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Fact or Fiction: Childfree Couples Are Happier Than Couples With Kids

Are childfree people happier?

Just this week, I was a guest on a morning talk show, and my host was a married man with a child. He mentioned that children are often a bonding factor for couples and he wondered how childfree couples are able to build and maintain a close relationship without a child. My response surprised him!

Intuitively, it seems that children would bring a ray of sunshine to a home. Likewise, a couple that is drifting apart or lacking for conversation at the dinner table could bring new energy to their marriage with the addition of a bundle of joy. The reality, however, is that this does not usually happen.

What the scientists found

The myth of the bonding effect of babies on marriage has been shattered through well-documented research. The American Sociological Association recently conducted a study on this very topic and found that parents are more likely to be depressed than their childfree counterparts. In fact, people without kids were happier than any other group, including empty nesters.

A 2009 New York Times article documented two decades of research examining the impact of children on marriage. The conclusion was that marital quality often drops after the transition into parenthood, and that there is an increase in marital happiness after the children leave home. So what's behind these findings?

What about the sex?

A couple's together time is never the same once a child enters the home. Dates have to be planned, babysitters arranged, and dinnertime conversations become baby-focused. Many couples complain that they begin to feel more like business partners as opposed to romantic partners. And sex? There's often not enough energy for this, not to mention the fact that many couples allow their child to sleep in their bedroom for the first couple of years following the birth. In some cases, the child is even in the marital bed.

"We never knew it would be so hard!"

How often have you heard that being a parent is the hardest job of a person's life? This is no doubt true for many, many couples. It's also the case that the stress of childrearing takes too much of a toll on some marriages, and the relationship simply cannot survive this stress. This is especially true when a pregnancy is not planned or when partners aren't on the same page with childrearing strategies. I've heard many divorcees say that it's honestly easier to raise a child alone than with their ex, because at least there's no need to find a common ground. Our society tends to glamorize the role of childrearing, so many people think it will be like Leave it to Beaver.

Kids are expensive, and I'm not just talking about money

Childrearing is romanticized, but the reality is that it's expensive and time-consuming. Recent statistics show that it costs about $200,000 to raise a child to the age of 18, and time-wise it takes an average of eight hours a day. These facts portray the hard reality of being a parent and the sacrifices that must be made. These demands may result in a couple who hoped to have one party stay at home instead having to put their child in daycare to make ends meet financially. The financial toll creates strain on the marriage, as does the lack of time to be together as a couple. Many couples work different shifts so that their child does not have to be in daycare. This sacrifice means limited time together.

"I never knew I would worry so much!"

The primary topic of conversation between many couples who have children is their kids, especially when there is a crisis situation. The emotional strain of childrearing is something that is not usually considered when those baby showers are happening. Sometimes child-focused worries and crises result in parents blaming one another for the situation.

So what's a couple to do?

As with other big life decisions, go into this one with your eyes wide open. If you're leaning towards having kids, make sure you're both fully committed to parenting, along with all the ups and downs that this will involve. Make sure you have a stable life and that you're fully prepared financially and otherwise. Discuss parenting ideas to make sure you can work as a team in childrearing. And if you don't think that parenting is for you, plan for how you will take advantage of the extra time, money, and overall freedom. Remember that parenting is a choice, not an obligation, and it's not for everyone.

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