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Balancing act: Does parenting bring happiness? For me, absolutely

As I watch my children dance through life, I realize that my greatest moments of joy and happiness come from time with my family. And that's why I write a column about work-life balance.
As I watch my children dance through life, I realize that my greatest moments of joy and happiness come from time with my family. And that's why I write a column about work-life balance.
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A few weeks ago, my wife and I were running errands with our two oldest daughters. I can't remember exactly why the four of us were out and about, but our last stop was at a grocery store in our neighborhood.

As we walked down the cereal aisle — or was it canned goods? — the song "Happy" by Pharrell Williams started playing over the store's sound system. My wife and daughters, being the adorable goofballs that they are, started singing along and dancing up and down the aisle.

I did not, for I am a South Dakotan of German ancestry and therefore much too straight-laced to participate in such an activity. I may have cracked a bit of a smile.

As they enjoyed their impromptu festivities, another shopper stopped at the end of the aisle and watched. My daughters didn't realize they had a spectator at first, and when they did, they paused, my oldest offering a sheepish, "Sorry."

"Don't be," the woman replied, adding that she liked to see people who weren't afraid to dance in public.

So my daughters launched back into their dance with fresh abandon. (My wife, who doesn't really worry what other people think, had never stopped.)

Such moments are pretty common for the Kratz family, as anyone who knows us could confirm. And even though I'm less likely to participate in them than my more free-spirited wife and children, I relish and remember every one.

That's the first story I wanted to share this week. As for why I'm sharing it, well, I'll get back to that.

Here's the second story. A few months ago, I was carrying on a text conversation with a good friend of mine whose son was just returning to Utah after serving a two-year mission in New Zealand for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This friend was telling me about the amazing things people had written about his son, and the pure joy in his texts made my smartphone screen shine brighter each time a message appeared. He also talked about how excited he was to meet those people on an upcoming visit to New Zealand.

I replied, "That will be fun! As my kids get older, I'm finding that I get more joy out of hearing people say good things about them than I do when people say good things about me. There's no better feeling!"

He agreed with an "Amen, brother!"

These are the two experiences that came to mind when I read the results of a recent survey about parenting and happiness.

The survey of about 1,800 people was commissioned by Care.com, a website for finding and managing family care, and Yahoo Parenting, an online resource for parenting-related news and advice.

While the extensive survey covered lots of ground, what caught my eye first was a result that showed 91 percent of respondents who didn't have children said they were happy, compared to 81 percent of parents. The child-free respondents were also more likely to say they were "very happy" than parents (29 percent vs. 17 percent).

Digging deeper, the Care.com and Yahoo Parenting survey found that 45 percent of parents reported frequently feeling tired, while 40 percent said they were stressed and 10 percent never felt rested. It also showed that 70 percent of parents said they were more stressed now than they were before they had children, and 29 percent cried more often after having kids.

"Combine that with the fact that the majority of parents (60 percent) say their happiness level frequently adjusts based on their children's happiness, and being a parent can be an emotional roller coaster," the press release about the survey results said.

Can be an emotional roller coaster? Can be? I think most parents would say it absolutely is an emotional roller coaster pretty much all the time. And it's exhausting and stressful, too.

Katie Bugbee, senior managing editor at Care.com, expounded on that a bit further.

“Once you’re a parent, your priorities and source of happiness completely change,” Bugbee said in the press release. “Our survey found that although parents are more worried and stressed, their children make them the happiest that they’ve ever been, and they’re actually the No. 1 source of happiness."

I'm glad the survey found that both parents and non-parents were generally happy. The choice to have children is deeply personal, and I wouldn't presume to say what the right decision might be for someone other than myself.

But as the stories I shared earlier and in previous columns demonstrate, for me, it's absolutely true that my children are a constant source of amazement, amusement, exasperation, fear, anxiety, love, frustration, happiness and joy. And dozens of other feelings and emotions too numerous to mention here.

Those moments when I watch them dancing down the aisle of the grocery store, or accept a compliment on their behalf, stick with me. When I remember those times, I feel a deep sense of gratitude that my life has been blessed with four unique, energetic, wonderful children.

I also realize that I can only build memories with them if I'm around to witness and participate in the events that create such memories. And that, dear readers, is why I write a column about work-life balance. It's not just a business issue for me. It's something personal, real and close to my heart.

So the next time your children bust out some new dance steps in public or sing along to their favorite pop song at the top of their lungs, I hope you'll capture the moment in your memory and be glad you were there.

For truly, these are the memories that will warm your heart and soul for years — even decades — to come.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.