Parents with children who live at home experience more stress -- and more joy -- than non-parents and parents without children in the home, according to a new poll by Gallup. But there isn't one parent who experiences a greater stretching of emotions: On average, both dads and moms go through the same extreme highs and lows.
"People should take pause at that," Dan Witters, author of the Gallup study, told The Huffington Post. "They should take caution around assuming that they've got it worse than their spouse or their spouse is skating through the parenting experience more easily than they are."
The findings are part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which surveyed 131,159 adults across the U.S. After analyzing the responses, Witters and his fellow researchers found that parents with children in the home are almost 10 percent more likely to be stressed than non-parents and those who don't have children living at home. These parents were also more likely to smile or laugh on a daily basis, but that margin was smaller, only about 5 percent.
Translation: Children do more to contribute to a parent's stress than happiness.
Things like teen rebellion, school pressures, emotional issues and substance abuse can make parents worry, according to Witters, and these issues are particularly impactful when you're the parent of the child going through them.
"Those are things that are going to hit you in ways that it's not going to hit you if it's your niece or your nephew or the kids of your best friends," he said. "They become palatable."
But Witters also said that these results don't mean that parents in general are miserable more often than they're happy -- even the data analyst himself argued that there's a qualitative side to parenthood that can't be tallied from survey results.
"Yes, there's a negative aspect to parenting that's very real," Witters said. "But overall, if you looked at the full portrait, the full landscape of the experiences, not just the two metrics that we look at here, for most people, they'd argue that it's well worth it."
He added, "And kids are just fun."
What parents should take away from these numbers, according to Witters, is that there's a good chance that their child's father or mother is experiencing just as much emotional yo-yoing as they are. That realization alone can help them become more effective -- and perhaps happier -- parents.
"It can afford us an opportunity to act with greater unity and a more common purpose as a couple raising children, rather than just two individuals raising children," he said.