Sound Off

Open Thread: Does Parenting Equal Depression?


Bundle of joy. Or not hide caption

itoggle caption

On the show today, we heard from a researcher who told us most parents report being happier when they go grocery shopping than when they spend time with their kids.

"We don't have family-friendly policies," says Robin Simon, a sociologist at Florida State University. "We don't allow people, I believe, as a society to reap the full joys of parenthood."

Amen to that. When you live in a nation of hour-long commutes, heavy workweeks and paid maternity leaves of a few weeks (if you're lucky), who could be surprised that parents are desperate for the freedom of a simple trip to the store?



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

It's only depression if you don't accept that your life will be completely different from what it was before you had children. Schedule constraints change and your circle of friends will change and probably become significantly smaller.

Sent by Richard Whalen | 1:59 PM | 7-7-2008

Bringing another human being into the world and then spending the next 18 - 22 years helping the child become a healthy, responsible, contributing citizen is a huge responsibility. Many people become parents without full information or support for the tasks ahead. If the person was not parented well to begin with themselves it can be very overwhelmeing. All of us need to do everything we can to bring each new generation up to prosper not fail.... including how we support parents "to be" and parents already in deep with children. Children can be a joy to their parents most of each day and most of a lifetime when the job is done well.

Sent by mary munger | 2:38 PM | 7-7-2008

I appreciate when there is a candid discussion of parenthood that is not weighed down by the social pressure to present parenthood as an unmitigated blessing. When I was pregnant with my third (and last!) child I became clinically depressed -- brought on by the burdens by my current responsibilities and the new ones I would soon face. One hard part of it all was the lack of recognition from society as a whole of how hard it is to support and raise children. As Anna Quinlan once put it -- children are both a burden and a blessing.

Sent by Liz Wisniewski | 2:39 PM | 7-7-2008

I am living exactly the challenges mentioned in the article now. I am the mother of 3 and 1 year old boys. They bring tremendous joy in my and my husband's life, but there is no doubt that our marriage has taken a hit that is tough to recover from and giving up our previously 'selfish' behaviors is easier said than done. We have both wondered out loud 'what have we DONE?!', but then one of them smiles and your heart melts and you are glad with the choices you have made. Maybe not happier on the whole, but certainly not unhappy with the choice.

And I would discourage anyone from moving away from family and friends for a job, etc. We live in the midwest and both families are on the west coast and it makes it tremendously difficult. Not just for the sitting that grandparents often offer or the meals cooked by others on occassion, but the required travel/vacations to family and the frequent visits by grandparents.

Sent by Roberta | 2:51 PM | 7-7-2008

I tell all the scared new parents that I know that even with all the bad stuff, in my experience it's all been great and each new stage of my daughter's life is better than the one before. That's not to say life isn't more difficult, messy, expensive, anxiety-producing, and all that stuff, but on the whole I'm more positive about having a kid than negative.

But that could be because my daughter, trying as she may be at times, gives me a lot less grief on the whole than some of her friends appear to give their parents. Am I lucky? Am I just a good mom? I don't know, but I have to say I don't envy some of my mom friends. They look pretty tired--the ones who are full-time at home and the ones who work outside the home as well. I try to offer support and a shelter from the storm when I can.

Sent by Tricia, NPR | 3:02 PM | 7-7-2008

Anyone who does not think their lives will change exponentially with the arrival of children, is living in a fantasy world. I have found that the addition of my first child shook my life's foundations (and provided several months of post-partum depression), but ultimately has made it, and my marriage, stronger. There are times when I wish for a different lfestyle, one that would allow me more time with her, but I never regret becoming a parent. I find I don't miss the no-kid world, and my eyes have been opened to experiences I never really knew existed. In my estimation, parenting is ultimately whatever you make it to be...the best this life can offer you, or something to drag you down. I choose the first option.

Sent by Kristi | 3:03 PM | 7-7-2008

Having children invests you in this world more than anything else possibly could. It also makes you more vulnerable, self-critical, self-demanding, and exhausted than anything else possibly could. Your children need you for EVERYTHING in their first years of life and that can be very draining. However, there is no other love in this universe like the love you feel for your children and the completely unconditional love that your children feel for you. Childhood speeds by faster than one realizes. Before you know it, those helpless babies are grown and self-sufficient people. As stressed as I can become, trying to be the best mother I can be, I never forget to appreciate every moment with my small children. We only get a few precious years before they become adults. I may not get to do whatever I please on a Saturday night, but I get storytime, bathtime, giggles, and wonders, hugs and kisses and an immense amount of love.

Sent by Jaime Sanborn | 3:25 PM | 7-7-2008

When the all-too-common post-child depression sets in, it's complicated when that child has been gained through adoption and the parent is single. When I adopted my now 12-year-old daughter from China ten years ago, I sought counseling through my Employee Assistance Program to help me deal with the unmitigated depression that I was experiencing. Big mistake. The MALE counselor told me, "So now you're 48 years old and you have a child. Get over it." I eventually did, but it was tough, until I learned to step outside of myself and daily observe my life as if it was a movie, and I could choose how I wanted her childhood movie to end when she goes off to college. It's still hard a lot of times, but having my daughter is also the best thing I've ever done. I never could have known the depth of love, or how strong I am, without her.

Sent by Jean | 3:25 PM | 7-7-2008

Thank you for this story. My husband and I are currently trying to decide whether or not to have children. I have some friends who have had children and they love it, but it's nice to hear the other side. However, my husband and I wish that we could hear a truely objective discussion on whether or not to have children. This discussion has been more objective than most I have heard. Thank you!

Sent by Julia Havelick | 4:00 PM | 7-7-2008

there is no perfect life...but from my almost 60 year old single chair there is hardly a doubt in my mind that the ups and downs of family life are ultimately a premier choice for most one has cornered the market on depression...

Sent by janet | 4:09 PM | 7-7-2008

Articles like this allow me to breath a temporary sigh of relief. I am 33 and have never wanted to have children. My husband totally supports me on this, but we both are constantly defending this decision from well-meaning, but pushy friends. The guilt I feel from our parents who desperately want grandkids is almost unbearable at times. I just want everyone to be okay with the fact that I personally do not want to birth and raise a child. That does not make me an evil, self-centered, "baby hater". According to this article, I might actually be a better friend and daughter if I don't force myself into having my own "bundle of not-so-much-joy. Thanks for bringing the issue to light. And for those of you out there with childfree friends, please go easy on them and respect their hard decisions. Believe it or not, it's a daily struggle for them too and our feelings run just as deep.

Sent by Constance | 4:32 PM | 7-7-2008

Parenting is hard work and demands alot of sacrifice. The media tells us to enjoy life that we are not a complete person unless we have the big house, big car, latest gadget,and exotic vacations. When you have kids you can not afford that crap and you are told you are not sucessful.

Sent by Bob | 4:34 PM | 7-7-2008

Like all sociological studies, what other factors are involved? Did they factor out post-partum depression, which happens only to women who have given birth? Did they also factor for income difference and racial make-ups? Did they also factor in the availability of extended family and/or affordable child care? Just making a blanket statement like, "Childless couples are happier," doesn't take other factors into account.

On a personal note, the few times "mwanangu" (Swahili for "my son") gives me heartburn from getting his diaper on right are far outwayed by his single-toothed smile that lightens up any room he's in.

Sent by Matthew C. Scallon | 5:16 PM | 7-7-2008

I have had the baby blues numerous times in my life....hang in there it does get better. much joy (usually) awaits.....

Sent by sharon jones blount | 6:22 PM | 7-7-2008

Suppose the thesis of this article was true. What could a person do with the information? Would anyone avoid having children based on this report? This would presuppose that having a child was a rational choice when it really cannot be. No one knows or even could know what they are getting into. As a local radio host used to say, "Parenthood: the last true amateur sport." Conceiving a baby always has been a leap of faith on those occasions when it was a conscious decision at all.

@Constance: "The guilt I feel from our parents who desperately want grandkids is almost unbearable at times."

I hear you. Our parents have been pretty cool with our childless status, but we still get flak from them and friends from time to time. I have tried many explanations, but the one that has worked the best is "we're just not that selfish." Usually this leads to vigorous defense of child raising as selfless, but logically this doesn't hold up. Before conception the child is hypothetical. You can't do anything for the benefit of a creature that does not yet exist. Thus the decision to have a baby must necessarily be done for the benefit of the parents. The parents are creating a being for their own enjoyment, or put the more typical way, the need to love someone and be loved in return. That's about as selfish as it gets. I only whip this argument out, however, when people really annoy me, and it has a perfect record of keeping subject from coming up again.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 6:23 PM | 7-7-2008

Constance- breathe easy and let the pressure role off your back. I love my kids' dearly but if I hadn't have wanted them 100% I don't know how I'd have made it through the long nights, temper tantrums and drastic changes to my life. It is 100% okay for you to not want to have children of your own. A mom's (and dad's) best friend is a childless friend needing a kid fix.

Sent by LeeAnn | 6:27 PM | 7-7-2008

With 4 children ages 6 and under, this information doesn't surprise me at all. My husband and I fight over who gets to go to Costco and the dog park, taking only one or two children. Or even, gasp, alone. A break from the constant "neediness" helps improve the ability to truly appreciate how wonderful they are (most of the time). This is also why we both work outside the home.

Occationally we torture ourselves and ask, where would we be right now if we didn't have kids? Answers have included: Paris, Thailand, Crater Lake, but, the most realistic answer is: the office. Yes, our careers would probably be more successful, but I'm not sure I'd be any happier.

Sent by Sandy, Honolulu | 7:46 PM | 7-7-2008

Oh, man! No question, kids f*** your life up! But they are are also awsome and bring a lot of purpose to life. So, you know, if you want to experience the awesome power of nature, feel totally cool because "my daddy can fix anything" and get a lot of love, have kids. If you want to continue going out to eat, take off for spontaneous weekend getaways, or have sex anytime besides between the hours of 9 and 11 pm, don't have kids. Fine choices either way.

Sent by Jack | 10:24 PM | 7-7-2008

I think the thrust of the issue is about how the society accommodates parents and their needs. The reasons that give rise to postpartum depressions is complex and complicated. But I think if there are more supports, finanical, social and medical, are accessible to new parents, many depression cases can be resolved quicker. I have a 3 year old and a newborn, and they both give me tremendous amount of joy but also work. I'm exhausted by the end of the day most of the time, and have been using a cleaning lady (not very affordable) two times a week to take care of housework. This helps leave me time to spend with my kids.

What I'm trying to say is that if there are more affordable childcare options, more family-friendly work environment available for parents, raising kids need not to be stressful. Having kids increase our quality of life if the necessary support systems are built-in in our society

Sent by Eliza Ho | 10:52 PM | 7-7-2008

I'm not the breeder and I grew up in a ZPG generation. Life, itself, is far too depressing to be bearable. The kids, however, are great: chipper in the face of a perpetually downturning economy and environmental suicide. Perhaps they just don't know how bad it will be.
I miss zoning out on being a news junkie, like Winston Smith, keeping up in an indifferent oblivious way. I resent and worry about the kids wasting their time in schooling and not getting an education, esp. a lucrative or meaningful one, fast enuf. I'm happy they're learning music, a language a never encountered. But, all in all, it's not the kids that are the downer, it's my inability to faithfully ever after provide for them.

Sent by d | 12:19 AM | 7-8-2008

I have never been this physically exhausted in my life. A promising career has practically come to a grinding halt as I struggle to raise two little boys (5 years and 2 years). But, you know what, I love it and I cannot imagine my life without them.

Sent by Nandita, Boston area | 12:59 AM | 7-8-2008

For me, parenthood has been extremely joyful. I have four children,all under 10, and though parenting is stressful, I find it very rewarding as well. My kids are fun! I laugh every day. We appreciate each other! Sure, being a family is work, but I wouldn't trade being a mom for anything. I would like to hear more about how this study defined "Joy". I haven't met alot of parents that feel they would be happier if they didn't have children, and I bet the parents in this study would overwhelming agree that they are happy they have their children.

Sent by Lara, Wyoming | 2:06 AM | 7-8-2008

I have five children and I love it. They are grown now and they have given me eight grandchildren. That is another joy beyond belief. But I must admit it was hard work; I was a stay at home mom, and to make life in the kitchen creative for us all, I taught the three boys and two girls how to cook, and bake and to sew, embroider. No distinction between the sexes as to skill, they all attended mom's kitchen class whenever I heard "I have nothing to do". Today any one of them can turn out a gourmet dinner for 50. I expected good behavior, manners, love of other, and respect for all. It was instilled in them and it influenced their behavior then and now. Sure they fought, but not to the point of physical harm. And there were moments when I felt exhausted, needed a break, etc. But the rewards were greater than you can ever imagine.

Sent by Antoinette | 8:38 AM | 7-8-2008

@Constance & @Dave Wiley, without getting too much into your personal businesses or TMI for that matter, unless you and respective spouses join cloistered monasteries, there will always be the possibility that you will become parents. You may not like it. You may not want it. You may not have planned it, but there he/she is, nonetheless.

So let's say that the study is true. As the son of a sociologist, I doubt it, since there are so many other factors not accounted for, but I'll take the point for the sake of argument. Given this information, along with the knowledge that parenthood is still a statistical possibility, what will do with that information?

Sent by Matthew C. Scallon | 12:31 PM | 7-8-2008

Gauging the quality of a person's life by measuring their level of happiness is like assessing someone's diet by measuring how many calories they consume. There are many other factors that contribute to overall satisfaction.

Sent by Edward Noodleburg | 2:31 PM | 7-8-2008

@Matthew C. Scallon "Given this information, along with the knowledge that parenthood is still a statistical possibility, what will do with that information?"

I'm with you in thinking the information is worthless, but I'll take the question at face value anyway. My wife and I could roger like rabbits until the cows came home, and if we conceived a child there would be a Nobel prize in it for someone.(I can't decide if this is indeed TMI or merely a massacred metaphor, but I'll let it stand.) I admit there is a nonzero chance I could have a child, although it would most likely involve me changing my mind about children and how much I love my current wife and marrying a younger woman. (Is Teri Polo still single?) I'll worry about this possibility about as much as I worry about what a space shuttle trip will do to my cancer risk.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 3:18 PM | 7-8-2008

@ Matthew Scallon: "...unless you and respective spouses join cloistered monasteries, there will always be the possibility that you will become parents."

Based on your previous posts and your stated position on abortion, I know you know that's not necessarily true. At least not for women. Even those who would never have an abortion can give their child to adoptive parents and possibly never see him or her after the delivery.

My point is that some of us would be wasting our neurons thinking about "what if" because we do know, with certainty, that we will never be parents.

Still, it's an interesting discussion to listen to as an outsider.

Sent by Maura | 3:42 PM | 7-8-2008

@Dave Wiley, I'm glad to see that you can answer a serious question and still keep your sense of humor. Good for you.

@Maura: "Based on your previous posts and your stated position on abortion, I know you know that's not necessarily true." And I'm the one accused of bringing up the a-word on every topic! As my dearly departed Welsh grandmother used to say, oy vey!

In any event, no, every conjugal heterosexual contact has the potential for reproduction, thus, if we don't want children, geographically imposed abstinance is the only guarantee. Contraceptives may mitigate the possibility, but they don't eliminate.

As to adoption, as one who has read my earlier comments, you should already know we are in the process of adopting --a process longer than pregnancy, as it has turned out. When speaking about parenting, we still have the pregnancy aspect, which, like it or not, is part of the parenting process, even if the parents giving birth are not ultimately the parents raising the child.

P.S. And, on a much happier note: HAPPY 9-MONTH BIRTHDAY, ROY MARTIN SCALLON. Nukapenda sana sana, mwanangu. Just like Allison's little Isaac, you get your good looks from your mother, and I thank God for that!

Sent by Matthew C. Scallon | 8:09 PM | 7-8-2008

Parenting is really about sacrifice. If you are not willing to sacrifice your reality for your children's reality then forget about it. Children are great but they are also defiant, rude, selfish, self centered, unappreciative of your sacrifice, and very rarely wrong. This is a core part of being a child.

Sent by Eman | 2:07 AM | 7-9-2008

@Matthew C. Scallon: Yes. The decision to still have children exists, which is why I am constantly forcing myself to hear both sides of the argument while it is still my CHOICE to make. Everyone in my life says they want motherhood for me, but I am suspicious that misery loves company. This "report" only backs up that theory. I can't remember my mother EVER being happy when I was young.

I know what I feel in my heart which is about 90% "don't do it", but there is still that small percent which says "millions of lemmings can't be wrong".

I still do not know how I would handle the news if I became accidentally pregnant. Would I automatically become maternal? Would I run to the abortion clinic? I honestly have no idea.

Sent by constance | 1:07 PM | 7-9-2008

I'm far too anxious and depressed to participate in this discussion. Oh wait, my son just woke up...

Sent by Chris | 1:15 PM | 7-9-2008

I find it very interesting to read the posts about how parenting is a sacrifice. Unfortunately there are many parents who are not willing to make the required sacrifices. Working in a busy children's department has convinced me of this. Every day I witness parents who refuse to interrupt whatever they are doing to correct their children's bad behavior. They allow their little monsters to inflict torment upon everyone nearby and refuse to step in when it is clearly their responsibility to do so. I'm sure it is because they are exhausted from having to deal with their obnoxious children all the time, but that is one's choice (for the most part, barring unexpected pregnancies.) I often wonder whether the parents of those little monsters actually thought about what they would do with those babies once they had them? I just can't figure out why people would have children if they don't want to be the parent. I wish someone had told them that it is OK not to have children!

Sent by Lynn | 2:55 PM | 7-9-2008

@constance: "I still do not know how I would handle the news if I became accidentally pregnant. Would I automatically become maternal? Would I run to the abortion clinic? I honestly have no idea."

In either event, you'd still be a parent. The only difference is whether or not you'd be the mother of a live baby. I hate to put it in such stark terms, but I would do you a disservice if I didn't tell you otherwise.

Sent by Matthew C. Scallon | 5:03 PM | 7-9-2008

People who chose to raise children to legal adulthood have given up their rights to be happy, free individuals for 18 years.

You need a scientific study to see how that might lead to depression?

Sent by Sean | 5:59 PM | 7-9-2008

@Matthew: How dare you even open your mouth about Constance's right to choose? Why don't you cut to the chase and call her a babykiller outright? Just because you cloak your piety in polite chitchat doesn't make it any less distasteful.

Sent by ew | 6:37 PM | 7-9-2008

@ew: "How dare you even open your mouth about Constance's right to choose?" I'm glad to hear from you, too. Technically, I didn't "open my mouth" so much as press my fingers, but, in any event, I didn't bring up the topic. Someone else did. If you have a problem with my opening my mouth, as it were, take it up with them.

"Why don't you cut to the chase and call her a babykiller outright?" No, I won't, because, as the potential mother of a dead baby, she'll be a second victim. The abortion industry which profits from potentially killing the baby deserves that title.

"Just because you cloak your piety in polite chitchat doesn't make it any less distasteful." Thank you for recognizing how polite I am. My dear pro-life feminist mother will be happy to hear how well I represented her.

Sent by Matthew C. Scallon | 7:49 PM | 7-9-2008

Parenting one 'unexpected' child and one totally planned child, I can say that there is a HUGE (I mean BIGGGG) difference in perspective (ie. mental stability) between the two. What was once complete sacrifice has become a labor of love. And true, it's a sacrifice/labor of love that nobody can explain before it happens (think about the correlating differences between descriptions of and actual orgasms), if you've mentally prepared yourself - by means of willfully becoming a parent - it is MUCH LESS anxiety ridden and depressing. Socially Mandatory Disclaimer: It is the greatest joy in life, on the whole.

Sent by A | 7:56 PM | 7-9-2008

I'm somewhat shocked at how many people out there defend child bearing. It's like mass Stockholm Syndrome. The best commentary on child bearing I've ever read comes in the Alice Walker novel, Meridian. The mother thinks daily about murdering her child, is sometimes afraid of the child, and when she has an opportunity to go to school, gives the child up for adoption in a heartbeat.

Sent by Alex | 8:04 PM | 7-9-2008

@ Matthew Scallon - picking fights on this thread only proves your unhappiness. You are a parent, correct?

Anyway, I would rather hear from the women, mothers and non. Let's face it--this is their emotional battle.

Sent by Trudie | 2:17 PM | 7-10-2008

@Matthew C. Scallon:"In any event, no, every conjugal heterosexual contact has the potential for reproduction, thus, if we don't want children, geographically imposed abstinance is the only guarantee. Contraceptives may mitigate the possibility, but they don't eliminate."

I take it you've never heard of vasectomy/tubal legation/hysterectomy? If you don't have the ingredients, the recipe fails.

Sent by JR | 2:04 PM | 7-12-2008

I don't think is a very adult position to believe that you should be "happy" while rearing children. I believe that preparing your children for that world is a very much harder proposition than most adults in our society are ready for. Your happiness should be one of the many things that you are willing to give up before you decide to produce viable offspring.

Sent by Mr. P | 9:00 PM | 7-12-2008

Being young, hormonal and naive is why I think people have children (that's how nature tricks us and has ensured the success of the human race) I also ended up with 2 boys who I love so much that I fear for them 24 hours a day. Having children means never having another anxiety free peaceful moment in your life. Until the day you expire you will be worried about illness, education, swimming pools, nutrition, emotional stability, bullying, child molesters, car accidemts, gangs, drugs etc... Does that all sound too dramatic? I have stopped watching the news. This discussion focuses mainly on our western life style. Think about people in 3rd world coumtries. Leaving a baby lying alone on a mattress in a shack all day because you have try and find work...or watching it die because of a mosquito bite - imagine how happy a mother must feel about having a child then?! This world is crawling with human beings. Making the decision not to add to the numbers is probably one of the most eco-friendly and selfless things a person can do! Having a baby is a deep instinctive desire for most women/men but looking at the history of life we all know that unless we are extremely lucky and 'fall asleep' in a soft comfy armchair infront of the TV at a ripe old age most of us will come to a sticky end. Why inflict that on a little baby that you claim to love more than life itself.....I wish I had listened to my mom (who really does love us) and done what my brother and sister have decided...They haven't had children and so far the only side effects have been their happy carefree lives!! Don't misunderstand me. Now that I have my kids I am doing everything in my power to make sure they have a happy, safe life, surprising myself by facing challenges I never thought I could and actually 'growning' up in the process! Maybe that's the meaning of life!

Sent by Gudrun | 12:52 PM | 7-22-2008