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Terrible Threes: Mom Happiness Highest at 6 Months, Lowest at 3 Years

By Heather Turgeon |

Three year old versus 6 month old and mom's happiness

Move over, terrible two's

A new study of 60,000 Norwegian women shows that moms are much happier when their babies are six months than they are when the child reaches three years old.

Satisfaction and enjoyment of life increased in the months after birth and peaked when babies were six months old. After that, satisfaction with life decreased until it reached rock bottom at three years.

The researchers studied two types of happiness: satisfaction with life overall and satisfaction with partner relationship. And guess which one was found to be more important?

And why the terrible threes?During pregnancy and through babyhood, the most important factor was satisfaction with partner. In other words, happiness in the couple’s relationship strongly influenced happiness with life in general, not the other way around.

By toddlerhood, the two types of satisfaction influenced each other equally.

So, strong relationships are vital during late pregnancy, (which makes sense, because I see it as the nesting period) and through the first year of baby’s life.  After that, a mom’s overall enjoyment with life influences how much she enjoys her partner equally.

We’ve heard that three-year-olds are tough — in fact many say that the “terrible twos” should be renamed the “terrible threes.”  Here are the developmental reasons that make three-year-olds such a handful.

Were you most happy with a cuddly six-month-old? And how do you think your relationship affects your overall happiness in the early years?

Image: flickr

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About Heather Turgeon


Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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29 thoughts on “Terrible Threes: Mom Happiness Highest at 6 Months, Lowest at 3 Years

  1. Diera says:

    Seriously? People SERIOUSLY would rather have six-month-old babies than three-year-olds? Six-month-olds who wake you up at night and cry because you won’t let them eat cardboard and spit milk on your shirt and have to be hauled everywhere vs. three-year-olds who can eat regular food and tell jokes and give you hugs and say “You are my favorite Mommy!” and are toilet-trained? All right, maybe it’s just me.

  2. Gretchen Powers says:

    I’m with you, Diera. My 3 yo throws her arms around me and tells me she loves me and I’m her best friend, like, multiple times per day. When I am upset, she consoles me, in her own 3 yo way, and in general, she is lovely. She was cool @ 6 months, too…but you know, she was the cute little blob that most 6-month-olds are. I like it now that we can play games, make cookies, do art, etc. etc. etc. I am thinking 3-5 are so golden!

  3. Gretchen Powers says:

    I hate to say this, but I think alot of times you get out what you put in…

  4. heatherturgeon says:

    you guys are reassuring. i hear such cautionary tales from moms with 3 year olds (especially 3.5). and mine will be 3 in april.

  5. DCMama says:

    I like 3 better than 6 months too, but I get where people are coming from on PITA 3 year olds. Sure, they tell you that you are their favorite Mama, right before they ask you if they can eat that bag of M&Ms they notice in the pantry. Sure they play games, but sometimes they are just playing you.

  6. Gretchen Powers says:

    I think it might depend alot on the individual kid…and many of my friends who have boys have a harder time w them right now…

  7. 3.5! Ugh! With my first daughter, when she hit 3.5, I asked this child development person what the deal was, how I thought we were in the clear after the twos, which weren’t so terrible, etc. She told me 3 (especially 3.5) was the hidden secret of child development, it’s often hard, and her best advice was to turn the kid over to other adults as much as possible during those months/year. Ha!

  8. Gretchen Powers says:

    While I’m not experiencing anything horrible at 3.5, I would agree that preschool is great for them at this age (“turn the kid over to other adults”). I had my moments of frustration, don’t get me wrong, but I discovered *I* was the one who needed to change. My kid really didn’t do anything “bad” per se, but she would do things like run away when I was trying to help her get dressed, or “hide” under her blankets at this time..or jump up and down when I was trying to brush her teeth…my husband told me that she is trying to be funny and engage me in game-playing, which put a whole new spin on it. Instead of being irritated, I thought it was cute and found ways to work *with* her games, like plan on taking more time than I thought to dress her and letting her do a lap with just underwear, a lap with underwear and pants, then with shirt…she’s mostly over this now, as I’ve turned getting dressed more into her showing me how much she can do on her own as a “big girl”…I guess the point is, you have to meet them on their level sometimes. My husband is way smarter about picking up on this than me.

  9. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I’m enjoying my 6 month old’s babbling and drooling and cuddling more than my almost three year olds endless negotiating and hurling himself from anything he can climb. Then again, the 6 month old is teething so he’s cranky a lot lately, and his poops are ass-plosive. While he naps, the almost three year old and I dance to the Michael Jackson video game on the Wii.

  10. Gretchen Powers says:

    I do miss the breastfeeding….

  11. Diera says:

    Sure, three-year-olds can be a pain, but it’s different. I can get frustrated at the way my 3-year-old daughter can’t be hurried and how she can totally freak out over something that seems trivial, i.e. a precious treasure like a rubber band she found on the floor gets lost and it’s the worst thing in the world. I don’t love those moments, but (not to sound like an inspirational novel) I can kind of understand them as part of her developing personhood with her own needs and priorities that aren’t necessarily the same as mine, especially when you combine them with the more enjoyable ways her personality is blossoming like her sense of humor. Whereas for me babies just aren’t as interesting, and they need SO much. Maybe I can just tolerate a lot of sass as long as I can sleep through most nights.

  12. NC Mom says:

    I honestly don’t see how this study can translate to the US. In Norway at 6 months a parent would be on leave with the child and their general work/life balance would be much different than at age 3, because the leave options have ended at that point.

  13. Snarky Mama says:

    Bigger kids, bigger problems. But really, I enjoyed (and was frustrated by) all of my kids at all of their stages–so far. (The oldest, of 3 boys, is only 8. We’ll see what the teenage years bring.)

    Babies are cute, but sooo dependent. They are relatively easy (feed, change, put to sleep), as long as you don’t try to get anything non-baby related done.

    Bigger kids are more dependent, but they can talk. Which, let’s face it, is really hilarious and so wrought with negotiations it’s like living with an attorney. Bigger kids run and jump and break things (perhaps even bones), so instead of worrying about the color of their poop, you’re worried about everything else. Of course, you’re also not holding them 24/7, so you probably have a free hand to pour yourself a (stiff) drink. :)

  14. Snarky Mama says:

    Edit: Should read: “Bigger kids are more independent.” (Busy watching the 3 y/o climb onto the desk to get into the colored pencils…)

  15. Manjari says:

    It was difficult to have twin babies, because babies need a lot of care. 6 months was better than 2 months, but a year was even better. Then, I have to say, things got crazy when they were almost 3.5, and it was like that until right before they turned 4. Now they are awesome again, so I guess it was a difficult phase. 4 year old twins seem so much easier than I imagine one 4 y/o would be, because they play imaginative games with each other for long periods of time, they are a comfort to each other when I turn out the light and leave their room at night, and they generally engage each other enough to give me some peace (most of the time). And things are easier when I do what Gretchen described – plan for things to take extra time, allow them to be silly, etc.

  16. laura says:

    I’m glad people are disputing this. I only have an 1.5yr old, but (barring this dark phase that was a black hole of molar and ear infection despair around 12 mo) I have felt like once I made it past the initial sleeping through the night/bleeding nipple/crying for no discernable reason hurtles, it has just gotten better and better. I have heard that 3.5 is a testing age, but I hope I can do like previous commenters and appreciate them for the little people they are becoming and try to meet them at their level and make the most of it. Also, I really just want to go on believing that it keeps getting better and better the more you get to know each other.

  17. Gretchen Powers says:

    In reading more about the study, it seems that the level of satisfaction with life and their partners are not necessarily having to do with their children’s developmental stages/age or things the kid is doing, the kids’ age is just a marker along the life timeline, maybe…it’s probably external things with the partner or life…working…being bored from not working…etc. that are causing the satisfaction or lack thereof…maybe.

  18. marj says:

    I agree manjari. Twin infants are like putting out fires all day and half the night. Now they are almost 2 things are way better, and they are even cuddlier.

  19. Linda, the original one says:

    I personally found that 4 was the hardest age with all three of my kids. I enjoy three year olds…

  20. Black Sheep says:

    Twin infants were hard, but twin 3.5 year old boys are WAY harder. Yeah, they are more independent and more interesting, but they will drive you to tears in seconds flat.

  21. Kayt says:

    My 25 month old was a breeze at six months. Slept through the night, nursed easily, enjoyed crawling, snuggling, etc. Eighteen months through two years was a nightmare. Two is turning out pretty well so far, excepting for the final pushthrough of his last molars. My mother always said the odd years were harder. She always said “everyone talks about the terrible twos, no one mentions the ‘f**k you!’ threes!” I remember her explaining a lot of it was the frustration over wanting to be so independent, but not quite being ready to, you know, cook, drive, etc. just yet. Who knows how it’ll go for us!

  22. Allison says:

    In my experience 3 is soooo much harder than 6 months. And I had a baby and a 3-ish year old at the same time. The 3yo drove me INSANE. She will be 4 next month and seems to getting a little easier to deal with. The baby is now almost 2 and his little tantrums seem cute compared to the crap big sis is capable of.

  23. ChiLaura says:

    @kayt, LOL, the “f*** you threes”! Love it! I don’t know what kind of babies you all had, but 3 years is a tough age (one son is 4, the other just turned 3) . Yeah, 6 month olds are needy, but no fits on the floor, no mittens being thrown at you, and when they’re tired, a 6 m/o falls asleep in the carrier instead of throwing said mittens at you. My kids are good kids, but the 3 y/o has been an unending stream of “everything-but-what-mama-wants” lately. Sooooo tired of it. Maybe the more kids you have, the more you appreciate the young months! =)

  24. Andrea says:

    I have 27 mths and 6 mths boys and I think the elder is hitting his f*** you threes early. We definitely have our struggles but he is just so much more interesting and entertaining than his baby brother. Yeah one minute he’s throwing a fit, but the other he’s hugging me for no reason in the middle of a store or making up voices as we read a story. I find myself wanting the baby to grow up so I can get to those times with him. I actually found 18 mths was the absolute sweet spot with my elder son- he could talk enough to communicate what he wanted and was very affectionate but no tantrums!

  25. Canuckmom says:

    Right now I have a 6 month old and a three year old (and a five year old) but I will trade my 3 yo in an instant! But when my oldest was 3 he was soooooo sweet! So definitely a kid-by-kid example.

  26. karah says:

    I would take a three year-old over a baby any day. Babies are cute and all but at the point of six months with both my children, we were still battling sleep deprivation – which makes EVERYthing worse. Three year-olds are so much more interactive, predictable in routine, and fun – for us.

  27. Linda from says:

    I definitely did not enjoy 6 month old twins, but my 3.5 yo’s have their challenges too. I basically agree with Snarky Mom on about everything – especially laughing about the rubber band! Here it could be anything from an action figure to a plush toy to a scrap of litter found near the garbage that can cause hysterics LOL! Most days are good but the bad days are oh so hard!

  28. Nichol says:

    Sure every age has its ups and downs. My daughter will be 4 in April and trust me it hasn’t been easy. But think about their frustrations. They are learning so much at this age and cry, scream, stomp feet whatever it may be to get those frustrations out. 6 months is a fun stage. They are learning to be more mobile, and becoming little people. I have an 8 year old. It gets easier that is for sure, but then you hear about teen years. Like I said EVERY age has its ups and downs and I’m mom who will be here for a shoulder to cry on for life!

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