“You get so much beauty in return”, you regularly hear, sometimes somewhat sarcastically, say many a parent. Having children is at the top of the ‘happiness ladder’ in a lifetime. But is that so? Does having children make you happy? A neuroscientist explains what happens in the brain.
While some parents proclaim that having children is the best thing that has ever happened to them, others are less certain. Children can be heavy, tiring and stressful. For yourself and your relationship.
Do children make happy?
In the past, having babies was part of adult life. But nowadays not everyone chooses a family anymore. On the contrary, some choose very consciously not to have children. At the same time, there is still a large group that, at some point in their lives, would like to have a baby. Any woman in her 30s can agree that the question: “And? When are you going to start?” , regularly reviewed.
But what does science say? Are you happier with or without children? Neuroscientist Dean Burnett docks BBC Science Focus explains that, of course, individual preferences play a role, but that a number of general conclusions can also be drawn about whether or not children are involved.
Brain and babies
Parenting consists of different phases, of which the birth and baby phase is an intense one. Especially for the mother. “The birth and breastfeeding process floods her system with oxytocin, the ‘cuddle hormone,’ a hormone that strengthens emotional bonds and makes interpersonal connections more enjoyable.” He emphasizes that there is nothing stronger than the bond between mother and baby. “The emotions you experience having children will be much more intense than what you are likely to experience without children.”
The same goes for the other parent. The biological mother has the most ‘direct’ bond with the baby. After all, she was carrying the child in her own body. “But every human brain is programmed to respond positively to babies,” says the neuroscientist.
Neuroscientist explains brain reaction
“The smell, their facial expressions, their vulnerability, their size. Our brains experience a heightened response to all of this, forcing us to protect the source and commit.” The neuroscientist explains that anything with similar properties evokes such a response in our brain.
But… “However, this intense experience of connection and the subsequent dizzying happiness will eventually disappear.” Burnett explains that babies and children are demanding later in life. “And the parents are solely responsible for them.”
Sleepless nights versus intense love
“Sleepless nights, dirty diapers, the expense, the mess, the fact that your life is no longer yours.” All factors that, according to Burnett, can amplify stress and negative emotions. “That’s just how the brain works.”
But at the same time, according to the brain scientist, you also experience joy through the achievements you make, the intense love for your child, the fun you have together and the fun you experience growing up.
Happiness and children according to science
So, will having children make us happier? Yes, says science. “But it can also make you unhappy, constantly stressed or anxious.” According to Burnett, having children makes your emotional experiences more intense. More than if you don’t have kids. “The highs are higher, the lows are lower. And whether that is a good deal for you is entirely up to you.”
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