Parenting puts an end to domestic bliss

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IT IS a familiar scene played out in busy households across the country. Colin Elliot is frantically getting his youngest daughter ready for school when he realises she has lost one of her shoes, her lunchbox is missing and last night's homework has disappeared.

He has five minutes to get her out of the house and it looks like Meera is going to miss the school bell.

At this point, thousands of other harassed parents may be asking themselves the same question - "Is it all worth it?" Sadly, the answer is a resounding "No" according to research which suggests having children brings no increase in "life satisfaction" in men, and only makes women happier once the youngsters start school.

But Mr Elliot, a university lecturer in Edinburgh, takes issue with the study on parental happiness and says, despite the daily trials of helping to bring up three young daughters, the happiness quotient is high.

The Institute for Social and Economic Research working paper was based on data from the British Household Panel Survey on 3,856 cohabiting or married couples from 1996 to 2003.

According to the study, children aged three to four have a negative effect on female life satisfaction and for men, children below five years old "significantly reduce" life satisfaction.

Even between the ages of five and 15, children brought no increase or decrease in happiness for men - with children in this age group only seeming to make their mothers happy.

Professor Alison Booth, of Essex University, and co-author of the study, said it was her guess that the findings reflected the amount of work involved in having young children.

She said: "My guess is that it is a struggle for them actually to balance all the things that they have to do.

"It will be very interesting in a few years' time when the new policies on pre-school childcare have filtered through, to see how these households' life satisfaction is affected."

Mr Elliot, who cannot imagine life without daughters Fionn, 11, Willa, nine, and Meera, six, said having "his girls" had enriched his life in so many different ways.

"We all talk about the challenges of work, but it's easy compared to having kids. They help you to cope with nine to five and get everything in perspective," he said.

"Having children really grounds you. If you want to get something done, ask a parent, because they have got all the skills."

A lecturer in real estate at Heriot-Watt University, he admits - of course - that it is not all plain sailing . The days of going out for a long lunch or visiting the cinema are long gone.

"Some days the balance has gone the wrong way. Sometimes I think to myself, 'Oh my God, I've gone ten years without seeing a film. What's going on?' We all have bad days but I wouldn't change a thing."

The study also found that women with children are significantly happier if they have a job, regardless of how many hours it involves. The findings challenge the assumption that thousands of mothers would be happier if they stayed at home with their children.

Although the report, Job Satisfaction and Family Happiness, found high levels of satisfaction among women who work part-time, those who work up to 45 hours a week also reported high levels of wellbeing.


• Being moved to tears when they gaze at you and utter their first word

• Taking their picture when they're proudly dressed in uniform for their first day at school

• Waving them off at gran's then going for a much-needed snooze

• Seeing them take their first faltering steps

• Being told at your first parents' evening that your child is a genius

• Seeing the joy on their faces as they rip open their Christmas presents

• Investing in new carpets when they're finally potty trained

• Seeing them finally getting a decent job so that they can start looking after you


• Being woken by a screaming baby and then going to work on two hours' sleep

• Wiping their vomit off your jacket when you're running late for a meeting with the boss.

• Changing the "nuclear nappies" after they've had too much soft fruit.

• Never going out for a meal because you can't get a babysitter

• Meeting your daughter's first boyfriend, when you know he's got one thing on his mind.

• Crying on the day they finally leave home, as you're left wondering where the last 18 years of your life have disappeared.

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