Countless studies have found that parents are less happy than non-parents (who, after all, are free to spend their weekends sleeping late, pursuing activities they enjoy, and having uninterrupted conversations). But American parents, it turns out, have got it particularly bad. A 2016 study found that the “happiness gap” between parents and non-parents here was the largest of all 22 countries surveyed. In some countries, like Norway and Sweden, parents were actually happier than non-parents.
So what does it take to be able to delight in your children rather than experiencing parenthood as a life-crushing source of stress?
The researchers “discovered the gap could be explained by differences in family-friendly social policies such as subsidized child care and paid vacation and sick leave,” the New York Times reported. “In countries that gave parents what researchers called ‘the tools to combine work and family,’ the negative impact of
parenting on happiness disappeared.”
Since Nixon’s veto of a popular bipartisan bill for federally-funded, universal child care back in 1971, American parents have been struggling to juggle work and family on their own. And American child care workers (almost all of them women, and many of them also mothers) have been struggling to get by on pay that’s lower, one Charlottesville CEO told us, than working at Walmart.
In this issue, we take a local look at some big parenting issues, from the anti-vaxx movement to the question of how, and how much, to engage your kids in social justice work. But in Charlottesville, too, the child care crisis is front and center.
“As long as people are trying to handle it individually, as opposed to looking at it as a community, the system will continue to be a jumble,” says Gail Esterman of ReadyKids.
That’s one mess we all need to clean up. —Laura Longhine