Does having children make you happy? Yes, if you let them | Kenan Malik

A new study suggests non-parents are happier but kids bring great pleasure and joy if they are not viewed as constraints

Children can make you happy. But only once they’ve left home. So suggests a new academic study. It’s the latest in a pile of recent studies that have sought to measure parenting and happiness. While the results have been mixed, most suggest that parents are less happy than non-parents.

The very question “Do children make parents happy?” would have seemed odd a generation or two ago. Having children was simply what you did.

Possessing greater reproductive choice has been a boon, especially for women. But the way we think of choice has also distorted our perception of happiness and of the significance of children.

We look upon happiness today almost exclusively in an individual context. It’s something that you, and you alone, feel or desire. Unhappiness comes from being constrained in what you can do. But everything we do is shaped by constraints, because we live not simply as individuals but within societies. Some constraints are good, some are bad. Politics, in part, is about defining which are good and which bad and about minimising the latter.

But constraints are inevitable. There is almost nothing we do that gives us pleasure that does not also impose a burden. What we think of as constraints – the impositions of family, of friends, of social obligations – are often the buttresses of a rich emotional life. An isolated individual, free of all constraints, would hardly be happy. That’s why we dread loneliness so much.

Certainly, children cost in terms of time, money, sleep and anxiety. They stop you partying, affording a holiday, even reading a book. They also bring great pleasure and joy.

There is nothing wrong with not having children, though that imposes its own burdens. There is, however, everything wrong with viewing children as mere constraints upon our lives.

• Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist


Kenan Malik

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Don't despair if your child is glued to a screen, it may be keeping them sane | Amy Orben
Social interaction is vital for young minds, and social media might be the only way of achieving this during lockdown

Amy Orben

26, Apr, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Having a baby? Don’t be brave – take the drugs | Barbara Ellen
There’s no point in false machismo when giving birth when pain relief is so close to hand

Barbara Ellen

01, Jan, 2017 @12:05 AM

Article image
Listen to children – but sometimes grown-ups might really know best | Viv Groskop
Madonna and Guy Ritchie are fighting over their son, but how much say should he have in his upbringing?

Viv Groskop

09, Apr, 2016 @11:05 PM

Article image
Both generations can suffer when children never get to leave home | Barbara Ellen
Young people are as desperate as ever to flee the nest, but more and more are trapped by the housing market

Barbara Ellen

10, Feb, 2019 @5:59 AM

Article image
Fathers want to take care of their children, too, but our very culture is against them | Sonia Sodha
Mothers shouldn’t resent the extension of paternity leave, it will benefit everyone

Sonia Sodha

25, Mar, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
Want to solve the falling birthrate? Just remember that raising children is expensive | Torsten Bell
When people fear for their jobs and the financial safety net is inadequate, is it any wonder they are having smaller families?

Torsten Bell

19, Feb, 2023 @9:31 AM

Article image
Exam stress rising? No, pupils are just better at seeking help | Laura McInerney
Of course sitting GCSEs can be a trying experience, but with good support, study pressure can be positive

Laura McInerney

17, Jun, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
The Observer view on immigration being the answer to falling birth rates | Observer editorial
Declining fertility rates are good for the planet but bad for countries with ageing populations. But encouraging women to have more children is not the answer

Observer editorial

04, Aug, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Observer view on the Tower Hamlets case and foster carers | Observer editorial
One story has highlighted the poor conditions many carers face

Observer editorial

02, Sep, 2017 @11:05 PM

Article image
The Observer view on how the UK has become a hostile place to have children | Observer editorial
Parents are being forced to bring up their offspring in conditions that will have grave repercussions for society

Observer editorial

15, Jan, 2023 @6:00 AM