I’m a great believer in scientific research but Harvard University happiness guru Daniel Gilbert keeps saying that childless people are happier than those with children. How can this be? What about Mother’s Day? On Mother’s Day, if you have children, you get a whole day dedicated to you. You’ll probably be woken at four am – the kids can’t wait any longer – to open presents, which might include a macaroni necklace or a painted plant pot. You’ll almost certainly drink a cup of the special tea that only children make, the tea without a lot of heat (dangerous for small hands) or flavour (cold tea doesn’t infuse) but with lots of sugar and milk.
Waking so early, which on the face of it might sound unpleasant, is actually the best of the best. You’re probably used to waking at that time anyway because you did every morning for the first two years of each child’s life. Those with older kids know you wake at four through the later teenage years as well, when you go to pick them up so they don’t drive home or you wake in fright because they’re not yet home. It’s a blessing to see so many sunrises. You know it is.
People without children, on the other hand, probably sleep until they wake up on Mother’s Day, it being Sunday, and then while away the empty hours going for a run or having a coffee while reading the paper. You feel a little sad for them.
If you’re a mother, soon after that early wakeup you rush off to the markets, then a quick swim, grab a coffee to make up for the insipid tea and get back in time to cook the real breakfast. You’re doing the cooking because even though the children offered, you know they can’t manage, and the mess they’d make doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s not that you’re a control freak, but no one else in the family makes scrambled eggs properly; best if you do it yourself. You have to fit it all in by seven because your own mother is coming over to enjoy Mother’s Day and she is a control freak, who hates it when you don’t have everything ready on time. If you’re really lucky, your mother-in law is coming too.
Your sister, who doesn’t have children, is coming for breakfast. Your mother’s favourite, she’s always there on Mother’s Day. I bet she feels a tug of loneliness after she’s finished the scrambled eggs you cooked and she’s leaving your trainwreck of a house and getting in her clean car to drive home. You’ve noticed her car doesn’t have that special smell, wet socks, old apple and popcorn, and it doesn’t have food on the back seat, that white stain in the middle that you hope isn’t yogurt which would be neither hygienic nor easily removable. Your sister notices too. She’s always a little hesitant to get into your car now, no doubt because it reminds her of what she’s missing out on. You feel her pain.
After lunch, which the children prepared themselves, because it’s Mother’s Day, you spend an hour cleaning up the kitchen. Those without children might lie in bed and read, wasting the afternoon, whereas you get to spend quality time in the company of people who are so attached to screens it’s hard to tell where the child ends and the video game begins. Those without children, when they wake from their sleep, might browse a bookshop or see a movie, both time wasters. You can’t stay awake through a movie anyway and you haven’t finished a book since the oldest was… for a long time. And you know a lot about Minecraft.
But Mother’s Day dinner is special. Those without children probably just eat in and feel their loss, but for Mum, it’s got to be fish and chips. Everyone loves fish and chips. And then off to bed ready to do it all tomorrow, except it won’t be as special because it’s not Mother’s Day.
The research may well say that childless people are happier, but they haven’t figured that we mothers think we’re happier – or perhaps we’re so tired we don’t know what we think – and that’s surely enough for me. Happy Mother’s Day.