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Who Has a More Satisfying Life: Parents or the Childfree?

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If you're reading my column, chances are, you have kids. You may even be reading this while hiding in your washroom or as a way to avoid eye contact with that overzealous PTA mom across a coffee shop. That's what people with kids sometimes do, unlike their seemingly carefree childless pals. But while this might make us crazy, are we OK with it?

Apparently so.

A new report by Princeton University and Stony Brook University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science has concluded that there is "very little difference" between the satisfaction of their lives between those with children, and those without (all other factors being the same). I like to think "satisfaction" is the absence of misery.

"Of course I have a satisfying life," I hear you cry in between making lunches, driving to hockey, supervising homework and wondering exactly what that was at the bottom of that knapsack. This isn't the first piece of research about the satisfaction, or inferred "happiness" levels of those with children, and those without. Frankly I find these studies a little hard to interpret, as no one subject interviewed can go from never having kids to having kids to never having had them. It's a bit like I'll cut off your leg and you tell me if you like it better when I put it back on.

In the immortal words of the even more immortal Mick Jagger, it's these results that "can't get [me] no satisfaction." Having the comfort of blaming my bad moods, disorganization and occasional stained blouse on the children has been one of the mainstays of my parenting technique. While no one can scientifically measure the joy of a first smile or the bliss of a newborn's smell, let me tell you there are many dissatisfying moments every parent goes through on pretty much a daily basis, and I guarantee that these are not the moments when they're filling in a satisfaction survey.

Like childbirth, however, these painful memories fade. In fact, sitting at a computer screen alone, quietly filling out a survey, versus not being forced to watch a video of someone playing Minecraft sounds pretty nice. I hypothesize that parents get satisfaction out of not having to do anything, while the childfree get it from actually doing something. It starts when they are young, and doesn't really change.

When I had my first very colicky and sleepless baby, I clearly recall walking through a park with her, trying to have the wind carry away the cries. As I passed totally innocent strangers who did not have children with them, I felt such hatred towards them because I knew they had had more sleep the previous night than I had had in the past five. This was not satisfying to me.

And who amongst us hasn't felt the rage of a wronged toddler? The back arching, boot throwing, foot stomping, red faced little meanies can bring their share of cute and happy when they want to, but no mom checked off "fulfilled" on a survey while simultaneously trying to zip up a squirming two year old in a dirty public washroom.

The parenting of school-age kids could be done on a recorded continuous loop. "Because I said so. You have to go to school. You want something to cry about? Because it's bedtime/mealtime/study time, that's why. Eat your dinner. Make your lunch. Did you eat breakfast?"

Yep. Not a lot of pure satisfaction there.

I was going to write a paragraph on teenagers. It may shock you to know they are not at all concerned if you have a satisfying life, and at this particular age, they may go out of their way to prove it to you. It's not satisfying; let's just leave it at that.

Years ago, Mick said, about that hit song, "I'd rather be dead than singing Satisfaction when I'm 45." Mick just turned 70, and the Rolling Stones are on tour, again, this year. Turns out things you can't always get what you want, or need, either.

Kathy Buckworth's column originally ran in Post City Magazines. Her latest book "I Am So The Boss Of You: An 8 Step Guide To Giving Your Family The Business" is available in bookstores everywhere, and on Kobo and soon to come on Audible. Visit www.kathybuckworth.com and follow Kathy on Twitter @KathyBuckworth. She has four very dissatisfied children, thanks for asking.

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