Bad Moms Don’t Fake a Smile

By on April 5, 2011

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.

About Annie

Annie, aka Phd in Parenting, straddles life on the Quebec/Ontario border with her partner and two children. She shudders at the thought of being considered mainstream in parenting or in life and is always trying to recruit others over to the dark side. Annie is always looking for (and sometimes believes she has found) the 25th hour in the day as she balances running a business, having a family, and carrying on numerous conversations ranging from important to trivial on every social media site out there. Annie writes about parenting, feminism, social justice and the intersection between the three on the PhD in Parenting blog and tackles issues at She is also the mayor of the Cupcake Lounge on foursquare.


  1. karengreeners says:

    My parents styaed together until my littlest turned 18 – like, almost to the day. Do I think she and my younger brother were glad that my parents stayed together miserably until they were ‘grown up?’ Nope, I really don’t.

    Me and the huz argue in front of the kids, sometimes even fight in front of thekids. I know! Call CAS. But it’s true, we do. Because I think it’s ok for kids to see their parents temporarily unhappy with each other, as long as they then see us make up. We can argue and still love each other. I think it’s a good thing to know.
    karengreeners´s last [type] ..Of Shamed Mothers And Slammed Doors

    • karengreeners says:

      Gah – my littlest – sheesh! My littlest SISTER. My littlest won’t be 18 for another 15 years.
      karengreeners´s last [type] ..Of Shamed Mothers And Slammed Doors

  2. EmmaK says:

    Well the bottom line is either you accept your partner as he/she is or get divorced. If you’ve been through counselling and the other one can’t or won’t change then I say end the agony – there is no point staying together just for the kids’ sake

  3. Karen says:

    My parents had a pretty miserable marriage for most of my childhood. For a long time I truly wished they’d divorce. But they didn’t. They persevered and ended up in a really solid, stands-the-tests-of-time relationship. I’m glad I saw this growing up instead of them hiding behind smiles and closes doors. If not, I wouldn’t know that when my husband and I have arguments that we’re going to be okay as long as we both want to be okay together.

    Of course, this isn’t the way it will go for everyone, but the fact that a miserable marriage can turn around is a good thing. Marriage is hard work. Kids shouldn’t get the idea that it’s easy or the reality will shock the hell out of them.

  4. Shannon says:

    I had to laugh my ass off at this:

    “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.”

    In other words: The happiest child in the world is Beaver Cleaver. DUH!
    Shannon´s last [type] ..Mama-Toddler Interactions Translated In To English

  5. Kristin says:

    It’s funny, what I took from this article is validation that mom’s happiness is important. So many moms endure so much stress and often think that it would be selfish to worry about what makes them happy. What I get from this article is that moms can take care of themselves without feeling guilty because their happiness benefits the kids.

    Also, it’s just research, no ones telling you what to do. Sure kids are happiest when they have two parents and no fights and family meals, is anyone surprised? It’s not judgment is statistical averages and observation.

    All you’re supposed to do with this research is read it (in it’s entirety)assess it on its meris and decide what, if anything, it has to do with you.
    Kristin´s last [type] ..Why Im glad I got fat again

  6. Perfect Dad says:

    Happiness IS a good goal. Nobody is responsible for a person’s happiness except that person. There is absolutely no need to be unhappy. Other studies show that parents are unhappy, to which I wrote a response in Did You Know? Your Kids Are Ruining Your Life. Some people don’t understand intuitively what can make them happy, so they pursue poor strategies that actually make them less happy.

    Did you read the study itself? Can you post a link to it please? I find it extremely interesting that the mother’s happiness is more important than the fathers, so I would like to understand that part and how much more heavily — that would be some good information. It is probably correlated quite heavily since it would seem hard to have an extremely unhappy father and a very happy mother or vice versa. Actually, I suppose that there might be more mothers in this sample who spent more time at home versus fathers (stay-at-home-moms, that sort of thing) so the children would naturally be more exposed to the mother’s happiness or unhappiness, therefore any difference in happiness between the two would show up with a bias toward the mother’s level. I wonder if there are many situations where the mother and father are drastically different in happiness levels.

    I also find it interesting that older siblings get less happy with younger siblings. I suppose it’s because they experienced being the single child, remember it, and then lost it forever as the younger siblings came. Younger children never knew it, so nothing to be unhappy about.
    Perfect Dad´s last [type] ..Heroine- Girl Defends Boy Against Bully

    • Annie says:

      Perfect Dad:

      I did read the study itself, but can’t post a link to it. I accessed it through university online databases. I believe you’ve mentioned that your wife is a student though, so she should be able to access it for you if you want to read it.

  7. Christine says:

    I’m 100% sure my son would answer “not happy” with his family life and am pretty sure that’s because he wishes he were still an only child. Would he articulate that in a study? Not sure about that at all. Seems it’s always the mom’s fault.
    Christine´s last [type] ..You Gotta Know When to Hold ‘Em…

  8. Christina says:

    In addition to your point, I’m wondering whether the study has also turned correlation into causation, and how often causal relationships between mothers’ and children’s happiness flow in the other direction. If you were mother to a miserable kid, maybe one who argued with you a lot and despised his / her siblings, do you think it might negatively affect your happiness and relationship with your co-parent?