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By Shelley Murphy
The Fourth of July’s festive fireworks aren’t illuminating the sky, and the smoldering smell of sulfur isn’t lingering in the air but that doesn’t mean the summer party is over. Don’t ditch the decorations just yet, July has another holiday to host—it’s a lesser-known celebration, one honoring parents instead of patriots.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law a congressional resolution establishing the fourth Sunday of July as Parents’ Day. The purpose of the holiday is “recognizing, uplifting and supporting the role of parents in the rearing of children.”
I thought we would commemorate this holiday while brunching with mom in May and barbecuing with dad in June, but the calendar disagrees.
Not in the mood to celebrate? Well, you’re not alone—especially if you are a parent. Before breaking out the party hats, consider the findings of this recent parenting report.
The study was published in November 2015 in the American Journal of Sociology, and it asks the question: Who is happier, parents or their childless peers?
A team of researchers including Jennifer Glass, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas, asked parents and nonparents in 22 European and English-speaking countries to rate their happiness.
The data collected found that American parents are 12 percent less happy than their kid-free counterparts. This “happiness gap” represents the largest gap among the 22 countries surveyed.
Explaining the findings, Glass said, “The negative effects of parenthood on happiness were entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations.”
Specifically, Glass reported two factors most affected parents’ happiness ratings: the average cost of childcare for a 2-year-old as a percentage of income and the number of paid vacation and sick days mandated by law.
Countries with family-friendly social policies in place to support working mothers and fathers saw their parents rank themselves as happier than their nonparent peers.
Glass concluded that the cause of unhappiness for American parents is less about their children and more about the lack of childcare support and flexible work schedules.
The study also noted that childrearing in the United States is comparatively more expensive and competitive, adding to parents’ stress and anxiety.
A 2014 study by Child Care Aware of America estimated that in the U.S. the annual average cost of full-time infant child care equals or surpasses the average price of in-state public college tuition throughout much of the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that a middle-income family spent approximately $234,900 to raise a child born in 2011 to age 17. The figure did not include higher education; if the kid enrolled in college, the approximate number could approach $500,000.
But not all parenting projections are gloom and doom, according to Emma Seppala, author of The Happiness Track. In her book published earlier this year she writes that research proves parenthood can increase a parent’s health and happiness in several ways.
She said becoming a parent provides a sense of purpose, and living life with a sense of meaning boosts longevity and cardiovascular health. According to Seppala, the bonding between a parent and child also releases hormones associated with an overall well-being.
Despite numerous confounding psychological, sociological and biological studies and surveys, researchers agree on one point: parenting is hard work.
Being a parent is overwhelming at times, and those new to the job sometimes wonder when it gets easier and where they’ll find the finish line.
I’ve found the challenges of parenthood change, but parenting doesn’t necessarily get easier. Although, I can attest that it’s far easier to bandage a skinned knee than a broken heart.
My boys may be grown and flown, but the parenting finish line didn’t appear when they changed addresses. I’ve heard it said that the goal of parenting is to work yourself out of the job; but I disagree—I still love my job and the people I work with.
Happy Parents’ Day.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 18 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.