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It’s called the parenting happiness gap, and it means that having kids makes you significantly less happy compared to people who don’t have kids. New research to be published in the American Journal of Sociology shows that American parents show the largest gap (13%) in a group of 22 developed countries. Every other country had smaller gaps, and some, including Russia, France, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Hungary, and Portugal, actually showed happiness gains for parents.

Now, some of this likely has to do with benefits, such as paid leave, more vacation time, free child care, etc. But on a larger scale, perhaps there is a bigger problem. Maybe, just maybe, we are doing this parenting thing all wrong. After all, I don’t remember hearing that my parents or grandparents were less happy after having children. Is it possible that this generation of parents have lost touch with what parenting really means?

As both a parent and a therapist, I am confronted almost daily with the absurdity of parenting today. It’s not supposed to be that hard to figure out. Really. Love your children, talk to your children, teach them right from wrong, and show them how to be independent. That’s it. Where does it say that your child has to be happy all the time? Where does it say they’re supposed to always like you? Where does it say you should sacrifice your happiness for theirs?

As a matter of fact, those are dangerous errors to make.

Recently, as a group of teenaged boys were trying to make plans, it became evident to me, as a parent, that the plan just wasn’t going to fit in with my plans for the night. I was unable to pick the boys up at the time and place that was necessary, as were all of the other parents. So, to me, it was a no-brainer…they don’t go. Imagine my shock and display when another parent told me she’d cut her plans short to pick up the boys. She further went on to explain that her husband doesn’t like to say no to the boys, as he wants them to “be happy”. What he is really saying, is that he is willing to sacrifice his date night with his wife, and ultimately his marriage, so his kids will be happy. This is an injustice to the priority of his marriage, and sends horrible messages on so many levels to his wife, his children, and society.

Just months ago, I was talking to a parent at my son’s school. She told me that she has 3 kids, each attending a different private school. When I told her she was crazy, her response was “Yes, but my kids are happy”. I’m sorry, but when did making our kids happy become the number one priority? I hear so many complaints about youth today feeling entitled and being narcissistic. It starts with how we are raising them. We need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

I wish these were isolated incidents. But, I can honestly say that I hear something appalling like this daily. From parents failing to recognize or discipline when their child has done something wrong, to the way we put our children’s happiness above our own, I am not at all surprised by this latest research. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Take back the joy and happiness of parenting by remembering what and why you signed up for this in the first place. Here are some guidelines to help you:

  1. Value your marriage above all else. Make sure your partner knows how special they are, and don’t put your kids wants ahead of your relationship needs.
  2. Always remember that you are setting an example and teaching your kids how to have a relationship and how to parent through your actions. Don’t make so many sacrifices that you feel resentful for having kids.
  3. Let your child be bored sometimes. You do not need to constantly entertain. They will figure out how to have fun, and creativity almost always buds from boredom.
  4. Make decisions that are best for the entire family, and don’t worry so much if your child is happy with every decision. He will be ok. Even better, he won’t be an entitled brat who thinks he rules the world and gets to have everything his way. Learning how to handle disappointment is an important life skill.
  5. Expect your child to do chores. Pay him, don’t pay him, whatever…the goal here is for him to understand that he needs to contribute to the family, that everything is not done for him, and for him to actually learn how to do the things he will need to do on his own when he leaves home.
  6. Do not buy your child nicer and more expensive items than you have. As a matter of fact, with the exception of a special occasion, kids really shouldn’t be given expensive items. You work hard for your money. Buy yourself something nice once in a while.
  7. Discipline your children. Don’t worry, they’re not supposed to like you all the time. Stop worrying about upsetting them. It’s your job.
  8. Take time for yourself. Indulge in a spa day, a trip, or whatever. In other words, do some things that are just about Having kids a big part of who you’ve become, but it’s not your entire life.

Keep these tips in minds, and having kids doesn’t have to lower your happiness. As a matter of fact, kids that are raised this way will bring you a lot of joy and happiness. Get your priorities straight and enjoy your life with kids! They will be grown up and gone before you know it.