Dr. Murray Feingold: Are parents happier people?

Dr. Murray Feingold

It has been said that the happiest day in a parent's life is the day their child is born. Looking down at the little baby at your side for the very first time, to use teenage lingo, is an awesome experience.

You can't believe that such a living, breathing, angelic infant is yours. But soon, reality sets in.

This is not to imply that after those initial halcyon newborn days it's all down hill as a parent. However, being a parent can be difficult. You learn that your little sleeping angel, when awake, can be very demanding and will let you know his or her displeasure with crying that may never seems to stop.

A recent study compared levels of happiness between adults who have children and adults who do not. The adult's level of happiness was determined at different ages.

Although in the early stages of being a parent there are many positive aspects, in this study, the level of happiness in parents less than 30 years of age decreased with the first and each additional child.

For many, the initial euphoria and happiness of being a parent was negated by the reality of caring for the child: less sleep, which is a big factor, worrying about the child, mundane daily care, always being on duty and financial strain.

Parents between the ages of 30 and 39 who had between one and three children were found to be as happy as their peers who did not have any children. However, this changed to being less happy when they had four or more children.

By the time parents reach 40, they were happier than childless couples –– unless, again, they had more than three children.

But things change by the time parents reach age 50 or older. At that stage of life, it doesn't matter how many children they have –– parents are more content than couples without children.

As one researcher concluded, "Children may be a long-term investment in happiness."

This study did not address the level of happiness, which is quite high, when parents become grandparents.

Grandparents experience much less physical and emotional stress from their grandchildren than parents do from their children. Some grandparents consider the biggest obstacle of becoming a grandparent is that you must first be a parent.

But once you get beyond that, it's all gravy.

Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.