Remember that stage of life where you seem to be going to five weddings each summer? Wearing horrible bridesmaid dresses at two of them (yeah, right, sure I’ll wear it again)? For many of us, those days are long passed and have since been replaced with equivalent numbers of divorces, separations, couples in therapy, and more. And of course, with that comes the research to tell parents how they are ruining their children’s lives. A British “Understanding Society” study of 6,441 women, 5,384 men and 1,268 young people found that:
Overall, 60 per cent of young people say they are ‘completely satisfied’ with their family situation but in families where the child’s mother is unhappy in her partnership, only 55 per cent of young people say they are ‘completely happy’ with their family situation — compared with 73 per cent of young people whose mothers are ‘perfectly happy’ in their relationships.
They also go on to say:
Professor John Ermisch, Dr Maria Iacovou, and Dr Alexandra Skew from the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that the happiest children are those living with two parents — either biological or step — with no younger siblings, who do not argue with their parents regularly, who eat at least three evening meals per week with their family and whose mother is happy in her own relationship.
What is a mother who is unhappy in her current relationship supposed to do with this piece of information? Work on her relationship so that she can be happy again? Get out of that relationship immediately and go searching for a happier one ASAP? Fake a smile and pretend that everything is okay? Or just blame herself when her children are not happy?
When reading this, I wonder whether happiness is really the greatest goal we should have for our children. Sure, it is great for kids to be happy and no one likes to see their children upset or depressed. However, part of life is learning to work through issues in your relationships with other people and to seek happiness rather than assuming it will be dropped on your lap. From that perspective, is it useful for a mother to fake a happy relationship “for the sake of the children” or to give up immediately on any relationship that has its problems in order to look for bliss? Or is it better for her children to see her deal with the realities of life head on even if that means openly working through problems in a relationship?
If you win the relationship lottery and are 100% happy all the time, FABULOUS. Good for you. If you don’t, is this research really going to help you?
I don’t think that you are doing anyone any favours (yourself, your partner, or your children), by faking it. Of course children don’t need to be involved in the nitty gritty of your relationship problems, but I also don’t think it is useful for moms to put on a fake happy face “for the sake of the children”. I think they will see through it and it may influence the way they see their role in a relationship. Do you really want to teach your daughter to grin and bear it if she is in an unhappy marriage? Or teach your son that his wife owes it to the family to put her happy face on?
Happiness is a good goal that will benefit moms and their children. But sometimes you have to work through unhappy to get to happy, whether by working on a relationship or getting out of a relationship. That’s life. And the kids will be fine.