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I love my kids and they are a source of bottomless joy, but, at age 41, I've often wondered whether my tolerance for all the frustration, lack of sleep, and broken glass they bring into my life would be higher if I were, oh, a solid fifteen years younger.
Probably not, according to a new global study. Across the board parents under 30 tend to grow less content each time they have a kid, perhaps because they can’t sleep at night wondering how they will one day be able to afford not just one but four sets of braces. The good news: That trend turns around when parents reach the big four-oh, where it seems that buying one extra day-pass to Disney isn’t all that daunting. By the time we hit 50, more is undoubtedly merrier, with happiness levels increasing proportionately with the number of offspring (presumably because when you shout “get mama a Diet Coke?” the odds of someone actually doing it increase).
The researchers, who crunched a staggering pile of data from more than 200,000 respondents to arrive at these conclusions, of course have some theories, many of which make sense: Older parents tend to be more financially secure. Older kids are just plain easier. The older you are, the greater the odds your kids have flown the coop, which apparently makes for giddy times although I can’t even fathom the thought of my future empty nest. (One hypothesis that made me laugh: As kids get older, they require less of a time and financial commitment. Time, maybe. But have the researchers priced auto insurance and family iPhone plans lately?)
The one thing this study didn’t look at was the age of the kids in question. Since women are having babies at eighteen and forty-eight these days, it’s unclear whether it’s having children later in life that gives you the bliss boost, or whether life just gets easier—and therefore happier—once the collective litter is sleeping through the night, wiping their own bums and can lug their own crap on family vacations. Either way, for old moms like me, who occasionally fantasize about taking off for a tropical isle for a year or two alone, the research is a relief. And younger moms still struggling with the demands of parenting can find comfort knowing that the best is yet to come.