Why parents should NOT make children their highest priority

Research over the past 40 years has generally suggested that adults with children are less happy than nonparents.

Dr. Jennifer Glass studied the happiness of parents and nonparents in 22 industrialized countries. She discovered that overall Americans rated their happiness as among the highest of any country, second only to Finland in a soon to be published study in the American Journal of Sociology,

However, Americans also reported the highest parenting-happiness tax among all of the countries in her study. Being a parent in America is more likely to result in a greater drop in happiness than in any other of the 22 countries.

Parenting is tough, but why is it more so in America than elsewhere? The researchers looked at a variety of social policies related to parenting, and have suggested an interesting insight into understanding the problems of American parents. They concluded that “…the more generous family policies, particularly paid time off and childcare subsidies are associated with smaller disparities in happiness between parents and nonparents.”

It makes sense the pressures of parenting can be mitigated by allowing moms and dads more flexibility in their work schedules, having paid leave and childcare subsidies. These are all great policies to consider, but I think this parenting-happiness tax is also due to another factor.

I suspect that American parents, particularly over the past 50 years, have imposed this happiness tax on themselves by mistakenly making their children the highest priority in their lives.

My dad was a quiet man, but I still remember his comment that my mom was his highest priority in our family. I knew that my parents loved me and made incredible sacrifices to pay for the tuition for a Catholic education. However, my parents’ lives didn’t revolve around their children. We were part of a family, and our needs were balanced against those of two working adults.

Parenting seems different today. Parents proudly claim that their kids are their highest priority. This is unhealthy for everyone in the family. Parents seem to react more to minor issues with their kids, placing undue pressure on themselves to be responsible for how their kids turn out.

This self-induced stress may be partly responsible for the happiness tax. Few kids ever live up to our hopes and dreams for what we want them to achieve. We inadvertently allow our happiness to be determined by our kids’ achievement and behavior.

You can avoid this parenting-happiness tax by taking good care of yourself and your spouse, not making your kids the highest priority. It will make you a better parent, and a happier person.

Next Week: The most important thing you can do to raise happy and healthy children

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