To my experience, the issue of “should I have kids?” and “what is the benefit of that for me” are somehow seldom openly discussed in society. At least in Germany, this seems to be a very sensitive topic that is more avoided than money, job, or whatever else is important in life.
It is also a topic difficult to address, because it is personal and there are so many sensitive areas involved (health, finding a partner, age, economic situation, etc.). Who finds this topic too sensitive for him/her at the moment might want to stop here and not read on, as he/she might find my thesis offensive or in-sensitive. But in this blog I try to address the truth, and how I see it, the truth does not care if it is offensive or not.
Anyway, as I want to progress my blog a bit away from the “money” part and towards the “art of happy living” part, there is no way ignoring such an important topic as kids. As we will see, and those of you that have kids already know, kids will massively impact on your lifestyle and happiness. I’d even say there is nothing that changes your life and your view on the world as much as becoming a father or a mom.
This post is also more directed at younger readers, I want to inspire you to dive into the adventure of having kids (which, in Germany, unfortunately is not so naturally anymore).
All right, let’s start, and let’s keep the focus on the impact of kids on your happiness:
1) Empirical relationship between kids and happiness
The major happiness research literature did of course look at the influence of kids on happiness. They typically check if a person with kids living in her/his household is more happy or less happy than a person living without kids.
Here is the outcome.
Over all, and over different ages of the kids, your happiness will be more or less the same, no matter if you have kids or if you don’t have kids.
Sorry, kids do not seem to be the key to never-ending happiness, according to these studies.
They will also not make you unhappy, even if they cause stress or because they are very costly.
However, we will see below that the current statistical picture is incomplete and misses out a central point, thus be careful to over-interprete.
Lets split happiness effect by phases of kid’s age. For two or more kids, obviously the different phases overlap, increasing the amplitude of the family-adventure-rollercoaster even more. :-)
Age minus 1 until 1 year: The Happy Toddling Baby Age
About half a year before the birth of your first kid, happiness level increases dramatically.
This is due to what I call the great adventure of birth, which, even for the father, is nothing short of a true magical moment. Forget about your greatest love in life, the biggest mountain you climbed, the highest bonus you ever got. Holding your own blood in your arms the first time, in much bigger than that. Creating life (especially the first time) is an experience that nothing else in the world comes up to and (in my humble opinion) should not be missed out by anyone, no matter what the costs are. It is a moment of utter meaningfulness, an integral part of life. That’s how I ever saw it even before having kids, and that is what I can confirm, having had the luck to experience this moment now myself two times.
Happiness levels stay high until the baby is about one year old, what I’d call the happy-new-parent-effect. Yes, you sleep terribly and very little, you will hate the screaming, the diapers etc., but this is all still thrilling and new, you still feel the aftermath of the magical moment of birth, and, very important: You are still very mobile, as you can simply carry the baby around and continue to go to parties or even do fancy travelling. Time to enjoy! Definitly take a lot of parental leave in this magical phase and do some nice and extended trip with your newborn! If ou do it right, you will never forget this great time of your life.
Age 1 until 3-4 years: The stressful extra-rush within the rush-hour of life
Unfortunately, happiness then drops off below non-kids-same-age-persons until the kid reaches the age of 3 or 4.
During that phase, parents are in fact less happy than non-parents. Reason is simple: At kids age 2-3 your personal freedom is restricted far more than you will ever know in any other phase of your life. Of course, the kid is still there, and it will provide a lot of great moments to you. But in the same time, the little person will not stay in a cradle and sleep while you carry him/her around, but he/she wants to participate.
Which is great, but rules out a lot of activities: No party, no dinner in nice restaurants, no chilling out for hours, no big mountain tours, no skiing, no museums, no reading the newspaper, no conversation longer than one minute with your wife/husband at the table when coming back from the office.
You get the picture.
You have to care a lot, and especially if you have two or more kids and both partners work to some extend, you will enjoy an absolute minimum of time to spend for yourself, for your friends and for your partner.
This is stress. And it collides with a time where your kid-less co-workers work long hours to make a career, and you can’t or don’t want to. Plus the kid-less have way more purchase power in that phase. They will buy many fancy things, spend a lot on eating out and on crazy holiday trips, while you do only “quite holidays”, bring your own food to the beer garden and buy used stuff at eBay due to your strained financial situation (lower income and higher costs at the same time).
Make the best out of this time, try to spend as much time as possible with your kids to take part and enjoy their development. Remember that better times will come and later you will have ample time for yourself and all your Egotrips again.
Make clear at the job that family is priority, and if this is not accepted (which in Germany unfortunately is often the case) don’t care but make family priority anyway, or think about changing job, even if this creates additional stress for the moment.
Concerning money, read the chapters on frugal living, and always remember that the link between money and happiness is through relative wealth. Simply surround yourself with people on your (now lower) spending level and everything will be fine. Often this will mean that you spend more time with other families, and less with your kid-less friends, but that’s life. And no-one says you have to burn the bridges. One day it will fit better again.
Age 4-13: The Long Stretch of Family Happiness
After the age of 3-4, there comes the long stretch of family happiness, as I’d call it. It is a phase where parents are most happy, and happiness level rises significantly above non-parents. Woodpeckers just entered that phase (hooray!!), and it is in fact a great time, because now the kids are old enough to care for themselves in basic things (they can dress, they can go to toilet, they can say what they want, they can eat more or less properly) and they are now able to participate in activities that are also thrilling for adults (well, this is my view as a man at least):
You can do cycle tours with the 5-year-old, you can do the first mountain tours, you can start skiing together, you can buy a telescope and explain the stars, you can go to technical museums, build fancy sand castles or model cars, erect a fire, repair the car together, you can sleep at the mountain hut with other families and have a full fledged pillow fight, you name it.
And slowly you have more time again for yourself and your partner, as the kids accept a baby-sitter, sleep out at friends, are able to play an hour alone from time to time etc.
And spend as much time with your kids as somehow possible. This is the time to build the basis for a life-long relationship with your kids and simply have fun with them.
Your career now is ruined anyway (who cares?) and you adapted to having less money. You will have a large and ever-expanding circle of other families as friends by now that will make for great buzzing family gatherings. You will have plenty of time for non-family-adventures later in your life, so don’t worry if there is a still less of activities with your kid-less friends in this phase. It will come back.
You now also have sufficient energy back to sort our some things in your life that you might have postponed during the extra-ruch-hour-phase. As finding a new job (That’s what Woodpecker did a month ago and finaly got rid of his “uninspiring” old boss. Hooray again! …extra post to come on this topic).
You could also sign up for a cereal advertisement, because in this phase, you most likely will have that family-happiness-glow they want to see. ;-)
13-17: Puberty or: Oh no! My son/daughter starts to develop an own opinion!
The stretch of family happiness apparently goes until the age of 12 or 13, until puberty. At that time, happiness research suggests that times get more rough again as conflicts with the kids will emerge, and on average parents happiness drop significantly. I cannot say anything on this, as Woodpeckers boys are 5 and 3 only, but from what I observe, actual happiness of parents differs widely in this phase, very much depending on the relationship they have with their kids.
Thus my tip (its more a guess at this point of time, but I’ll tell you in 7 years ;-) ):
I think the more time you spent with your kids during the long stretch of family happiness, and the more you are able to develop common interest and activities, the easier it will be during puberty, because the common activities keep the connection.
E.g. Woodpeckers neighbour is very much into wild-water kayaking, and was able to infect his boy as well, many years ago. The boy is now 16 or 17 and they still do many boat trips together and apparently have a very good connection which in turn is strengthened by their common activity.
This should be the way to go through this phase with hopefully a minimum of collateral damage, I’d say.
Well, and the kids get out of the house.
There is no indication of happiness research on this phase. It is a pity, because it plays an important role, and might tip the “neutral happiness effect of kids” to a positive side.
I think there are two effects:
First you have to let go. I guess that might not be easy and you might find it difficult to go back to your empty-house-kid-less-life after so many years of chaos and life and action around you.
But then I also think that – given you were able to build a good relationship to your kids – there is an additional happiness boost to come:
Staying in good contact with your now grown-up kids, spend time with them, see them develop and later on care for the grand-kids. Finally, there hopefully will be somebody there to look for you from time to time when you get old, and to keep you up to date on how the world evolves when you are no more so connected with what is going on (Don’t flatter yourself, this time will come for each of us).
This is the part still missing in happiness research. I think all of this might add another injection of happiness to those with adult kids and might tip the balance to the positive, but I don’t know.
In the end probably – as so often in life – a lot depends on the relationship you are able to form with others, in this case your kids. As with the relationship to your partner or to your dearest friends, the relationship to your kids hold enormous potential. But you have to build it! This will take time, time, time.
So, in a nutshell: If you do it, do it right!
Next part we will shed light on kids’ impact on your economic situation (- – -) and on their impact on your philosophical/metaphysical situation (+++).