Mothers are the happiest people in Britain… but not in their relationships

happy sad face

An article in the Telegraph yesterday detailed a new study conducted by the Open University on relationships.  It found that mothers are happier with their lives than any other group in society.

The study is apparently one of the most detailed studies of Britain’s relationships ever carried out and found that even for women in unhappy relationships, being a mother was closely related to being happy with life overall.  Ironically the study pointed towards having children putting a strain on relationships.

I can personally vouch for both these findings.  I’ve said many times that the year my son was born was both the best year of my life and the worst.  The best because he truly is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I love motherhood despite my fears before having him. It was also the worst because it was the year my marriage broke down.  I would not say that having a child is what finished my marriage but I do think it highlighted existing problems, amplified them even and brought it all to a head.  Having my son is what gave me the strength to not stay in a very unhappy and unhealthy situation.

Before I had my son, reading about a study like this would have really irritated me – the suggestion that as women we can only be truly happy if we have a child – well of curse this is not true and it is not actually what the study is saying either but my view now that I am a mother is wholly different and decidedly less cynical.  I was never really sure I wanted children.  I felt I was too selfish to be a mum.  I liked my freedom and my lifestyle and I was not fooled by romantic notions of playing dolly-house and dress up with a play thing.  I knew it would be hard work.  I didn’t think I could handle the lack of sleep and I didn’t want my body to be ruined.  Put it this way, I was not naturally maternal.  When I finally ran out of excuses and was forced to face my fears we decided to ‘try for a baby’ yet I was still surprised when I fell pregnant.

I still don’t see myself as a ‘natural’ mum to be honest and I would never go as far as to say that all women should have children if they can. Many genuinely don’t want children and I admire them for their strength in admitting it and living it out.  However, the riches to be experienced as a mother, oh my it is not possible to say what it is like!  Not just in the experience with your child but in the way you look at life and other people, and nature and the world and the universe. Becoming a mother has been literally a spiritual experience for me.  I feel that every woman who has a baby has their own personal miracle happen to them.  To not acknowledge the privilege of this calling is to do a disservice to all those women who desperately want to be a mother but can’t for any reason.

According to the O.U study, childless women emerged as the least generally happy group in society, even though they also appeared to have the most satisfying personal relationships. Meanwhile fathers emerged as slightly less happy overall than men without children.

It concluded that women are far more likely than men to transfer their focus to their children after becoming a parent – often to the frustration of their husbands and partners.

The whole ethos of More than a Mum is that yes being a mum is brilliant but we can also still have our own identities and dreams.  I am passionate about this.  Being a mum really has made me happier in life and more fulfilled despite the difficult years I’ve had since my son’s birth. However, we need to make sure we still put the effort into our relationships and invest in them and I believe this is part of being a good parent as well as a good partner.

The aim of the Open University study was to attempt to discover the hidden secret of a lasting relationship – as well as the hidden pitfalls. I was very interested though unsurprised that the study found that gestures, such as saying thank you or simple praise, rather than grand romantic actions, were ranked among the most powerful bonds holding Britain’s couples together. According to the study, men who make their wife or partner a cup of tea or breakfast in bed are doing more to build a lifetime bond than those who lavish flowers or expensive gifts on them.

Looking back at my relationship and those of my friends around me in those first difficult months of adjusting to this tiny person who has managed to turn both your worlds upside down, I realise that mostly the strain is due to tiredness.  Mostly it’s due to a lack of patience with your partner.  A lack of seeing things from their point of view and at least trying to understand it.  For me back then, the little things such as these small gestures mentioned in the study, would have made a world of difference.  A cup of tea.  A timely cuddle.  An encouraging word or a compliment.  A thank you.

The findings in the article do make it sound a little like you have to choose between having a happy relationship (and not having children) or having the fulfilment that comes with being a mum (but having your relationship suffer).  It’s very easy to see your mistakes and those of others in hind-sight but I’m adamant to pass these very un-profound secrets to encourage others to safe-guard and ‘baby-proof’ their relationships. It has to be possible to have both.  I refuse to believe that it is not despite my bad experience.   Make time for yourself and make time for your relationship.

The study also uncovered some unlikely hidden practices – including an apparently widespread taste for couples dancing together privately in their living rooms. Which leads me to what I think is the most important key to a happy relationship – remember to have fun!


  • I think having a baby definitely puts strain on a relationship. That first year with Pip was definitely the hardest of our marriage. I think it is possible to have a happy relationship and be a happy mum though. But it has to be a good relationship to begin with and it takes a lot of working at it.

    Me and husband dance around our living room sometimes :)

  • Emma

    Lovely article and ‘ditto’ to the indescribable gift of motherhood!

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