Moms and dads with four or more kids — as well as gay and lesbian parents — were among the most satisfied with life overall, an Australian researcher has found. (Photo: Marcel Weber/Cultura/Getty Images)
An Australian researcher has completed a five-year study of various types of families and which are the most content — and the results might catch you off-guard.
“What surprised me the most, I think, was that parents who identify as LGBT — as well as mothers of large families — were the most satisfied with life,” Bronwyn Harman, a psychology and social science lecturer at the Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, tells Yahoo Parenting.
“I thought mothers of large families [with four or more children] would be less satisfied because of the financial stress — in addition to the workload, ferrying kids around, noise factor, and so on,” she continued. But while they did acknowledge these issues, as well as point out that they must deal with frequent nosy comments (“Are they all yours?” “Do they have the same father?”), there was lots of happiness at home. “They said that they had planned a large family, it was a joyful experience for them, the house was often full of laughter, and there were many reasons to celebrate,” she says.
Regarding gay, lesbian, or transgender-identified parents, Harman says, “I thought their well-being would be lower, because of discrimination and lack of acceptance of diversity. However, they said that this was not the case. In fact, they are finding that society is becoming more accepting of diversity, and this is reflected in our current political climate in Australia, where there is a groundswell of support to legalize gay marriage.”
For the study, which has not yet been published, Harman spent five years interviewing nearly 950 parents from different backgrounds to ascertain their level of happiness. Parents with four or more children were the most wholly satisfied, followed closely by LGBT parents. “These children are not accidents — the parents have to go to a lot of trouble and expense and forethought — so the child is very much desired,” Harman told ABC Australia, regarding the need for same-sex couples to use IVF, surrogacy, or adoption to become parents. “They see the child as an absolute blessing and something they may not have considered as being possible for them.”
Regarding the larger families, she told the publication, “Parents accept that there is chaos in their lives, but it does not negate the happiness they get from their families.” In addition, she said, “With large families, we think they have social support within the family. The kids are never bored, they have someone to play with, and they get independence quite early on.”
So which type of parent was the least satisfied with their lives? Single dads. “There is this perception that mothers are the real parents and fathers just sort of help,” Harman told the Sydney Morning Herald. “There is still no understanding in 2015 that fathers are co-parents that have just as much responsibility for kids.”
Single fathers, the researcher found, feel like they’re seen as the lesser parent — especially since they can be kept from seeing their kids, not communicated with regarding their children’s school and medical issues, left out of family celebrations, and often seen, wrongly, as the cause of family breakups.
In general, notes family therapist Lois Braverman, president and CEO of the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York City, parental happiness often comes down to how much social support surrounds a family. “Parenting in isolation is the most difficult way to parent, whether you’re a straight or gay couple or a single parent,” Braverman tells Yahoo Parenting. She says it’s important for all moms and dads to feel supported in their decisions “either by their extended family or their family of choice within a community.”
It’s why parents in large families — as well as the kids themselves — may do so well. “One of the things you learn when you’re one of many is to be very flexible and how different people’s temperaments are,” she says. “You grow up in a little community of many different personalities.”
Parenting expert and physician Deborah Gilboa, MD, upon hearing about the study’s findings, tells Yahoo Parenting, “Although certain demographics lean in certain ways, you will find happiness as well as unhappiness in every demographic.” Dissatisfaction, she says, often comes from moms or dads feeling powerless and frustrated over struggles their children are facing. And reaching out for support, whether from professionals or friends or any helpful resources— much as one might do with a medical issue — is a way to feel less powerless, she says.
Finally, Harman tells Yahoo Parenting: “It is important to remember that family processes, rather than family makeup, is important for life satisfaction. For example, positive parenting, consistency and boundaries, love, joy, and care for each other are all more important than whether a family has two dads or moms, one dad or mom, or no dad or mom. Hopefully the study will help people to remember that.”