Parents Are Happier Than Non-Parents -- But Only If Their Kids Move Out

by Julie Scagell
Originally Published: 

Gentle reminder things will get easier when our kids take care of us

Our kids bring us endless joy and happiness. They also bring stress, sleeplessness, and never-ending neediness. A new study agrees with the original sentiment — but found out it’s not until later in life when those little birdies finally fly the coop that this is true. Bless.

A team of researchers led by Christoph Becker at Heidelberg University in Germany found parents reported being happier than non-parents in old age but only when (and if) their kids have moved out. The study surveyed 55,000 people age 50 and over from 16 European countries about their mental well-being and how it relates to family status and found “as stress associated with balancing the competing demands of childcare, work and personal life decreases, once people get older and their children leave (home), the importance of children as caregivers and social contacts might prevail.”

One of the biggest factors, according to the study, is that older children provide social support for parents as they age, which has been shown to be linked to greater happiness and less loneliness later in life. “The results suggest that the finding of a negative link between children and well-being and mental health may not generalize to older people whose children have often left home already,” the study said.

Not to put words in the researchers’ mouths but perhaps it could also be because we spend 18 (+) years hanging on our kids’ every need, being order taker, taxi driver, butt wiper, and laundry-doer (plus one million other things) that by the time they’re out of the house and self-sufficient (fingers crossed), we can sit back a bit, relax, and enjoy them as adults.

It could also be because parents in the U.S. don’t have the same support system as other countries. A 2016 study of 22 countries found that parents with children at home were actually slightly happier than their child-free peers in places like Norway, Portugal, and Sweden, all countries that have paid parental leave, ample holiday and sick time, and generous childcare options.

Becker also said our kids may also be able to provide care and financial support as their parents’ age and that “children’s role as caregivers, financial support or simply as social contact might outweigh negative aspects of parenthood.” Let’s hope this is true.

This research backs a University of Utah study that found empty-nest parents aged 50 to 70 “were 5 to 6 percent more likely to report being very happy than those with kids still at home,” New Scientist reported.

Obviously, we love our kids with every ounce of our beings, but perhaps we will love them just a little bit more when we don’t have to take care of them. Who can argue with science?

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