has swelled and deepened, sanctified and shaped me. Nothing has challenged me and humbled me to the dust more than parenting, but nothing has been as soul expanding, refining, and fulfilling. And that, to me, is happiness, pure and simple.

Does mothering make you “happy”? Have you been surprised by how challenging parenting can be? Have you also been surprised by how fulfilling it can be? Do you agree with the studies cited by De Groote that marital happiness takes a dip when a couple becomes parents, then improves after children leave home? How can we teach our youth to value and look forward to parenting while giving them realistic expectations of parenting?

About Melissa McQuarrie

(Advisory Board) grew up in Australia and California and now lives in Provo, Utah with her husband, four children, and their dog, Daisy. She served a mission in Peru and has a BA and MA in English from BYU. She loves reading, writing, and quiet afternoons. She does not love grocery shopping. Now that two of her children attend BYU and her youngest children are in high school and junior high, she is trying to adjust to this "emptying nest" stage and still wondering how it snuck up on her so fast.

44 thoughts on “Parenting and Happiness”

  1. Melissa, for me your last question says it all:

    "How can we teach our youth to value and look forward to parenting while giving them realistic expectations of parenting?"

    I love my children. I am grateful to be a mother. I think that children are a vital part of God's plan.

    But. I don't think that the pre-motherhood rosy blissful "motherhood is so wonderful" messages about parenting I received prior to becoming a mother were ultimately very helpful. When I became a mother, it felt like bait and switch to me. Or maybe I was just especially clueless, that could be too. I think it is far more honest to teach young women that motherhood is hard, and they can do hard things. Because that's true.

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  2. I am very happy as a mother. There are definitely days I have remind myself of that fact, and I have to look for ways to find joy sometimes, but I am very happy in this role I have chosen.

    For me the key is to stop thinking about how free and breezy my life would be without kids. I can't dwell on the un-earned master's degree, the book not written, the figure of 15 years ago. I have decided I can't "have it all" — the money, the career, the body, AND the adoring family — and I don't want it. I want the eternal blessings, and the blessings I have now, because I chose to have five kids. It really is a great life, and I embrace it.

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  3. I had an "ah-ha!" moment about this a couple of years ago when I read 2 Nephi 2:23: "And they [Adam and Eve] would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, HAVING NO JOY, for they knew no misery…"

    To be a parent is literally to run the gamut of emotion. It's hard – no one will argue with that. If parenting was one constant fairy tale, it wouldn't be a true human experience. But I take this scripture to clearly tell us that for Adam and Eve to experience "joy," they needed to have children. Could Heavenly Father have spelled it out any more plainly?

    And anyone who has had little 3-year old arms wrapped around them and heard the words, "I yuv you, mommy" will know what it means to have joy in their posterity. 🙂

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  4. I read this article this week too and have been thinking on and off about it ever since. No doubt about it–parenthood is tough. If you go into it believing that it will be one long round of personal satisfaction and bliss, you are in for a very rude awakening (with your own weaknesses on display front and center.) My first child has been (from day one) one of my biggest teachers (that's a nice way to say he drives me crazy sometimes 🙂 )but I wouldn't trade the connection I have with my children that all the blood, sweat and tears have made possible for anything. Along with the hard work and frustration of parenthood I have times (mostly every day) in which I feel so sanctified and full of joy I can hardly contain it. I have truly grown to love being a mother. I don't know how those researchers are measuring happiness but I can answer for myself that I am happier (and more capable of happiness) now than I was before my children were born. I think you nail it at the end of your post: "Though parenting has been harder than I ever imagined, that love has swelled and deepened, sanctified and shaped me. Nothing has challenged me and humbled me to the dust more than parenting, but nothing has been as soul expanding, refining, and fulfilling. And that, to me, is happiness, pure and simple."

    This is what we need to teach our children about becoming parents–that it is hard, that they can do it and that it is worth it.

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  5. Obviously the "study" didn't take into account wildly fluctuating female hormones when looking for causes of "unhappiness". Being pregnant, nursing, then going back to unpregnant and unnursing while taking care of kids is going to play with one's emotions anyway.

    Thankfully, dealing with immature little people helps us learn to deal withthe immatureness of humanity in general. Without parents to teach children right from wrong and all that's good and right, humanity self destructs.

    So to De Groote, "It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it."

    The joy does come, in bits and snatches, and then, if you're lucky, there is even more when the grandchildren show up. At least that is what my parents tell me. 🙂 You should see my dad's face light up when all 13 of his grandkids are in the same room with him. He just laughs for joy to see them all.

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  6. I read that same DN article last week, and laughed. I'm smack in the middle of Toddler Hell with my son, and last week we added an ear infection and chest cold to make things TRULY delightful. There was not one single day last week that I wouldn't have willingly and gladly sent my son to Abu Dhabi in a cardboard box poked full of airholes. If a pollster had called me and asked me last week if I was happy being a parent, I would have answered 'No' without a second thought. So yeah, the De Groote studies sounded right on the mark.

    I hate the toddler years. I hated them with my Daughter, I'm currently hating them with my son, and dread even the future toddler years of my unborn child/ren because I know we're not done having kids yet. Once my Daughter hit about 3.5, I started to actually enjoy being a mother. I'm hoping that will return with my son.

    I wouldn't say that I have all that much joy in being a parent right now, and I fear that it makes me into a monster to even admit it because I know of so many women who are desperate to have children. I guess I feel happy in an "I'm doing what's right eternally" sense, but not necessarily in a day-to-day "I just LOVE being a mother!" sense. For me, I really think it has a lot to do with the ages of my children and will get better when they get a little older.

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  7. I find being a mother fulfilling, if not always fun. It's meaningful to raise little babies into (hopefully) productive, decent human beings. It's interesting to even try.

    So am I happier being a mother? Well, at this point I've made my choice, so I can't compare, but I have an unalterable conviction that I'm doing what I need to be with my life.

    And yes, I regularly experience those moments of intense joy when a toddler uses the potty for the first time, a child learns to read, or an older daughter makes a mature choice and holds her temper or studies extra on math even though it's hard.

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  8. "But I believe it’s precisely because parenting is so hard that it also has the potential for lasting, significant joy. And I mean joy, not the world’s definition of happiness, which can be fleeting and superficial—and hard to quantify in a scientific study. Joy entails work and commitment. Joy is a richer, deeper emotion, closely tied to its counterpart, sorrow, and children provide us with plenty of both."

    So beautiful, and so true. I love this post, Melissa. Yes, I have been surprised by parenthood–both by how hard and by how exquisitely fulfilling it can be. But that's true of virtually every worthwhile thing I've ever done, everything from serving a mission to getting a graduate degree to writing books to fulfilling my church callings to remodeling my kitchen! It almost seems like these studies equate happiness with easiness.

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  9. Parenting doesn't make me "happy"; it makes me HAPPY. And I'd like to know how these researchers define happiness. Do they mean that it is life without worry, frustration, disappointments, and sorrows? Because in that case happiness doesn't even exist. With our eternal perspective, we believe that happiness comes from being who we really are, from realizing our divine potential, from becoming like God. And we understand God as a parent who weeps for his wayward children (think of Enoch, and TONS of Isaiah scriptures).

    I've been thinking about the Savior's life lately. Was he happy? He went through more than any of us can imagine throughout his life. He was cast out everywhere, betrayed by all his friends, and suffered more than we can imagine.

    Which is why 3 Nephi 17 really sticks out to me. Jesus tells the people that he is able to do more miracles among them than he had during his life in Israel because the Nephites had greater faith. He heals them, he prays for them, and he weeps with joy for them and says, "Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now, behold, my joy is full" (20).

    After all he suffered in giving his great sacrifice, he could still feel joy. Could he feel that joy without the sorrow and pain as well? I don't think so. Can we? No. And even though it's harder than anything you can imagine to be a parent, even though it tears your heart in half sometimes, I don't think you'd trade back anything if it meant that you wouldn't have had at least one perfect day. And we believe that in the end the suffering is finite and the joy is eternal.

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  10. I was happy before I had kids and I'm still happy after having kids.

    I think life with children is amazing even though it's very hard and very sad at times. I don't believe there's a *true* way to know that non-parents are happier than parents (or vice versa) since non-parents can't possibly know since they don't have the experience and knowledge of having children. How can they possibly compare? They have no actual knowledge to base their analysis.

    Before having kids I often found that I didn't like most other people's kids. After having kids I still don't like most other people's kids (haha). But I love being a mom more than I ever dared to hope, much less expect.

    As we all know, happiness is an inside thing totally and completely dependent on living the Gospel and not dependent on having a husband or not, or having children or not.

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  11. Just popping in on a busy day to say thank you for your comments! I've loved reading them.

    Emily M., I think you hit on an important point that we need to better prepare our youth for the realities of parenting. Yes, motherhood can be wonderful, but it is also challenging, stretching, and difficult, and, as you said, "I think it is far more honest to teach young women that motherhood is hard, and they can do hard things," or, as Ana of the Nine Kids said, "that it is hard, that they can do it and that it is worth it." Yes! We still want to teach them that parenting is worthwhile and can be very joyful, but I think we can do much better job than we currently do in preparing them.

    Heidi #1, I like your focus on what you do have rather than on what you don't currently have or are able to do. Savoring the season we are in is definitely one of the keys to contentment.

    Natalie H., I love that scripture in 2 Nephi as well–I think it captures perfectly the interplay of sorrow and joy that is necessary for our progression, and parenting plays a huge role in that.

    Mormonhermitmom, I think that grandparenting must be one of the sweetest joys we reap from parenting—at least, I like to think so. I look forward to it.

    Heidi #2, I love your honesty. And no, you are not a monster, just a normal mother. I think we all have those moments, days, even stages, when the best we can do is to grin and bear it while looking forward to the next stage.

    Stephanie, love this: "So am I happier being a mother? Well, at this point I’ve made my choice, so I can’t compare, but I have an unalterable conviction that I’m doing what I need to be with my life."

    Sharlee, love your point that the truly worthwhile things we do take work. I agree that we sometimes equate happiness with easiness, but real joy and fulfillment come from doing hard things.

    Jenn R., I loved the scriptural insights you shared. I love the image of Christ weeping with joy over the Nephites' faith, after all He had been through. "Could he feel that joy without the sorrow and pain as well? I don’t think so. Can we? No." So true.

    Roberta, you make a good point about the difficulty of measuring happiness. I wonder about those studies, as well.

    Thanks again, everyone, for chiming in today.

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  12. I've always felt that opening myself up to motherhood (and actually just marriage, but that's another subject!) brings much more challenge, pain and sorrow than I would otherwise have … but I also feel that the levels of joy and fulfillment I experience are greater. Almost like a rubber band stretching, if that visual makes sense. If the scripture about opposition in all things applies, and I believe it does, we cannot experience some levels of joy without the opposing misery. IMHO. 🙂

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  13. We had to wait a while to be parents and after wanting it so bad it's easier not to take it for granted now. Definitely harder than I ever expected, but I love it!

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  14. Parenting is fulfilling. I remember sitting in my corporate cubicle one day thinking, "This isn't fulfilling. I enjoy it. It's fun and challenging, but it's not fulfilling". Parenting is a lot harder. I don't always enjoy it (particularly this stage where I am changing 6 poopy diapers a day because my 4 year old refuses to potty train and both he and my 1 year old are prolific poopers). It definitely challenges every fiber of my being. But, in the end, it is fulfilling. I think this is what is meant by "fulfill the measure of their creation".

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  15. I am going to be an empty nester in a few months and I CAN'T WAIT. I love my youngest daughter, but I don't want to live with her. She has the ability to light up a room when she enters it, or suck all the life out of it. Unfortunately for us, the rooms she lights up are at school and church, the place where she throws her tantrums is at home. Every day it is a worry as to whether she will throw another fit and what the consequences will be.

    And of course, she behaves this way because we are the worst parents in the world, who are so stoooopid. Um, our older kids all got over that stage, so we suspect she will as well, but that doesn't make it any easier to live through at the time.

    So yes, I am sure that day-to-day I will be much happier when she leaves home. Much.

    I am just as sure that we will probably have many good times together as she matures and we develop a co-adult relationship.

    So I thoroughly get where the research is coming from. Without the gospel, I would have no interest in having children.

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  16. I know I'm a little late, but as a yet-to-be-mom who is seriously contemplating moving in that direction, this post and comments were both reassuring and terrifying! I loved this from Stephanie: "I find being a mother fulfilling, if not always fun." This is the hope I cling to when I think about having kids. I know how hard motherhood is going to be from watching my friends and sisters-in-law, but I have to believe that it's going to fulfill me as well, or else I'm never going to get up the courage to become a mom! 🙂

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  17. I love your response to the article's findings. I think the definition of happiness is very narrow that the studies are looking at. I think there is something that goes beyond happiness at the moment…something that is associated with something deeper….knowing that what you're doing is worth something, that goes outside of yourself. You are creating something enduring. And, at the end of your life, if your main purpose has been to keep yourself happy, I think you will bitterly regret how little you have left behind. So, I think I'd call it satisfaction in the long run or something like that which is definitely much deeper if you have kids.

    I really like what Ana of the Nine Kids said about it being hard to be a parent but worth it.

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  18. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to be a mother. Most of my spiritual progression in the past twenty-five years has been due to my strong desire to be a better mother during difficult challenges. Without my children, I suspect I would still be shallow and self-absorbed, taking my emotional temperature every five minutes. Instead I have grown into a peaceful disciple of Christ who finds joy in serving others. I like myself much better this way. I agree with Sharlee that most things worth doing require some sacrifice and growth. How BORING my life would have been without my children…they now are all adults, but they are still the most fun and entertaining people I know!

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  19. I remember when I was pregnant with my first baby I read somewhere, in some study, that the happiest time in a marriage is when they are expecting their first child. I immediately felt depressed. You mean this is as good as it gets? The thought of raising children is better than actually doing it??

    I have since very much realized that these are the world's standards, just like you explained Melissa. I've learned that to really find joy in parenting one has to jump completely into it. If we are more concerned about the state of our house, or the loss of freedom, or the money we are trying to earn, our children will be a burden to us. But if we embrace it totally, the joy is unmeasurable. And there is no way to explain this to someone who doesn't already have this joy.

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  20. It's funny. I read this while listening to my two-year old throwing a fit upstairs because he didn't want to go to bed. This was preceded by fits about not wanting to eat dinner, not wanting his diaper changed, not wanting baby brother to be around ('put it in the crib! Right now!') and us not reading him enough books. So no, I'm not feeling any happiness from parenting right now. But this morning was fantastic. Lots of cuddling, giggles, brothers playing happily together – and I even got laundry done! Motherhood was a joy this morning.

    My conclusion is that motherhood is a bipolar sort of occupation. It is both exquisitely happy and horribly exhausting to experience.

    And I would hasten to guess that whatever mothers were surveyed were bothered in the evening during bedtime fun or right after a meltdown.

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  21. These studies have been around for years and were taught very clearly back in the day when I was a naive family science major. When I first came across them, it was hard to believe they were true — less happiness, more conflict in marriages? Because of kids? No way!

    Of course, now that I've had kids I recognize that kids demand so much of you that is inconvenient and tough to handle. Adjusting to that is intended to be hard. But as others have more eloquently stated, it's the challenges that make the joy so much deeper and longer-lasting.

    As for preparing kids for parenthood, I don't think there's any way for someone to really understand what it's like until they've done it. I babysat and majored in family science and listened to lots of messages about the meaning of motherhood, and I respected my own mother, but I was still blown away by how hard some of it is. But I was even more blown away by how much I love my children.

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  22. My response to that "study" – and I'm sorry if the quotes bothers anyone but the tone of it and the questions they asked seem so biased to me, I have serious reservations about its nature – is like many commentors. Just what definition of "happiness" are they using?

    No one expects being a doctor or a trash-collector to "make" them happy. Being a parent is a lot like a job – sometimes you have a great relationship with your boss, sometimes you don't. Sometimes everything is going smoothly and you look forward to each day and, well, sometimes you it's not and you don't! And sometimes things happen that send you to your knees in prayer, in terror or in gratitude. Parenting differs from work experiences in magnitude, not in type.

    It's articles and studies like that that make me wonder. My husband doesn't believe in a real Satan or that there are social forces out there that are attacking God's plan but things like this look awful suspicious to me.

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  23. Most studies are correlational and not causational. Meaning unhappiness and children may be correlated but it doesn't mean children cause unhappiness. Just like ice cream sales and drownings may be correlated. This is probably because ice cream sales go up in the summer and so do the amount of people swimming and more drownings. Anyways, I think it's easy to read into the headlines of a study without reading what it actually measured and the results.

    Obviously nothing is completely generalizable. You can't do a study and say it applies to everyone. I think most people can find the positive aspects of being a parent and thus live a happy and rewarding life.

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  24. Still loving this discussion.

    Emily, I like your rubber band analogy—yes, marriage and motherhood certainly stretch us.

    Jewls, the women I know who have fertility challenges seem to grasp the sorrow/joy inherent in parenthood from the getgo. And, like you, they tend not to take parenthood for granted.

    Stephanie2, yes, fulfilling. Hard, but fulfilling.

    Naismith, sounds like you are ready to be an empty nester! I'm guessing that once your daughter leaves home she'll think you're less stupid. 🙂

    Kate H., I hope you aren't too terrified. I promise you, motherhood is worth it.

    mom o' boys, yes, creating something enduring is definitely one of the satisfactions of parenting.

    Kathryn P., I feel the same way: most of my spiritual growth in the past 20-odd years has come through mothering as I've had to work through challenges and learn from my mistakes. And my children have taught me just as much as I've taught them. Parenthood is definitely part of God's plan for spiritual progression.

    Grandma Honey, yes, I've found that the times when I've embraced mothering more fully I've reaped more joy.

    Tay, you described perfectly how I felt as a young mother: "Motherhood is a bipolar sort of occupation. It is both exquisitely happy and horribly exhausting to experience."

    Handsfullmom, I think you're right—there's no way to fully prepare for parenting (and maybe it's a good thing that we go into it somewhat ignorant?). And yes, I think the breadth and depth of the love we feel as parents takes every single one of us by surprise.

    Proud Daughter of Eve, I think you're onto something. I do believe that studies like the ones De Groote refers to (and his article actually celebrates parenthood) are part of a whole range of sophistries orchestrated by the adversary to thwart God's plan. And I think he works very hard at it.

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  25. Sorry I'm so late to comment, but I also read this article last week, Melissa, and I thought to myself, "Someone on Blog Segullah should write about this." And you did! So thank you.

    I've loved reading all the comments. You are all wise women, and l've appreciated everyone's honesty and insight.

    I have two observations: One, I read another article somewhere that described the researcher's methodology, and personally, I don't think it is really measuring what he thinks it is. But it doesn't really matter, because as handsfullmom and others mentioned, these types of studies have been around forever–so the idea that parents are less happy than non-parents is not earth-shattering. The only difference in this study is the idea that parents are somehow a little delusional–invested in thinking that their role makes them happier than it actually does. As so many of you have eloquently explained, parenting is complicated–brings intense happiness and intense frustration or sorrow at the same time. That is hard to capture statistically with a yes/no question, or even on a 5-pt. scale :).

    Second, I think it is interesting that this is even a subject for study. On the one hand, "men are that they might have joy," so our happiness/joy should be a goal of our existence and is important to our Heavenly Father. But on the other hand, it seems kind of immature to assume that something is bad by definition if it doesn't bring blissful joy every minute. Parenting is work–sometimes very very hard work. Not to be too gloomy, but I think our Western world's emphasis on personal fulfillment sets us up to think something is wrong with us or our family or something if things are ever hard. What person or relationship can possibly pass the "have to be constantly happy or something must be wrong" test? Then we sit around wasting time feeling shortchanged, or wondering if we've done the right thing or if maybe we shouldn't have become a parent at all if it was going to be this hard.

    For me, that is the biggest struggle in parenting–trying to shove aside the selfish, natural, modern woman who wants to focus on what I want to accomplish as an individual and to have life be easy and pleasant and linear, and instead to be willing to focus on nurturing children who have their own agendas, needs and abilities. Children make your life–physical and emotional–chaotic and unpredictable. That is hard, because we all want to feel in control. I find that loss of control depressing, especially when I'm not trying to actively focus on the real purpose of life (ie not a pleasure cruise, but an important mission with a vital purpose) .

    But ultimately, like Eve, I know that through the difficulty of seeking and recognizing joy despite the struggles of motherhood, we are blessed. I feel so blessed to be a mother–and maybe feeling blessed and grateful is better than being happy. As far as our youth go, maybe that's why teaching them to enjoy service and focus on others is so important–so becoming a parent won't be such a shock to their system.

    Thanks for this post!

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  26. "It’s articles and studies like that that make me wonder. My husband doesn’t believe in a real Satan or that there are social forces out there that are attacking God’s plan but things like this look awful suspicious to me."

    I'm just astounded by this. Norval Glenn is one of the researchers whose work is cited, and his work has been very much pro-family. To accuse him of attacking God's plan is slander.

    He has been very open about his methodology, and has been clear that there are many good reasons to get married and have children, just not perhaps the reasons that are assumed or substantiated by a particular piece of research.

    He died recently, but in an essay he wrote in 2008, he said, "My view of the future of marriage …is… optimistic. …No one knows for sure why marriages have recently become more successful among highly educated Americans, but there is at least tentative evidence of a re-institutionalization of marriage at that level of society….As previously mentioned, the ideal of marital fidelity has staged a comeback, as has the ideal of marital permanence and even the once rapidly disappearing view that under certain circumstances unhappily married parents should stay together for the sake of their children. These attitudes are now considerably more prevalent among well-educated persons than among others, but they are likely to be disseminated downward to the lower socioeconomic levels where, in spite of negative economic influences on marriage, they should have more than a negligible effect. Space limitations preclude a detailed discussion here of the marriage education movement and the associated national and state healthy marriage initiatives, but I predict that they will be at least moderately successful unless the marriage initiatives fail to survive the current wave of political change. If moderate liberals can get over feeling that they must oppose anything associated with the Bush Administration and will inform themselves of what the marriage initiatives are really doing — which doesn’t include trying to recreate the fifties family — they will find a lot to like about those programs and are likely to support them."

    I dunno, but working to reduce divorce, support of fidelity, and trying to find new ways to make marriages and families work effectively sounds very much in support of what we LDS think about families.

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  27. I love it. I have grown so much as a person because of my role as mother. But I have two sisters-in-law who don't like being moms. One tried parenthood as kind of an experiment. "Let's see what it's like to be a mom." She opts out of parenting a lot and leaves it up to her husband a lot. The other is a brand new mamma but she is so "new" to real life that I'm almost afraid for her when I think of her taking care of another human. She doesn't quite stand on her own two feet as a person.

    I am too far away to be a daily help to them but I try to be a loud cheerleader for motherhood and I hope they can see what a great honor and privilege it is to be a mom.

    Yes it is hard work. It is love in verb form. The same child who is responsible for the phone call from the principal about foul language on the playground is so full of curiosity and tenderness toward his sisters that sometimes you can't be more proud! And the child who takes 1 1/2 years to potty train is also the wittiest most creative almost-four year-old ever invented! (I could go on, I've got more children!) You take the good, you take the bad you take 'em both and there you have. . . (Oh wait, that's not an original thought, is it?) I am more proud of my role as parent than I am about anything I've ever accomplished. And that brings me a truckload of JOY.

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  28. Thanks for the post and the many thoughtful comments. I've been ruminating on my own response for a couple of days. It's not quite what I want, but I hope I can convey my point.

    I used to think that happiness came with the end result. I would work hard, get an A and feel happy. But as a mother, I realize that happiness doesn't come that way. I can do my best as a mother, but I can't guarantee the result. I can do everything right with one child, speak softly, lovingly teach, correctly discipline, and we'll still have a disastrous result. In short, I can't control everything that happens around me. I've decided that I'm going to look for happiness in the journey and in the effort that is required to be a mother. I'm taking the long view but still live in the moment.
    I revel in the sweetness of my baby's eyelashes on his cheeks as he sleeps. I laugh with my daughter as we read a funny story. I cheer on my son as he shows me a report he wrote a school. I hug my kids as they come off the school bus.
    I also try to realize that many of the physical hardships and burdens of being a mother are temporary. Someday I won't be changing diapers. Eventually, my daughter will stop shredding papers leaving gigantic messes. Eventually, I won't be the only one shouldering the burden of the housework. And those temper tantrums of the kids. . . they do end, eventually. (hopefully???)

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  29. I love babies. And toddlers. I can stand them up to the age of, oh, 6. Then I have to work at it pretty hard and after the age of 14, if I have to be responsible for that person, I'm pretty much not having fun.

    I have the same problem with kittens and puppies.

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  30. ssj, we were posting comments at the same time last night, so I didn't respond to your comment, but thank you for explaining correlational vs causational data in studies—you turned on a light bulb for me.

    Erin S., I must have picked up on your thought waves when I decided to write this post. =) You hit on an important point, that our culture, with its emphasis on instant gratification and personal fulfillment, can set us up for disappointment when parenthood isn't as enjoyable or easy as we anticipated. And I could completely relate to this: "For me, that is the biggest struggle in parenting—trying to shove aside the selfish, natural, modern woman who wants to focus on what I want to accomplish as an individual and to have life be easy and pleasant and linear, and instead to be willing to focus on nurturing children who have their own agendas, needs and abilities." Certainly this has been a challenge for me in my parenting.

    Naismith, thank you for sharing that info about Norval Glenn. I should have looked into his research more thoroughly. I appreciate knowing that he was a strong advocate for the family.

    bth, your descriptions of your children captured well the the ups and downs inherent in parenting—many of which can occur in a single day!

    Tiffany W., love your thoughts about focusing on finding happiness and fulfillment in the journey rather than in the end result, and I applaud your attempts to "tak[e] the long view but still live in the moment." A wise approach! And yes, temper tantrums do eventually end.

    annegb, it's interesting how our personal preferences vary as to which stages of parenting we enjoy. I know parents who hate the baby stage but love having teenagers, and vice versa. You may find that you enjoy your children more once they are no longer teenagers. =)

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  31. I have thought a lot about this post since I read it. That can be dangerous as may really expound even more than usual.

    I remember seeing an episode of Oprah giving women's honest feelings about motherhood. Something that struck me is that it was said that other countries have mothers helpers and others who would assist mothers with small children while mothers in our country are often alone with small children of various age ranges. On one of the "everyone has a story" episodes on Oprah, a woman was interviewed and said being a mother came easy for her.

    I don't know if I could ever be a parent and I have a condition that would probably make it a very bad idea. But I am just trying to share thoughts.

    I read that the Unsinkable Molly Brown said her happiest times were when her children were young.

    My great-grandma who had 14 children said when she was around 90 that she loved ever minute of raising her family or something to that effect. I don't know if she felt that at the time. She was known for being cheerful but I heard so did have a problem at one time and was hospitalized. One of my favorite comments in the interview was when she said that she had a large family and none to spare.

    I was born into a family that enjoys children. 🙂 My mom was a good mommy. She was very tired with small children close in age. I think she looks back with fondness. Although she was a stay at home mom most of my youth, she didn't hover over us.

    Another though I had, our society is so into being punctual and that adds a whole lot of stress. It's not that there or so many activities—it's like you have to be there. If it were just a pick up Softball game or such it wouldn't be so much pressure as an organized league. I'm not against organized things as I played sports and had piano lessons. My mom was a soccer mom for my siblings(I didn't play that) before they coined the phrase.

    In addition, I thought about how hard life used to be before modern conveniences and how women went from helping with brothers, sisters, little nieces and nephews to having their own babies at a young age. They wouldn't have known the leisure. If you compare that to going to school, possible travel, social life, then the responsibilities of small children seem very life changing.

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  32. I've thought a lot about this subject over this past year. I've gone through a few extremely trying years with my no 14-year-old son. There are times when I've really thought if I had to do it over again I wouldn't have had kids. His problems have overwhelmed our family and broken my heart. D
    But would I really do it differently? No. I love my kids, including my son, and dealing with his problems has humanized me in a way that never would have happened otherwise. I'm looking to the future with hope, but confronting the present with determination to deal with the problems at hand. I believe I will look back on this as a time that deepened my faith and helped me become a better person, but "happiness" in each moment or season of parenting isn't necessarily what it's all about.

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  33. I love being a mom too. And have been floored at how hard it is. I felt like I was a good missionary, but struggle to teach my children. I felt like a fun and hardworking person, but find myself being the bad cop demanding chores from lazy kids. I see so many of my weaknesses echoed in my kids that I cringe and pray for some way to right the wrongs I've perpetuated on these poor innocent beings.

    I'm humbled by their talents and challenged by their faults.

    But I love them. I love the way I have become more Christ-like, as others have commented. I can't imagine life just being all about me and finding that truly fulfilling. I agree that studies and attitudes that deter people from accepting the life-changing role of parenthood are not inspired by desires to follow God's plan. I haven't read the study and that doesn't mean the researchers are bad people, just asking the wrong questions.

    Thanks for this beautiful post!

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  34. I LOVE being a mom. I only have one kid right now, and I couldn't be any happier. He isn't an easy little guy, but even after 14 months my husband and I are still so completely in awe of him and enamored with him, we just can't get enough. Plenty of other things in life are hard and get me down, but my son brings me joy every single day, even though he sometimes drives me a little crazy too! I wonder how it will be with more kids though … but I imagine they'll bring me the same kind of joy, life will just be crazier.

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  35. Lindsey, you said:
    "I wonder how it will be with more kids though … but I imagine they’ll bring me the same kind of joy, life will just be crazier."

    That about sums it up, but (at least for me) the crazier part is not any MORE so much as just different than it was when we only had one.

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  36. I have enjoyed the discussion. For myself, I love being a mom, but I do envy a single sister in our ward. I wonder if she realizes how many of us are jealous of her. I would make the same choices as a=far as having a family
    I'm sure, in fact I always wished I could have had more than the 5 I do, but the sense of failure and wishing I could have been better at it all is overwhelming at times. I often think that is what people are referring to when they say they don't know if they would do it again. So many of us just thought we would be better at it and that our children deserve better than we are able to pull off for whatever reason.

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  37. Harlene, I totally understand what you are saying.
    "So many of us just thought we would be better at it and that our children deserve better than we are able to pull off for whatever reason."

    I often feel that way. My only hope is that Heavenly Father will make up the gap for all that I lack and that my children will be able to forgive me for what I wasn't and appreciate me for what I was.

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  38. Harlene, I have felt those same feelings of failure and inadequacy many times as a mother. I think parenting does that to most of us. But then I remember what one of our editors said in one of the posts on depression that we did here at Segullah last year: "If the eternal health of God’s children rested on our performance as mortal parents, God’s plan (sending kids to clueless people) is a really stupid one. Seriously. I remind myself of that all the time. I wring my hands over the consequences of my parenting (and make no mistake—there are formidable consequences!) and wonder how this could ever be okay, and then I remember God set it up this way. And I remember my kids already had a perfect childhood in the spirit world, and that they didn’t come here to have another one. Quite the contrary, in fact."

    That wise observation brings me comfort. Our children were meant to have imperfect parents! It was designed that way, for their benefit and growth and for ours.

    And I also truly believe, like Tiffany, that through the Atonement God can compensate somehow for our parental weaknesses and mistakes. And that's part of the Plan, as well.

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  39. “If the eternal health of God’s children rested on our performance as mortal parents, God’s plan (sending kids to clueless people) is a really stupid one."

    Thank you for pointing that out Melissa. I've agonized more than once about the impact my imperfect parenting may end up having on my children. As much as I wish (and pray and work) to be a better parent, the plain fact of the matter is that it's not going to happen in time for my current batch of kids. I take hope that their whole (eternal) futures are NOT completely dependent on me. I had a professor in college point out one time that from the moment of birth parents mess up their kids because of their imperfection as parents. BUT in that same moment (birth) they also give their children the ability to overcome that messing up because they have been given life. I really liked that. At the time I heard it I was struggling to get over and forgive my parents for their imperfections and I felt terrifically validated. I like it even more now because I realize that even my reluctant imperfections are fodder for their growth.

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  40. I appreciate those thoughts. Transitioning from young mom to mom of teens can "neuter" the best of us! Ironically, it's my Young Adults that are giving me the most "fodder for growth".

    Thank you for reminding me in Whom I need to trust.

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  41. Interesting you should say that, Harlene. I've found that my confidence in my mothering has been the shakiest as I've transitioned to mom of young adults. It's certainly much more complicated and challenging than I ever imagined.

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