Is Parenting Good for You?

A Jewish guide to parenting without pain...or, without a lot of pain.

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"Grandchildren are the crowning glory of their elders; parents are the pride of their children."
Proverbs 17:6

We all know the saying “Insanity is contagious; you get it from your kids.” It seemed for a while that research bore this out, at least in part. Psychological studies demonstrated that marital satisfaction decreases dramatically after the birth of the first child and increases only when the last child leaves home. In Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert marshaled evidence to suggest that societal myths that having children makes people happy are actually incorrect. He calls this a “belief-transmission game” where we falsely believe that certain things contribute or detract from our happiness. One of them is money, which has been shown to bring happiness only when it relieves an individual of poverty but above that is inconsequential to life satisfaction. The other is parenting.

Every human culture tells its members that having children will make them happy,” Gilbert contends. People look forward to it with happy expectation. When people are asked about sources of happiness they invariably point to their parent and childkids. But, Gilbert claims, when you chart their actual satisfaction a “very different story emerges.” Women surveyed rated taking care of their kids as a chore less satisfying than eating, exercising, shopping, napping or watching television. But don’t worry, kids. Mom enjoyed you just slightly more than doing housework.

I remember first reading this research and feeling a punch in my stomach. Jewish life is predicated on continuity and regards the family as the sacred unit by which faith and culture is transmitted. Granted, obligation and responsibility top personal happiness within the framework of faith communities generally and Judaism specifically. It is not that happiness is not important. It’s that happiness is not the most significant or sole motivator for our beliefs and practices.

How does this research jive with the statement from Proverbs above? We believe that children are a crowning glory. Actually in this verse, children are a transition between their grandparents and their parents. Grandparents regard children with delight, and children regard their parents with pride.

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Erica Brown

Dr. Erica Brown is the Director for Adult Education at The Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning and consults for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. She is an author-winning author and the recipient of the 2009 Covenant Award. Erica has served as an adjunct professor at American University and George Washington University. She lectures on subjects of Jewish interest and leadership.