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The patter of little feet.
March 9, 2011 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Kid Crazy: Why We Exaggerate the Joys of Parenthood. All parents know that having kids is a blessing, even if researchers don't agree. Researchers have known for some time that parents with minors who live at home report feeling calm significantly less often than than people who don't live with young children. Parents are also angrier and more depressed than nonparents — and each additional child makes them even angrier. Couples who choose not to have kids also have better, more satisfying marriages than couples who have kids.' Yet parents report quite the opposite. How to reconcile this? New research in cognitive-dissonance looks at parenting.

A 'paper which appears in the journal Psychological Science, presents the results of two studies conducted by Richard Eibach and Steven Mock, psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. The studies tested the hypothesis that “idealizing the emotional rewards of parenting helps parents to rationalize the financial costs of raising children.”

Their hypothesis comes out of cognitive-dissonance theory, which suggests that people are highly motivated to justify, deny or rationalize to reduce the cognitive discomfort of holding conflicting ideas. Cognitive dissonance explains why our feelings can sometimes be paradoxically worse when something good happens or paradoxically better when something bad happens.'

'Here's how cognitive-dissonance theory works when applied to parenting: having kids is an economic and emotional drain. It should make those who have kids feel worse. Instead, parents glorify their lives. They believe that the financial and emotional benefits of having children are significantly higher than they really are.'

But the picture is complicated, and perhaps the parents are right after all. It transpires that age is a critical factor. 'Older Parents Are Happier With More Children; Young Parents, With Fewer.'

'"Children may be a long-term investment in happiness," says MPIDR demographer Mikko Myrskylä. Together with Rachel Margolis from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA, he published the new study in the latest issue of the journal "Population and Development Review." It shows a global trend: while for parents under 30 the level of happiness decreases with the first and each additional child, mothers and fathers aged 30 to 39 feel as happy as childless peers until they have four children or more. From age 40 onwards parents are even more content than childless couples are unless they have more then three children. Mothers and fathers over 50 are generally happier than their childless peers, no matter how numerous their offspring.

With a sound data basis, this study clarifies for the first time the discrepancy between the widespread belief that children bring happiness and the fact that most research finds either a negative or no significant relationship between parenthood and well being. "Seeing the age trend of happiness independent of sex, income, partnership status and even fertility rates shows that one has to explain it from the perspective of the stage of parents life," says Mikko Myrskylä who at the MPIDR is heading the Max Planck Research Group "Lifecourse Dynamics and Demographic Change."

In the early stages of parenting, positive aspects of having children are overshadowed by negative experiences such as lack of sleep, concerns about the child's well being, and financial strains. The older parents get, the less they feel such pressure caused by their offspring as the child grows up and becomes more independent. When children reach adulthood their parents, who are then between 40 and 60 years old, can benefit from them financially and emotionally. Consistently, the study finds that the satisfaction of parents over 40 rises with the number of children comparatively strongly in former socialist states. Welfare systems in these countries are less far developed and parents depend more on direct financial support from their children.
Governments also play a role in enhancing the happiness of young parents. In former socialist countries like Russia, Poland and Hungary that offer limited support for parents of young children, their contentment compared to childless peers decreases particularly strongly with the number of children. In contrast, the curve is rather flat in countries with more developed welfare states like Western Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In these countries peers with and without children feel similarly well at any age. At the same time the influence of children as a source of happiness seems to be rising over time. From 1997 to 2005 parents of all ages reported feeling happier than they did in the period from 1981 to 1996.'
posted by VikingSword (20 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: we're getting into GYOB territory with these hot button topic posts and the massive pullkquotes that accompany them. If you're trying to share something neat on the web, great. If you're trying to start an argument, please do that someplace else. -- jessamyn



 
is there a specific term for the kind of cognitive dissonance which makes you believe that the entirety of your facebook friends list wants to know that your child has successfully taken a dump
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:27 PM on March 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Also, what about tall, asian american jewish males who live in Hawaii but have children vs tall, asian american jewish males who live in Hawaii but DON'T have children? Who is happier?
posted by spicynuts at 1:28 PM on March 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


So, being a parent has both its rewards and aggravations? What's newsworthy about that?

Oh wait, I don't have children, so I wouldn't understand.
posted by Melismata at 1:30 PM on March 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Does this mean you shouldn't have kids? Yes — but you won't. Our national fantasy about the joys of parenting permeates the culture. Never mind that it wasn't always like this. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we thought nothing of requiring kids to get jobs even before they hit puberty. Few thought of it as abuse. Reformers helped change the system — and rightly so — so that children could be educated. But this created a conundrum. As Eibach and Mock write, “As children's economic value plummeted, their perceived emotional value rose, creating a new cultural model of childhood that [one researcher] aptly dubbed ‘the economically worthless but emotionally priceless child.'” Or, as the writer Jennifer Senior put it in a New York magazine article last summer, “Kids, in short, went from being our staffs to being our bosses.”
Of course parents should be commended for one little thing they do: maintain the existence of humanity. I praise them for that, but I think they're both heroes and suckers.


Now, I'm all for the notion that modern American culture endorses both marriage and childrearing above and beyond the point at which is would be good for the individual. The author is being intentionally provocative though, I'd expect this from some childfree web forum, or Slate.

What it boils down to, is that nothing will make you, as individual, happy. Neither a car, nor a home, nor the awesome job, not even kids. Cliche as it is, happiness is found within, and nothing will fill the void except acceptance of yourself.
posted by zabuni at 1:32 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ask a parent was it worth it?

If they say yes, is that not enough?
posted by therubettes at 1:33 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh this should be fun. Let's set aside some space in MetaTalk.

Ha ha, I was just thinking the same thing.

That said, these results certainly agree with my own instincts w/r/t the calculus of children and happiness. It seemed obvious to me that you were sacrificing short- and medium-term convenience and freedom for long-term payoff.

Also, I tend to want to take issue with the framing of this debate, since I'm not sure that real happiness (whatever that is) lies at the end of a series of decisions made to preserve maximal personal convenience. Also: there are sometimes good reasons for doing things that nonetheless don't immediately or obviously make you happy.

Blah blah blah whatever I'm sure this discussion will go better than every other permutation of the Kid Question has.
posted by pts at 1:34 PM on March 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


In the early stages of parenting, positive aspects of having children are overshadowed by negative experiences such as lack of sleep, concerns about the child's well being, and financial HOLY SHIT BABIES ARE SUPERCUTE!!!1!1!1!.

Sorry, proud uncle here. Just saw my out-of-state niece last weekend. Compared to parenthood, though, I suspect avuncularity is a different kettle of, uh, babies altogether. Return policy, all of that.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:34 PM on March 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


not just asian american jewish males, but what about asian american jewish "tiger mothers" ?
posted by k5.user at 1:35 PM on March 9, 2011


Also, humans do not make logical decisions, but to want to seem rational to others (and to themselves, I suppose). Is that really new, too?

The specific example of having kids seems to have nothing to do with the actual point they are trying to make. It's presumably equally true for owning a house, having a well-payed job, going to church or having designer clothes: they are things that are "supposed" to make you happy, and are easily rationalised as making you happy, even if they really don't.
posted by Harry at 1:36 PM on March 9, 2011


I'm hoping people don't jump to conclusions here all based on the first link. The conundrum is somewhat resolved by the link following "But maybe parents are right after all":

"With a sound data basis, this study clarifies for the first time the discrepancy between the widespread belief that children bring happiness and the fact that most research finds either a negative or no significant relationship between parenthood and well being. "Seeing the age trend of happiness independent of sex, income, partnership status and even fertility rates shows that one has to explain it from the perspective of the stage of parents life," says Mikko Myrskylä who at the MPIDR is heading the Max Planck Research Group "Lifecourse Dynamics and Demographic Change."
posted by VikingSword at 1:37 PM on March 9, 2011


I've seen research also show that after kids leave for college, happiness goes WAY up, which is why most people remember parenting fondly, because it doesn't occupy their entire lives.
posted by mathowie at 1:37 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've said it before and I'll say it again: none of these studies takes a sufficiently long view.

Are my day's more stressful and hectic? yes.
Does raising kids cost a lot of money? yes.
Would an evening out at a nice restaurant bring me more joy than the brand new booster seat I just bought for my growing four year old? yes.
Are there days I spend with my kids when it seems like all they do is scream and I would much rather have gone to the movies with my wife? yes.
Do they bring me a kind of joy and life satisfaction that I have never imagined was possible, would my life feel empty and unfulfilled if I didn't have children? yes, yes, yes.

It isn't about having amazing days: it's about having an amazing life. For some people that doesn't require kids. For me it absolutely does.
posted by lucasks at 1:37 PM on March 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


My plan is to adopt a few 17-year olds right when I'm in my late fifties, enjoy a glorious year of parenthood, then reap the benefits of state-mandated care for my indigent self by my new adult children.
posted by mullingitover at 1:37 PM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a parent, I've never understood this. I have a friend who recently had a child and was complaining about the baby's non-stop crying on a social networking site. Most of his friends who are also parents replied to his complaint that it will get better.

I replied that it doesn't get better but that you just learn to tolerate it. I told him I'd rather sit in a room with a crying baby all day than deal with a three-year-old throwing a tantrum in public.

Was it worth it? Was it worth what?
posted by perhapses at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2011


I've seen research also show that after kids leave for college, happiness goes WAY up, which is why most people remember parenting fondly, because it doesn't occupy their entire lives.

Is that why the happiest man in the world is 65?
posted by elsietheeel at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2011


Instead, parents glorify their lives. They believe that the financial and emotional benefits of having children are significantly higher than they really are.

Thank God there's Time magazine to tell me how I truly feel.

I'm hoping people don't jump to conclusions here all based on the first link.

Might want to try not leading with such inflammatory language.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2011


Ask a parent was it worth it?

If they say yes, is that not enough?


So ask a parent who has kids in their 20's if it was worth not having the last 20+ years. What life experience would they have to compare it with?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:39 PM on March 9, 2011


> I've seen research also show that after kids leave for college, happiness goes WAY up

It goes up for the kids, too, so it's win-win!
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:39 PM on March 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


So happiness being subjective and self-reported, how does one tell the difference between a parent who is happy from one who, through cognitive dissonance, just thinks they are? And how do we gauge the cognitive dissonance in the self-reported happiness of non-parents?
posted by rocket88 at 1:40 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ask a parent was it worth it?

If they say yes, is that not enough?


No, because according to the article, people who choose to raise children are delusional. So how can we be rational about whether it was worth it?
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 1:40 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


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