Parents' mental health and well-being improve when their child or children leave home, newly-published research has claimed.
The study — carried out by Christoph Becker, Isadora Kirchmaier and Stefan Trautmann from the University of Heidelberg — found that having children was linked to higher levels of well-being and a lack of depressive symptoms.
But this positive association is due to the fact children had left home, the study added, saying resident youngsters have a negative impact.
The research also concluded parenthood poses more of a challenge to the mother’s mental health than the father's.
"That does not surprise me at all,” said Alexandra Zykunov, editor of Brigitte, the largest women’s magazine in Germany, told Euronews.
Alexandra was the first in her circle of friends to have children. Because of this, she had no role models in her immediate environment.
She and her husband had not given much thought to the idea of sharing childcare.
"I did not know before the birth that there would be so much discussion surrounding the childcare when the baby arrived," Alexandra said.
She took the typical one-year of maternity leave available in Germany, while her husband took two months.
Why? Because her husband earned more, a scenario common to a lot of couples.
"Only when our second child was born, and when I was more concerned with the issue, did I notice that this thinking is often nonsensical," she said.
Now Alexandra and her husband adhere to a 50/50 parenting model and make an effort to share the childcare responsibilities equally.
Her argument as to why traditional parenting doesn’t make sense in a modern world is predicated on the opportunities women have available in the modern workplace.
“Women have the chance to earn as much or even more than their partners. It would be much more logical if the man would say. 'I make already more, so I reduce my hours or take longer parental leave so that you are not so long out, so you can catch up."
Dr Klaus Preisner, a sociology lecturer at the University of Zurich, said: "The traditional model still exists, it even dominates significantly, and the vast majority of children grow up in this environment."
For a large proportion of the time after their children were born, Alexandra fell into the traditional role of primary caregiver, whilst her husband returned to work.
However, the turning point for her came when she took a weekend away, whilst her husband looked after the kids.
She said: “You could just be on your own, enjoying your time, spending time with your thoughts. Your mind isn’t interrupted because something fell over or one of the children started to cry. I said to my girlfriend that Philip had that feeling of relaxation every other month last year, and I don’t?"
When she got home, she suggested an alternative arrangement to her husband. Every six to eight weeks, one of them leaves with the children so that the other has time for themselves, a whole weekend.
"Having something like that to look forward to also helps you in difficult situations, like when both kids are screaming. And on the weekend itself, you have so much energy and power, it’s incredible."
Alexandra feels that this model has provided her with some much-needed relief. However, they are still in the minority.
She said: "These ideas of traditional parenting are so deeply rooted in us that women really have trouble letting go; that's called maternal gatekeeping.”
And even with their 50/50 model, she still encounters this.
“In the evening you put the clothes out because, you know, tomorrow is the man's turn to put on clothes and I get him out the warmer sweater, so he does not send the child out into freezing temperatures with short sleeves. He would never do it anyway, but you still do it anyway."
And for her, this problem in society isn’t just problematic in the sense of freedom in parenting. “Women affected by old-age poverty than men to a much greater extent, because every second marriage still ends in divorce, and those women who always stay home or work part-time become financially dependent on their husbands.”
And for Alexandra this isn’t a matter of choice for women, as it is a responsibility to themselves: "I do not know if it is still your responsibility to talk about this as a personal decision, if it stands as a prime example of how a generation of women makes itself dependent on their main earners. I do not know if you can still say that is my personal decision."