Are You Happy Now?

goofy_familyMany moons ago when Ad Man and I were childless and living in Los Angeles, the family I worked for as a nanny in Chicago came out for a visit. Ad Man and I took the kids while their parents enjoyed their first weekend away in eight years. I remember thinking at the time that it was insane that they hadn’t had even a night away together since their oldest son was born. That was mind-blowing to me.

Fast forward to the other day when I was asked the following question by Gabriele Neumann of Basically I’m Complicated:
Q: You get a free one week trip for two to anywhere in the world! Where do you go and who do you take with you?

In formulating my answer, it occurred to me that Ad Man and I haven’t been away together without the kids since Biggie was born…eight years ago. We have a number of married friends who take trips alone fairly often but they all live close to family members who are happy to take the offspring for a weekend. We, unfortunately, don’t have that luxury. But, I don’t think we’re alone in this situation. Many people tend to neglect their relationships once children hit the scene.

Which brings me to an article I read recently from the Telegraph. The headline was ‘Happier Relationships for Couples Without Children.’ The article addressed a study done by Open University in the UK that surveyed and conducted extensive interviews with 5,000 couples of different ages, financial conditions and sexual orientations who were in long-term relationships. The research showed that, overall, childless couples reported more satisfaction with their lives and felt more valued by their partners.

As a married, mother of two, my first reaction to the article was, of course, “How dare you! I am blissfully happy with my loving husband and beautiful children. Every day is like a honeymoon for my Ad Man and I, the kids are perfectly behaved at all times and I feel completely fulfilled.” Just kidding!  Would I have named my blog MommyEnnui if that’s really how I thought?

baby_birthday_someecardIn reality, my reaction was, “No shit!” I mean, think about it. That’s like saying, “We were so much happier when we had money, could go out for dinner or see a movie any damn time we liked, got to sleep in on the weekends, had sex on a regular basis and lived close to all our friends in our city of choice. Ever since we bought that failing farm far away from loved ones, and started getting up before dawn to feed the animals and milk the cows, never, ever getting a day off, our relationship is less satisfying.” Did they really need to do a study to figure that out?!

Are Ad Man and I less happy now than we were during the nine years we were married before having kids? I can only answer for myself (though I’m guessing he would agree) and I would say absolutely. Despite what Biggie and Smalls say, my life today bears only a slight resemblance to my life prior to children. Back then, I had a successful career, was a newlywed, lived in LA and had lots of friends who I saw often. Ad Man and I had plenty of disposable income and were able to travel. Of course I felt more valued by my partner! We had a relatively simple life with lots of time and energy to dedicate to each other.

This isn’t to say that my life is less happy overall. Interestingly, the Open University study also found that mothers were the happiest of the research subjects despite reporting that they were less satisfied in their romantic relationships than they were before having children. Since having kids, my life is far more complicated. My worries are deeper…will we have the money to send the girls to private school in a few years, let alone college? Will my children grow up to be fine, upstanding young women or will they be psychopaths? How in the hell am I going to survive their teen years?

But, my highs are also higher. These two monsters bring me more joy than I ever thought possible. When I watch them learn to ride a two-wheeler, or make a new friend or listen to their hilarious observations, my heart just about explodes in my chest. Are they pains-in-the-ass much of the time? Yes, but they’re my pains-in-the-ass!  And,18 years goes by shockingly quickly. So, Ad Man and I know that we’ve got a little more than 12 years of having a kid in the house and, after that, the world is our oyster again. Hopefully, we’ll still have something to talk about other than our children!

How about you? Would you say your marriage was happier before having children? What about life in general? How has it changed? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

12 thoughts on “Are You Happy Now?

  1. I was mostly happy then and I’m still happy now. I definitely can’t say I was happier before because I really wanted a family, and now I have that so that part is fulfilled. We don’t go out to eat as much, but I don’t mind cooking. Of course, I only have the one little monster. Still, she can be a pain in the ass, but as you said so well, she’s MY pain in the ass ;-). One thing I did not anticipate (back in the days when I thought all couples with children should have regular date nights and get-aways, aside from the financial component of $20/hr babysitters) was that I wouldn’t want to. As it turns out, I want to bring her everywhere we go…even though I know she will make things more difficult for us! She also makes it more fun. Doug and I have talked about it, and he feels the same way. If we won a trip for 2 to anywhere, we would try to figure out if we could just go ahead and pay for that third ticket, because if we get to go to Spain or Hawaii or Ireland, we’d want her to be there and see it, too. She makes my life more exhausting, but also more interesting. Seriously, I am not looking forward to empty nest syndrome. Might need a few new puppies and kittens when that time comes.

    • You were born to be a mommy, Janet! And, S. is so sweet and absolutely hilarious. I do get that wanting to include her in your adventures. As much as I bitch about not getting alone time, the minute I’m away from the munchkins, I miss them like crazy! I’m sure I’ll be singing a different tune when I’m deep in an empty-nest-induced depression! xoxo

  2. I have never been able to experience marriage before children. Mark was widowed with 4 children and I was a single, never-married parent with Aly (a nice surprise at 35 years old) when we got married (at 42 years old). So our wedding (& no honeymoon) was in Jamaica with our 5 children as the wedding party. Then came Laney 1 year later. Then came several health (cancer, ASD, etc.) and child-related crises including having 6 children in 6 different schools. But, it is SO wonderful that you and Ad Man had those years together before children !!! And, you will have empty-nester fun before you know it. In the meantime, we would love to watch your precious children if you want to take short or long vacations. Aly and Laney would love it! (I love your blog by the way!)

    • I had NO idea you and Mark had 6 kids between the two of you! And…at 6 different schools?! Lawd! Makes me want to drop off a bottle of wine and some Xanax to you right now. 😉

      You’d better be careful about that offer to spend a weekend with the kids. I may just take you up on it! xoxo

  3. A very different type of happy – pre-kids was more superficial, quick fix happiness but still brilliant, post kids it’s a much deeper, far richer and fulfilling happiness. Let’s swap kids at the weekends! We’ll have yours while you run away for a couple of nights, and then you can take ours while we go away for a week:) xx Seriously though…

  4. Funny I was just talking about this with my married no kids co worker. She had just gotten back from Africa. I was telling her that an old boyfriend of mine posts his travels with his beautiful trophy wife. While he was at the French Laundry; I was sitting in a discount theatre drinking wine out of a plastic cup( they serve wine, score!) watching Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs too!
    I said to my friend , ” Me and Dave had fun once!” Trying to be cool….we burst out laughing at how pathetic that sounded.
    What I have to remember….. Is that when it was just Dave and me… We had fun! We traveled! Went to two movies in one day….. Went to great restaurants…. But there was something missing and when I found it difficult to have my first child I was in utter despair.
    It is so true our marriage is kinda on hold. We view ourselves as Partners in crime…..and dream of the day( sometimes) when our kids will be so busy with their own lives that we will be forced to talk to each other again, maybe even take a trip. I am confident we’ll have fun again!!!!

  5. I really think that being parents of an only child significantly mitigates much of this, which is probably why my fellow stay-at-home parents used to call what I did “parenting light” when our son was little. Now that he’s about to graduate from high school, we’ve been taking inventory of how our lives will change and the recreational, leisure, and travel activities will only change in that, sadly, he won’t be doing them with us. It’s like having a really awesome neighbor move to another city, in that regard. We’re going to keep doing fun stuff, but with one part of the group missing. (He has awesome taste in live music, and has been going to places like Eddie’s Attic with us since he was six, so we’re very much going to miss his company there in particular.)

    I think the gravitational force of one child is different from the gravitational force of two or more. Only children (my wife and I were both only children as well) tend to get pulled into the adult world, as opposed to how multiple children pull their parents into the world of children. Also, quite frankly, I was never fond of what most adults considered “kidworld,” and figured it was my job to raise him for the adult world anyway.

    • That’s such a great point about only children vs. having two or more. I’ve definitely seen that with my friends who have one child. My daughters are still young (8 and almost 6) so we haven’t yet gotten to that point where we can enjoy activities together almost as peers, but I expect that will happen more and more as they get older.

      I went through a bit of a mini empty-next crisis when my youngest started all-day kindergarten, so I’m probably kidding myself when I think I’ll feel free and liberated when she starts college. Just hearing you describe your son leaving home to start college makes me sad. I hope you guys have a wonderful summer and that you and your wife get through the empty-nest transition quickly and without too much psychological damage. 😉 Hang in there!

      Thanks so much for reading and joining in the conversation.

  6. I’ve thought about this one quite a bit too – and am familiar with the study in question. I think, sure I was happier pre-kids for the freedom I had – the ability to be in charge of just me and do just what I wanted to do (or just what my husband and I wanted to do). The big change of kids is that you can’t do that anymore (or at least not for about 20 decades). But if you’ve always wanted kids, I can’t imagine you’d be happier if you never had them. I figure life happens in stages. And this stage is chaotic. There are moments of happiness I’d never have without kids. And there are also moments of deep frustration, fear, anger, worry etc… that I’d never have without kids. You can’t just opt into the Kodak moments. You have to take the full package.

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