More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Having children 'is bad for your mental health'
January 15, 2006
By Roya Nikkhah, The Telegraph

If you thought that the joys of watching your young ones grow up was one of life's simple pleasures, think again. Parenthood is actually bad for your mental health, according to the latest research.

George Clooney, the actor who famously vowed never to have children, seems destined to live a happier life than many of his Hollywood peers, according to a new report which found that parents suffer greater depression than people without children.

The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, surveyed 13,017 adults who were asked how many times in the past week they had experienced symptoms of depression.

Questions included how often "you felt lonely", "you felt depressed", "you felt fearful", and "you had trouble keeping your mind on what you were doing".

The results, which found parents experience "significantly higher levels of depression than non-parents", will please the likes of Clooney, who once bet his friends £10,000 he would remain childless because "it is such a great responsibility and there isn't anything in me that wants to replicate".

The study also found that certain types of parenthood are associated with more depression than others. Non-custodial parents - adults who have a child under 18 with whom they are not living - were found to suffer the highest levels of depression, closely followed by parents with adult stepchildren living away from home.

Professor Robin Simon, an associate professor of sociology at Florida State University and the author of the study, said that the results disproved the notion that having children enhanced emotional wellbeing.

"What is most striking about these findings is that there is no type of parent that reports less depression than a non-parent," she said.

"There is a strong cultural assumption that parenthood is the key to lifelong personal development and happiness and that people without children feel empty and depressed, but this study conclusively shows that this is not the case.

"Parenthood brings rewards, but the worries associated with being entirely responsible for another human being appear to outweigh the benefits and do not seem to lessen as children grow older."

The study's findings will make happy reading for couples who have decided to enjoy the freedom and lack of responsibility associated with not having children.

Ricky Gervais, the actor and writer, and his partner of 22 years, Jane Fallon, are one couple who are happy without children. "Selfishly, I couldn't face the three years of changing nappies and never going out - it was a conscious decision," he said. The actress, Dame Helen Mirren and husband, Taylor Hackford, an American film director, have never had children, despite more than 20 years of marriage. "I was never drawn to babies," she said. "I have never had any sense of loss about not having children, even though I could easily have had them."

But Clem Henricson, the director of research and policy at the National Family and Parenting Institute, a charity that provides support to parents, said that the study ignored the "host of positives" of parenting.

"While the arrival of a child produces a new dimension of responsibility, there is an obvious sense of pleasure and fulfilment that accompanies parenthood," she said. "Most parents would agree that bringing up the next generation is an enriching experience."

A spokesman for Parentline Plus, an independent support group for parents, said: "It is wrong to assume that having a child equals depression. While parents may have concerns about how good a job they are doing, most are parents because they enjoy it."
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"While the arrival of a child produces a new dimension of responsibility, there is an obvious sense of pleasure and fulfilment that accompanies parenthood,"
that's exactly what I was thinking when reading this article... there must be some kind of truth to that, otherwise people wouldn't become parents.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Yes, I think both aspects of parenting are true. I wouldn't have missed out on my children for anything but it's also definitely true that they bring stress and worry with them.
Hm. Interesting article.

There is NO doubt that my fears of being an unhealthy or non-effective parent to my son contribute to my stresses. And there's NO doubt that my fears about being sole financial provider while processing depression has contributed to anxiety and insomnia - being a parent is THE most important and rewarding and real thing in my life.

Even when I look at my dad (who retired very early) and his wife who have "everything" the Mercedes, the house over looking the ocean, the travelling, the experiences of having lived in many different countries all over the world - I feel sad for them sometimes because all they have is their "things". It's been my experience that they have great difficulties connecting with family and their lives revolve around their purchases and activities. Seems kinda strange to me.

Maybe I'm suggesting that you can't reach those great levels of true happiness or true love unless you understand and experience complete selflessness and immense responsibility for another?

I dunno. My son's been the biggest and best gift I've ever gotten. And ironically, the reasons I have pulled OUT of my 2 major depressions is because of him.

lol. Now, that would make a great survey - of those 13k + who are parents - what contributed to overcoming their sadness, frustrations or depression?

I'm rambling again.

Daniel E.
In a survey of women I read somewhere, women rated going out to lunch with friends high on a list of happy events. Significantly further down the list was spending time with their children. One reason for this:

When asked how they feel "in the moment," he's found that people report being happier when they are with friends than when they're with a spouse or child. It sounds counterintuitive, but it makes sense: When we're with friends, we're intensely engaged, whereas we don't pay as much focused attention to family -- they recede into the background, since we see them all the time.

"Happy Hour" - Psychology Today

As for who the women preferred to be with, friends clearly won out with a positive score of 4.36. Children landed in the middle, after relatives and spouses.

The boss scored just 3.52.

"When people are asked how much they enjoy spending time with their kids they think of all the nice things -- reading them a story, going to the zoo," said University of Michigan psychologist Norbert Schwarz, who worked on the study.

"But they don't take the other times into account, the times when they are trying to do something else and find the kids distracting."

This new method creates a more accurate picture than asking people to generally report how much they like various activities, Schwarz said in a statement.

"Saying that you generally don't enjoy spending time with your kids is terrible, but admitting that they were a pain last night is quite acceptable," he said.

New method helps map women's happiness
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Hm. Strange.

Maybe they should define "happy" then. Like, I feel happy when I'm "having lunch with friends", but it's a completely different kind of happy than the happiness I feel when I'm with my son. The 2nd happy is a much deeper and profound happiness.

Maybe lots of people don't allow themselves to feel (positive or negative) past a certain threshold. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think emotions are seen as NOT "cool" - whether they be happy, sad, angry, scared or whatever. Seems like emotions should be stifled. Anything beyond that is crazy, hysterical, out of control or whatever.

Never-the-less, I'm still a bit in awe of these studies that suggest more happiness will be experienced by non-parents. Bizarre.

Haha...Buuuuuuuut --- then again, this is coming from me -a person who has always been confused about her own parent's lack of empathy, caring and connection towards their own kids. I just never "got" it - just like I don't "get" the conclusions of these studies.
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David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I have found myself saying at times, as my mother used to say when I was growing up, "these kids will be the death of me" or "you kids are going to drive me into an early grave".

But those are expressions of stress and frustration. They're not expressions of unhappiness.

I think there are some logical flaws in the study, personally. The primary value is that it makes the point that having children is not for everyone and not having children does not mean that a couple is doomed to unhappiness. I think it's also true that if a couple fails to work together to remain connected, children can create a great deal of strain and disconnection in a relationship.

Those are important points to understand. But to conclude or suggest that having children is bad for your mental health is nonsense, in my opinion.

It reminds me of the misogynist joke about how married men don't live longer - it just seems longer. But at least that is supposed to be a joke.

I agree with all that you wrote. I don't think that one needs to have kids to be able to experience the height of happiness. And I definitely agree that -a suggestion of having children being bad for your mental health is nonsense!
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