The cliché refers to newborn children as "bundles of joy," but recent research indicates that bundles of anxiety, or even bundles of depression, might be more accurate.
Sociologists are discovering that children may not make parents happier and that childless adults, contrary to popular stereotypes, may often be more contented than people with kids.
Parents "definitely experienced more depression," says Robin Simon, a sociologist at Florida State University who has studied data on parenting.
"Part of our cultural beliefs is that we derive all this joy from kids," says Simon. "It's really hard for people who don't feel this to admit it." Social pressures to view only the positive aspects of child rearing only make the problem worse, she says. "They're afraid to admit it because it runs so counter to our cultural beliefs that children make you happy."
Simon points out what any parent knows very well: Children, especially young children, can create lots of work and stress. "There are very many positive things that come out of having kids, but it's a mixed bag," she says. "They are demanding. They are a responsibility, and it's a responsibility that doesn't end."
And studies have also shown, says Simon, that parental depression increases along with the number of children parents have.
But Simon says that the importance of studies of parental depression lies in their providing a groundwork for fighting it. "People ought to understand where this unhappiness comes from," she says. "I would say it's not from their kids per se, I would say that it comes from the social conditions in which contemporary parents parent."
Parents, says Simon, are far too often left on their own and have very few support systems. "We don't have family friendly policies," she says. "We don't allow people, I believe, as a society to reap the full joys of parenthood."