No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.” Perhaps you chuckled to yourself when you heard it, and thought that there’s some inherent wisdom in the idea that a mother’s happiness directly impacts the happiness of many others around her – her children, especially. Well it turns out that there is, in fact, some verifiable truth to the saying – at least according to recent research.
I’ve written here before about what I privately perceived as a strong connection between parents’ marital satisfaction and the happiness of children – a hard-won perception gleaned through my own experience of being unhappily married:
This is what marriage is, I told myself. Everyone is unhappy. Everyone stays in it for the kids. Everyone looks back on what they hoped their life, and their marriage, would be, and can’t quite fathom how things got so far off course…
But why? Why do people do this to themselves, to each other, and ultimately to their children?
…what it boiled down to was that some part of me honestly believed it would crush my child. That she would be so devastated by the break-up that she would never get over it, that it would damage her in some profound way that I’d never be able to fix. What I didn’t take into consideration was how living with two parents who barely tolerated each other, who didn’t spend time together with her, who argued and filled the home she lived in with tension and quiet despair might affect her.
Well, not to break my arm patting myself on the back too hard here, but according to a study from the Economic & Social Research Council, I was likely onto something. The study – which includes 40,000 households in the United Kingdom – found that mama’s happiness in her relationship in particular is indeed a determining factor in every family:
The findings indicate that a mother’s happiness in her partnership is more important to the child than the father’s. The findings are based on a sample of 6,441 women, 5,384 men and 1,268 young people. …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. Commenting on the findings, Dr Maria Iacovou said: “At a time when there is widespread political concern about ‘Broken Britain’, these findings show that family relationships and the happiness of parents are key to the happiness of young people. [My emphasis]
All of this may seem like stating the obvious to some, but for those women who’ve convinced themselves that staying in a miserable marriage “for the children” could in any way be a healthy or positive choice for their kids, perhaps these findings will give them pause and make them rethink the validity of that notion.
What I find most interesting about this study is the implied idea that a father could be unhappy in his relationship and remain in it, without it having the same impact on the family unit. I’m not sure if I believe that’s entirely true, though I do understand that traditionally the caretaking role of mothers is much larger then fathers on average, which could be why the findings bore out as they did. However, I have to wonder what the results would look like if a population of stay-at-home dads were surveyed, for example.
What do you think about all this? How critical is a happy marriage to the happiness of kids, in your opinion and/or experience? If these findings bear out, would you consider it at least somewhat negligent or irresponsible for parents to stay in unhappy marriages, knowing full well that they’re hurting their children? And what do you make of the strength of mothers influence on the happiness of kids compared to fathers?
Read more from Tracey Gaughran-Perez at her personal blog Sweetney.com