New research explains why American parents aren’t as happy as their counterparts in other countries
America. Land of the free, home of the…miserable parents. Apparently. Obviously, that’s not how the verse is supposed to go, but new information collected from parents in several nations is suggesting it’s the truth. Parents in this country aren’t as happy as their non-parent counterparts. But it’s not for the reasons you might think.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth between parties about who’s happier: parents or non-parents? In this debate, it’s often thought that parenting is simply difficult and time-consuming and money-consuming and happiness-sapping, and that translates to pissed off parents and free-wheeling, happy, non-parents. But as it turns out, that’s not the case.
New research from the American Journal of Sociology shows that out of 22 developed countries, America has the most unhappy parents with a “happiness gap” of 13% as compared to non-parents. The research suggests there are solid reasons for that fact and also, that it doesn’t need to be like this.
Parents in Russia, France, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Hungary, and Portugal all showed an increase in parental happiness when compared to non-parents, and the factors that closed that gap in 100% of cases? Oh, just the little things in life. Paid sick and vacation leave along with subsidized childcare.
Shocking, right? That not having to stress about money 24/7 might allow parents to actually like being a parent.
Jennifer Glass, of the University of Texas, led the study and had this to say about the result. “As social scientists we rarely completely explain anything, but in this case we completely explain the parental happiness gap.” She explains that in countries with comprehensive family-friendly policies, “the parental deficit in happiness was completely eliminated, accomplished by raising parent’s happiness rather than lowering non-parents’ happiness.”
The researchers used information from various social surveys from 2007 and 2008 to create an index that included three policies: paid maternal leave, paid vacation and sick leave and work flexibility. It was discovered that in countries high on this index with the best policies, those parents were just as happy as non-parents, or even happier.
How about that.
When a country takes care of its families, it makes those families happier. This is so fucking simple, it’s ridiculous. Yet, we remain among only a handful of developed nations that have yet to pull their heads out of their asses and treat parents like actual human beings who deserve time off while enduring sleepless nights and vaginal bleeding without having to worry about their electricity being shut off. Or to be able to take time off when their child is sick without being terrified of losing their jobs.
In “the greatest country in the world,” this should be a given. A minimum. Not a perk.
Look, no matter what, parenting is hard. The emotional and mental toll it takes to constantly worry about little people you’d throw yourself into shark-infested waters for is huge. It never stops. But there’s also a lot to love about being a parent and so many incredible moments to be had. However, those moments are often overshadowed by so many concerns that the majority of parents share. How can we be happy and fulfilled and — it’s crazy, I know — actually enjoy our kids if we’re perpetually stressed by how badly our country treats us?
Because, here’s the thing — so many of the reasons American parents have it tough can be traced back to the total and complete lack of support, both financially and otherwise, from employers and the government. Our country’s values of personal autonomy and not needing “help” mean that many believe giving parents paid parental leave is somehow a hand-out or something they don’t deserve. That moms and dads should save money for parental leave and have a cadre of daycare options so they never miss work. As though parents should stress themselves in every way in order to avoid inconveniencing anyone else with their “burden.” This bootstrap mentally can honestly die, because it’s fucking wrong.
In other developed nations, parental leave, flexibility in the workplace and reasonably affordable childcare subsidized by the government are just something that happens because it’s the right thing to do. How can a parent be happy when half their income goes toward daycare and they’re constantly worried about money? Or their boss being upset that they had to leave early because the babysitter got sick? Or leaving their 6-week-old at daycare so they can return to work?
Being a parent means you’re always on, even when you’re not. Employers being flexible and allowing a mom or dad to parent without fear of damaging their career or not being able to pay their bills is crucial. It’s about time America caught up to the rest of the world and allowed parents the chance to be just as happy as everyone else.