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March 27, 2009 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Think having children will make you happy? Think again, suggests Nattavudh Powdthavee – you’re experiencing a focusing illusion [pdf]. [via.]
posted by you just lost the game (165 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Making the kids is what makes you happy.
posted by jenkinsEar at 1:44 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you're having kids in order to make you happy, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.
posted by cimbrog at 1:49 PM on March 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


when other people take their kids home and leave me with sweet, sweet silence... that makes me happy.
posted by klanawa at 1:50 PM on March 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Eponysterical.
posted by cereselle at 1:51 PM on March 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Have you ever noticed that the same people who really push the line that having children is the most joyful experience you could ever have are also the people who insist that there is something "selfish" about the decision not to have children. I always found that odd.
posted by yoink at 1:53 PM on March 27, 2009 [23 favorites]


Never having heard of the focusing illusion, and having just read the first few pages of the last link, it seems so obvious. Good stuff.
Now! Off to make more children!
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 1:54 PM on March 27, 2009


So, that article by Powdthavee is really just an elaborate way of asking his girlfriend's parents if he can marry her?
posted by barnacles at 1:58 PM on March 27, 2009


Yeah... I wouldn't call this happiness, exactly. And yet I have no desire to return to my former state (which is not just because it is impossible: I have all sorts of desires that are impossible and I know what that feels like). Maybe "what makes doing something worthwhile" turns out to be more complicated than "being happy." I continue to find proselytizing other people for or against having children baffling, however.
posted by nanojath at 1:59 PM on March 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Think having children will make you happy?

God, no.
posted by gman at 1:59 PM on March 27, 2009


Have you ever noticed that the same people who really push the line that having children is the most joyful experience you could ever have are also the people who insist that there is something "selfish" about the decision not to have children. I always found that odd.

No, you didn't. You were experiencing a confirmation bias illusion.
posted by rocket88 at 2:04 PM on March 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


If you're having kids in order to make you happy, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

This is interesting (and I can't quite gauge your tone of voice, if you see what I mean, but...): What on earth would be the right reasons, if not to become happier?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:06 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also missing is the theory that everybody says having children will make you happy... because it's a fucking conspiracy because misery loves company! Come on you carefree singles! It's totally the easiest thing I've ever done! Oops, gotta go run through a meadow, laughing with delight... again!
posted by nanojath at 2:09 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Having been a long-time bachelor who now is married with two kids (2 and 4), I can't say whether I'm happier or not. I have less time to do what I want (probably 90% less) and there's a lot of immediate stresses that are new, like constant interruption, sleep deprivation, and yelling and general commotion right in your ear. On the other hand, children are extremely entertaining and provide you with a lot of unconditional love and affection. It's also very satisfying to have to think again about things you've taken for granted and frame them to the kids in a teaching role.

It's a very tough test of character, and if you're not aware of that beforehand and willing to accept the challenge, it's going to be awful.

But if you opt out, you don't get to experience stuff like this: I was teaching my 2-year-old daughter about chess because she seemed interested. She got through about 10 minutes of a pseudo-game and seemed really into it. Then without warning, she leaped up in her chair and swirled all the pieces around violently while yelling "I AM THE DESTROYER!!!" at the top of her voice. You can't make stuff like this up ...
posted by freecellwizard at 2:10 PM on March 27, 2009 [72 favorites]


What on earth would be the right reasons, if not to become happier?

So there's someone around to change your diapers when you're 96!
posted by nanojath at 2:10 PM on March 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


So the thesis of the article is that people over-estimate how happy having kids will make them? Most people can't estimate anything, ever. How many peas in a bag of frozen peas? That people can't accurately estimate the unquantifiable is hardly an indictment of child rearing. Having kids is experiential and I really only get one chance at it, so what the hell I say - let's see what these little shit machines are all about.
posted by GuyZero at 2:11 PM on March 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


For a smart, very readable discussion of "focus illusion" outside of the highly-charged issue of "kids will make me happy", see Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling On Happiness.

Meanwhile: Gah, kids. *shudder*
posted by everichon at 2:16 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


> I continue to find proselytizing other people for or against having children baffling, however.

As one half of a married, childless couple who are almost certainly not going to make the leap into parenthood, I've gotten The Speech from a few relatives, friends, acquaintances, and even a couple of strangers; to paraphrase, "You're not having children? When you grow old you will live to regret your foolish, selfish decision." I hate this sort of thing as much as "child-free" advocates hectoring parents about their decisions. Bugger off, the lot of you on both sides, and let people lead their own lives free of interference from hectoring, self-righteous busybodies.

PS - MetaFilter: Bugger off, the lot of you, and let people lead their own lives free of interference from hectoring, self-righteous busybodies.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:19 PM on March 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Have you ever noticed that the same people who really push the line that having children is the most joyful experience you could ever have are also the people who insist that there is something "selfish" about the decision not to have children

Joyful but difficult- but then difficult is frequently a hallmark of what is worth doing, and what eventually is joyful. Learning German, say, is difficult, but succeeding is, well, joyful. Ode worthy, even.

The selfish thing is partially recognition that the deliberately childless are unwilling to take the risk (and having children is a huge risk, far more than simply getting married), which unwillingness might be perceived as cowardly and therefore selfish. Deliberately not having children also suggests an attitude of just not giving a crap about keeping the whole human enterprise going, of being vain enough to bracket your existence by your own birth and death and to hell with the tribe.

NB I am addressing your question, not rendering judgment, so no nasty cracks, okay? Plenty of people who are best advised not to be parents and I wish more of them would act on it.

Mind you, there are those in the blue who claim that not having children is brave, and I find that extremely odd.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:21 PM on March 27, 2009


Eponysterical.

I bet I lead MetaFilter in that particular response.
posted by you just lost the game at 2:22 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, this may partially explain why I and my significant other are really quite happy: she didn't want children, and I was basically just ambivalent, but also worried that my own harsh childhood would put me in danger of continuing a cycle of violence with my own children, so I was also fine with having no children. And I'm just barely responsible enough to understand that I'm not responsible enough to be a parent. (Sadly, many people have children *first*, then find this out about themselves.)

I also figure it takes more than a dozen of us non-child-raising folks to offset one baby-spurting Octomom, so unless we want to be thigh-deep in toddlers, our society needs at least a few people like me.
posted by jamstigator at 2:23 PM on March 27, 2009 [16 favorites]


(And thumbs up to Card Cheat's plea for good manners all around.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:24 PM on March 27, 2009


For more examples of focus illusion, see also "Buying a house you can't really afford;" "getting that loose [chick/dude/other] in [accounting/HR/janitorial services] wasted on [booze/pills/toner] and making it in the [supply closet/unisex restroom/dumpster]." Also, "getting a job."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:24 PM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Here

Here

I seem to remember another AskMeFi that was more interesting than these but I can't find it right now.
posted by comatose at 2:25 PM on March 27, 2009


have kids to spread the selfish gene....kids are ok till they no longer are tax exemption...I kid you not...I taught my kids all I know and now they are all dummies...the good thing about having kids: when you divorce, you can blame your spouse to your kids and hint that they were largely responsible for the breakup....when your kids leave the home, move, don't tell them where, get PO Box, because in uncertain times they might want to move back...make sure you leave each kid a dollar in your will so when you will them nothing else they can not sue your estate (it used to be your house but now it is your estate).
posted by Postroad at 2:25 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Deliberately not having children also suggests an attitude of just not giving a crap about keeping the whole human enterprise going, of being vain enough to bracket your existence by your own birth and death and to hell with the tribe.

Could it not be argued (not stated as fact, but argued) that, these days, deliberately not having children could suggest an attitude of giving a crap about keeping the whole human enterprise going?
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 2:29 PM on March 27, 2009 [17 favorites]


I'm happier with two kids, 12 and 8, than I have ever been in my life.
posted by salishsea at 2:30 PM on March 27, 2009


Gosh I enjoy hectoring. I may do it later today, in fact.
posted by everichon at 2:32 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also: to hell with the tribe.
posted by everichon at 2:33 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Deliberately not having children also suggests an attitude of just not giving a crap about keeping the whole human enterprise going, of being vain enough to bracket your existence by your own birth and death and to hell with the tribe.

There are lots of great arguments for and against kids, but the pro-children folks would be really well advised not to try to argue that having children is somehow better for the planet. That long ago stopped being a remotely credible argument.

Mostly, though, the problem here is that every single argument can be just as easily made to fit the opposite conclusion. If I wanted to I could easily argue that wanting to continue your lineage was much vainer than modestly living life and then being done.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:35 PM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


the pro-children folks would be really well advised not to try to argue that having children is somehow better for the planet

You seem to not realize that MY KIDS are awesome and will cure cancer. Everyone else's kids are a drag though, true.
posted by GuyZero at 2:37 PM on March 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


...parents and non-parents report[ed] the same levels of life satisfaction, on average.

For those who thought that having children might mean you become less happy.
posted by furtive at 2:41 PM on March 27, 2009


Happiness plummets with kids' arrival.

MARRIAGE is a constant source of joy, but introducing children into the relationship will send your happiness in a downward spiral, a conference has been told.

Despite the belief that children were the apples of our eyes, they actually had a negative impact on happiness.

The more kids you had, the sadder you were likely to be, Prof Gilbert said.

US and European studies had shown that people's happiness did spike while they were expecting a baby but sharply plummeted after the child was born.

The low point came when children reached the ages of 12-16, and recovered only when they had flown the coop, he said.

"In reality ... children do seem to increase happiness as long as you're expecting them, but as soon as you have them, trouble sets in," he said.

"People are extremely happy before they have children and then their happiness goes down, and it takes another big hit when kids reach adolescence.

"When does it come back to it's original baseline? Oh, about the time the children grow up and go away."

posted by UbuRoivas at 2:43 PM on March 27, 2009



I also figure it takes more than a dozen of us non-child-raising folks to offset one baby-spurting Octomom, so unless we want to be thigh-deep in toddlers, our society needs at least a few people like me
.

Octomom is a freak, of course, and best passed over in embarrassed silence. How her spawn will turn out is anyone's guess and if I were religious I would pray long and hard for them.

I do know of large families that are deliberately large because the parents feel that their superior genes obligate them to reproduce a better breed of child. For the good of society. And to make up for those who attain upper middle class hood and deliberately opt for a replacement population level.

Could it not be argued (not stated as fact, but argued) that, these days, deliberately not having children could suggest an attitude of giving a crap about keeping the whole human enterprise going?


Could be, and is, quite frequently, and as frequently dismissed as Malthusian. Not sure the trends are really going onward and upward, even in the traditionally fecund areas. Europe is heading towards extinction, China has the one child policy, Africa has its disease things, even the Middle East is going into reverse in a few years. I leave the argument to others better informed than me.

On hearing this line or reasoning, however, I always recall Barbara Tuchman who discussed with her husband whether it might not be best to just not have children (it being WWII era) given what a nasty world they would be bringing them into. They chose to be optimistic about the whole thing and went for it.

If I wanted to I could easily argue that wanting to continue your lineage was much vainer than modestly living life and then being done.

And yet, there is something tragic in those stories you see from time to time about the last few vestiges of a tribe heading towards extinction. As I said at the outset, it's in part a group identity thing rather than just individual.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:43 PM on March 27, 2009


Surely the reason to have kids is because going out till 4am, clubbing and abusing substances gets kind of undignified after 35.
posted by rhymer at 2:44 PM on March 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


So the thesis of the article is that people over-estimate how happy having kids will make them?

No. In brief: Studies show that children make parents' lives significantly less happy than that of non-parents. "Data sets from Europe and America, have found some evidence that, on aggregate, parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction, marital satisfaction, and mental well-being, compared with non-parents." Nevertheless, there is the widespread cultural belief that children make you happy. Why? Focusing illusion. And that whole thing about yes, being a parent is hard work but the "rare meaningful experiences" of raising a child outweigh all the negative experiences? Totally not true. But don't let reality remove your illusions about parenthood and stop you from having kids cause that would suck for humanity. And more research needs to be done on this whole subject.

I may have taken in a few liberties in my summary.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:46 PM on March 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


Gosh I enjoy hectoring. I may do it later today, in fact.

Is that anything like rogering?
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:46 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course, if as a childless person you are going to be eaten up with regret about how life might have been if you did have kids, having kids and becoming mildly unhappier might well be a preferable option: at least you'll know.

The only thing that riles me (and that has riled me in this thread so far) is the ego-massaging notion among some parents that they took the greater risk by deciding to become parents. I don't think they did, at all. It's just that their risk was concentrated into a single decision. Never getting around to having kids is to take just as much of a risk with your happiness.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:48 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


(And thumbs up to Card Cheat's plea for good manners all around.)

After you've called the deliberately childless "cowardly...selfish...not giving a crap about the human enterprise...vain" and somehow not brave, you trot this out? Dude, please.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:49 PM on March 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


> Surely the reason to have kids is because going out till 4am, clubbing and abusing substances gets kind of undignified after 35.

Yeah, but you're never too old for the pub!
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:50 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Several years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who, at that time, was raising a 3-year-old. She asked if I thought I would ever have kids, and I said "Probably not. I guess I'm too selfish to have any kids."

"Oh no," she said. "Having kids is the most selfish thing you can ever do."
posted by vibrotronica at 2:51 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is nothing inherently selfish or not selfish about having kids or not having kids. It's simply a decision - and sometimes, not even that. There are, however, many possible selfish reasons to make any decision, and many selfish people making every possible decision, so you can pretty safely gamble that most choices are made with an eye toward the personal bottom line. So fucking what? People who don't want kids shouldn't have them, and at least half of those who do shouldn't have them either. Welcome to the human race. Not sure why so many people believe in personal freedoms right up to the point where others actually try to use that freedom to make choices different from our own. One's procreative choice is nobody else's fucking business. Literally.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:58 PM on March 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


Forget happiness. This is why you (and I mean you, Metafilter reader) should have children. Lots of them.
posted by bokeh at 2:58 PM on March 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


If you're having kids in order to make you happy, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

You know, I'm usually the guy who comes into these threads and starts up with the whole "me no like rugrats" line. I'm not going to do that this time. Instead, I'd like to talk about this comment, which confuses the hell out of me. What, if not happiness, are the RIGHT reasons for having kids? Tax breaks? Social Responsibility? An inescapable natural instinct to mate? A desire to get the most out of your education taxes? Some notion about life fulfillment? (in case it's that one, how is that not supposed to make you happy?)

Honestly, I think the world is fully of penny-weight sayings like this about child-rearing, and almost all of them sound more profound than they really are.

Please, tell us what the right reasons are. I know there are good reasons to raise kids, I just always thought happiness was chiefest among them.
posted by shmegegge at 3:01 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


What on earth would be the right reasons, if not to become happier?... So there's someone around to change your diapers when you're 96!

My dad is only about to turn 95 in a few weeks but yes, he's finding this to be very true. Also, you're going to need help choosing that nursing home.

On the other hand, children are extremely entertaining and provide you with a lot of unconditional love and affection.

I think the key point is that it doesn't have to be your own kid. Yes, there are innumerable reasons (and very good ones) not to have children, but if (being childless) you don't hang out with somebody's kids, you're missing out on a lot.

That was my plan, enjoy them as much as possible, then let them go home so I could have some peace and quiet, plus not pay for braces, etc. etc., but after four or five years of arguing with my wife about it, I gave up. And our son (even now at the really annoying age of 15) has been mostly a true joy. I'm hoping that he will rebel against my life style and make a lot of money, to support me in my declining years. (They'll be here any minute now...)
posted by LeLiLo at 3:03 PM on March 27, 2009


The right reason to have children is to be able to train them in the art of snarking from the youngest age.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:05 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The "selfish" part makes sense if you believe that you will raise happy children and be a happy parent, and that not raising children would be to purposely bring less happiness into the universe, to keep all your current and potential happiness (and stuff) to yourself. It's a simplistic argument, but I can see how it makes sense to some people.

Of course, you could adopt unhappy orphans and work just as hard to make them happy. If you are the sort who takes satisfaction in doing such things, you would (with luck) make yourself and your adopted children happier, thereby raising the happiness level of the universe without further straining the resources of this little ball of dirt. Until all orphans are adopted, adoption seems the better course to take if your goal is to increase the total happiness of the universe.

But they say we have a certain innate level of happiness, so maybe you and the orphans are going to be at a certain level of happiness whether you adopt them or not. In that case, having your own happy children would be the way to go: you add a person to the universe and hope that it's a happy person.

Or... find other ways to raise the total level of happiness in the universe. If it takes all of your spare time to make one or two babies happy, maybe you ought to instead work on making lots of adults happy. Or animals. Or if you're just no good at that stuff, work on making yourself happy.
posted by pracowity at 3:09 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Again, the idea of focusing illusion and how we normally allocate our attention to different things in life can help explain that. For example, we tend to believe that the rare but meaningful experiences – such as seeing our children smile for the first time or graduating from university or getting married – would give us massive increases in our happiness. And indeed they do, but these boosts in well-being, often to our surprise, tend not to last for very long. One explanation for this lies in the nature of these experiences. How often do we think about these rare but meaningful experiences on a day-to-day basis, that is, if we are not prompted to think about them? It is, if you like, like winning a lottery. We may be incredibly happy at first if we win £1,000,000 from the National Lottery. But soon enough that money will go into our bank account or into our other extravagant spending sprees in the forms of nice cars or a big house in the country, most of which, after having got them, we do not spend a lot of time thinking about everyday (see, for example, Kahneman et al., 2006). However, because the experience of winning the lottery is so salient to us – perhaps partly because it is such a rare event – if we are asked to think about it again, we are likely to exaggerate the value that it brings.

This is a really fascinating passage in the article, by the way.
posted by shmegegge at 3:09 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


At the moment, however, I am quite comfortable with having such an illusion. But that is only because I have yet another concern that, although much more unorthodox than whether children bring happiness, requires my attention all the same. That is, what would be the best way to ask my girlfriend’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage without the possibility of him saying no? Everything else, at this very moment, is just second-order to me.

wh... what?
posted by shmegegge at 3:12 PM on March 27, 2009


i form babby. it make me happy. why no?
posted by greekphilosophy at 3:21 PM on March 27, 2009


I'll tell ya one thing... now everybody's different, so I'm not generalizing everyone when I say this stuff but I honestly think I would've liked both of my parents a Hell of a lot better as human beings if they never had kids. Well, except I wouldn't have been around.

I mean this seriously. On one hand, it should be lovely when a parent says the "best thing (I) ever did was have (you)"... but on the other hand, it's not. It's kind of sad. Neither of my parents wanted kids really and they gave up on their own individual dreams after having them. In my mind, they lost a certain sense of their spirits. In their old age, they became lonely, needy, selfish people who didn't like themselves and expected me to fulfill their every happiness... they bitched about getting old on a constant basis instead of considering ways they could make their own lives fulfilling. They basically only felt loved when I would sacrifice my own life to take care of them... all roads led to me because they brought me into the world.

Meanwhile my mom's childless best friend, my godmother, was traveling through Egypt when she was 88 years old and thriving on being around young people. She was vibrant and funny and awesome. She had life to her... and my mom used to say that was because she had never been a parent. So on one hand I say that's bullshit. But on the other hand, if that's what people with kids want to believe... then maybe it's a self fulfilling prophecy.

I have friends who used to constantly act like they felt sorry for me because I wasn't a mother and ooooh how sad... but now that those particular friends are mostly depressed single moms with pre-teenagers running rampant I'm actually kinda feeling like I dodged a bit of a bullet, truth be told. Let's just say if I'm childless and traveling the world at 88 I'm not going to be too depressed about my lot in life. Go me! As long as I don't end up like my parents, I'm feelin' pretty solid.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:32 PM on March 27, 2009 [19 favorites]


Could it not be argued (not stated as fact, but argued) that, these days, deliberately not having children could suggest an attitude of giving a crap about keeping the whole human enterprise going?

People have been asking "how can you bring a child into the world as it is?" for a long time. From threats of mutually assured destruction and the cold war, back to Silent Spring and before, there have been big, scary things in the world that make procreating and bringing someone else here to suffer seem like a terrible idea.

Personally, I'm just stoked on the idea of my own little troupe of awesome cheerleaders (thanks for the idea, DU!). My Dad's desire was
posted by filthy light thief at 3:36 PM on March 27, 2009


BTW, my sister and I once asked my mom when the last time she was truly happy in life was. After some long thought, she said 1947. Doing the math, I realized she got pregnant with the first of her five children in 1948 (she had me late in life).

I just have a hard time fathoming this... how insanely sad is it to imagine not having been able to think of yourself as a happy person for SIXTY WHOLE YEARS OF LIFE. Honestly. That just kills my heart, right there. I just look at her and feel pity. It's rough.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:37 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I recall correctly: In a letter, Henry James acknowledged that to die childless was, to at least some extent, a failure to experience life in its fullest dimensions.

I can agree with that while giving praise at least once a month that I don't have children.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:54 PM on March 27, 2009


I'm having difficulty understanding why this is such a hot-button issue. As you get older, you can expect your parents to harangue you about having children. People not even related to you might even bring it up. It's sort of a part of life. If somebody calls you selfish for not having kids that's amazingly rude, but I doubt it's commonplace. I think maybe some people without children get bored and/or annoyed listening to parents prattle upon about their special little miracles, is all, and feel pressured in this way to an extent to have kids. Conflating that into "prosletyzing" sounds a tad hyperbolic, but I understand the frustration. Parents should be aware that not everyone wants children, and as every child should be 100% wanted, I can't see how it's bad that those who don't want children don't have them. At the same time, the child-free should know that if someone's talking about how awesome it is to have kids, maybe they're just trying to share with you something that makes them happy - it's not necessarily an assessment of your selfishness levels.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:57 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you're having kids in order to make you happy, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

What on earth would be the right reasons, if not to become happier?


There's nothing wrong with having kids if it will make you happier. The problem is when you need to be happy, and you think having kids will magically do it for you.
posted by oaf at 3:58 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not sure the trends are really going onward and upward, even in the traditionally fecund areas. Europe is heading towards extinction, China has the one child policy, Africa has its disease things, even the Middle East is going into reverse in a few years.

You know, there's wrong and there's ridiculously wrong, and then there's this, which falls, I believe, into the category of unforgivably wrong. It's certainly defensible to go ahead and have children despite knowing full well that the world is facing a population crisis; one could say "well, as long as we, personally, don't behave in an unsustainable way, it's not my fault that the population of the world at large chooses to do so." But to just ignore the most basic, easily findable statistics on world population and the appalling demands it is putting on the planet is worse than disingenuous.

China's population is steadily expanding, despite their one-child policy. The world population continues to explode. The claim that Europe is "heading towards extinction" is a fantasy most popular among white supremacists--it is, at most, heading into a period of slight decline.

Go ahead and have children or not as you see fit, but don't delude yourself into thinking that we somehow "fixed" the world population problem just because we stopped paying attention to it.
posted by yoink at 4:00 PM on March 27, 2009 [11 favorites]


If somebody calls you selfish for not having kids that's amazingly rude, but I doubt it's commonplace.

Your hypothetical skepticism is no match for my frequent real-world experience. Including, for example, this very thread. And no, I'm not saying that some people have said to me "we love having kids!" and I've mysteriously transmuted that into them saying "not having kids is selfish." I mean that people have frequently said to me (more frequently back in the days when it was more likely that my wife and I were more likely to have been thought to be weighing up whether or not to have kids) such difficult-to-decipher comments as "of course, young people these days are often too selfish to have children" or the even more cryptic, "I just think it's terribly selfish of people not to have kids."
posted by yoink at 4:06 PM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


So it's commonplace to you, then. That's too bad. Might I suggest not talking to these people anymore?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:10 PM on March 27, 2009


Please, tell us what the right reasons are. I know there are good reasons to raise kids, I just always thought happiness was chiefest among them.

Happiness is the only ultimate reason for doing anything, like some ancient Greek guy once pointed out. The people who believe they're having kids for any reason other than happiness are merely misdefining happiness.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:10 PM on March 27, 2009


Also odd that you linked to that comment as an example, when IndigoJones specifically said, he was "addressing your question, not rendering judgment".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:11 PM on March 27, 2009


In any group society, wolves, lions, there's even a species of spider that builds group webs, not everyone passes on their genes. In fact it is a genetic advantage that not everyone in the group spends so many resources bringing up children. This advantage is actually passed on in genes of the ones who do have kids.

Not sure the trends are really going onward and upward, even in the traditionally fecund areas. Europe is heading towards extinction I think most places, even Europe, could stand to have fewer people.

Really, you should have kids if you want to and think you are in a position to be able to handle it. Otherwise, don't.

I have kids and I'm happier for it, but that's because I really wanted to have kids and so far, at least, enjoy the challenges and the efforts in overcoming them. (There was a brief period right after they were born when I got very few hours of sleep that I didn't really enjoy very much).

And the study underestimates the lasting affect of the 'moments of joy', at least for me. I'll give you an example that I'm guessing many Mefi's in particular would experience:
My son's third grade teacher, during a parent conference, told me the bad news.
"Some of the kids have been complaining about your son."
"He's been bullying them?? Has he hurt anyone?"
"No, not that. You know how your son is really good with words? Well, some of the other kids aren't at his level, so he sometimes gets in these verbal battles that they can't respond to, so they get frustrated."

This, in fact, was the first time I'd heard anyone at the school say he was really good with words. This wasn't mentioned in his report cards. And he was using this to win arguments with his classmates, so well that they complained to the teacher. He was fighting them....with words!

I tried to not let my smile show to the teacher.
"I'll tell him to back off a bit, and give the other kids some breathing room."
"That would be good."

Even now, writing this, I am beaming. I'm so proud. Surely a future Mefite in the making.
posted by eye of newt at 4:25 PM on March 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


Comparing people who have kids with those who don't is invalid. The two groups are living lives that are so different that the comparison is meaningless. Happiness is relative to your situation (which, if I understand correctly, is what the focusing illusion is about). Similar invalid comparisons can be made, in the same way as the last link does: is a rich person happier than a poor person? The level of happiness is probably similar on average, it's just the "what makes me happy" that is different between the two groups.

Why does the comparison even need to be made? Can't we all just get along? I, as a parent, would never want to imagine my life without my son, and believe that I'm happy because I have him. But I can see how someone without kids could also be just as happy. The only differences between is are the things that make us happy. Live and let live.
posted by Simon Barclay at 4:32 PM on March 27, 2009


I work with children as my profession or career or whathaveyou, and I desperately want children of my own. I don't think that having children will make me "happy"; if anyone understands that parenthood is not a magic carpet ride, it would be me. There are many moments in my job that are, in and of themselves, terrific advertisements for birth control. (Watching a two year old plop herself on the floor simultaneously screaming her head off and peeing herself would be tops on that list.)

The reason I want children is that I know I *won't* be happy without them. I know that if I don't have children, I will feel like I fundamentally missed something in life - even if that something is to wipe someone else's butt for years until they grow up and I have to pay for them to go to college.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:32 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


So it's commonplace to you, then. That's too bad. Might I suggest not talking to these people anymore?

I'm not sure why it's so important for you to believe that my experience is wildly aberrant. I have encountered this opinion in different countries and from many different kinds of people--people I know well and people who are barely acquaintances. I have also found that many other childless couples I know have had the same experience. There are other people in this thread who report the same thing. I'm sorry if that doesn't accord with what you choose to imagine being the typical experience of someone who is part of a couple who chooses not to have children, all I can say is that it is, in fact, my experience and the experience of many other childless couples I have known.

Also odd that you linked to that comment as an example, when IndigoJones specifically said, he was "addressing your question, not rendering judgment".

IndigoJones's later statements demonstrated that claim to be a hollow one.
posted by yoink at 4:34 PM on March 27, 2009


affect/effect, and many others. I guess I'm not good with words!
posted by eye of newt at 4:36 PM on March 27, 2009


Please, tell us what the right reasons are.

Okay. The pizz is going to be done in 6 minutes. 5 more minutes to cool after it comes out. The spawn is mercifully self-distracting for the moment. You have to focus, nanojath, you can do this.

Let's kick the fucking elephant out of the closet and into the bedroom... or something. Why most people have children: because it is a normal thing to do. That is not a statement of value or philosophy or whatever. Procreation is normal. It is a biological thing. We are driven to it. That is not a good reason or a bad reason but it is the REAL reason. It is real damn easy for it to be a bad reason, though, because for most people it is unexamined and then it turns out to be real damn hard. I accept that I procreated driven by normal biological logic. If I didn't think normal biological logic was relevant I could make a real good case for suicide too.

I'd say good reasons for having kids is because you feel a sincere desire to do so that you've given as much serious and objective thought as you can (I acknowledge that one's potential objectivity in this respect is limited) and believe in your ability to raise them intentionally, thoughtfully, lovingly, and with engagement and all the joy and fulfillment you can find in it. At my most depressed I can't find a single damn good reason for the presence of human beings in this universe. I try to bring all the best hope that I can find that there is some value to our presence to the work of dealing with the consequences that I went ahead and helped make another one. Like I said before I got all jokey, I don't know that what I'm experiencing as a result is exactly happiness. But it's damn interesting, and leads me often to ponder that the totality of living life well may come down to a whole lot more than simply being happy.

miss lynster, I feel like that if anything having a kid has made me more committed to and clearer about taking my individual dreams seriously. I think a lot of people use kids as an excuse for having given up on themselves (to the ironic detriment of their parenting) and that they frankly would have done so in any event. If I'm 88 and not traveling the world I sure as hell won't be able to rationally blame my kid for it.

But there it is, I gotta go.
posted by nanojath at 4:37 PM on March 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


I'm not sure why it's so important for you to believe that my experience is wildly aberrant. ... I'm sorry if that doesn't accord with what you choose to imagine being the typical experience of someone who is part of a couple who chooses not to have children, all I can say is that it is, in fact, my experience and the experience of many other childless couples I have known.

I'm not sure why you think it's "important" to me. I was acknowledging your experience. My experience, and that of numerous childless is couples, has been different than yours. It's pretty cut and dry, really.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:39 PM on March 27, 2009


If one is much better off and happier not having children than why not go a step beyond and not have a wife or live-in other? After all, as Janis noted: Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose...free at last, free at last..no kids, no wife...are we happy now?
posted by Postroad at 4:41 PM on March 27, 2009


Yeah, I'm highly skeptical of this study. I have no kids and am probably about to do IVF but I am aware that it may not work so I don't know which dog I would have in this fight.

But I do think that doing anything worthwhile and meaningful is hard and doesn't produce "happiness" that is necessarily measurable by these surveys. I agree with Simon: I don't think the comparisons are valid-- for example, what if unhappy people are more likely to have kids in a failed attempt to fix that? What if we don't have good words to describe the joy of being around cuteness? (We only have that one word for it, other than awwwww which isn't even a word and it's trivialized but if you look at the success of all the cute sites and its widespread use to attract people, it's clearly an important and under-researched experience that is obviously designed to make us take delight in babies).

What if the regret over not having kids isn't especially measurable because people don't admit to it easily, because once you've made a choice like that or had it made for you, regretting further isn't particularly productive?

It would be pretty bizarre evolutionarily for having children not to produce serious satisfaction-- another thing that makes me skeptical of this research. but of course if i fail to be able to have a kid, i may embrace it wholly ;-)
posted by Maias at 4:43 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


If one is much better off and happier not having children than why not go a step beyond and not have a wife or live-in other?

I truly hope this was a snarky comment and not some real analysis because this makes EXACTLY as much sense as saying "Once them gays get married, the next thing will be legalizing man on GOAT marriage!"

I really hope that my pointing out that the relationship between two adults and the relationship between an adult and a child are TOTALLY TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS is superfluous.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:43 PM on March 27, 2009


I choose not to have children because I do not desire to pass on my confirmed faulty genes for several things. That does not mean I will not raise children. They will just simply not be of my bad genes.
posted by strixus at 4:49 PM on March 27, 2009


I have heard of research where people who win tens of millions of dollars in the lottery are found, when measured again one year later, to be just as happy as they were before winning the lottery.

I have also heard of research where people who get into horrible accidents and become deformed and paralyzed are found, when measured again one year later, to be just as happy as they were before becoming deformed and paralyzed.

This all tells me one thing: either the measure of "happiness" used in these kinds of studies is too crude to tell us anything valuable about how different outcomes influence human well-being, OR human happiness is in such ridiculously stable equilibrium, that you might as well just make your choices at random every day, take the path of least resistance, live only in the moment, etc, etc, until you die of a massive stroke at the age of 28 while fucking a whore in a bathtub full of vodka and stolen cocaine
posted by dgaicun at 4:53 PM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is an issue which used to weigh heavily on me. A couple years ago, I did a tonne of research on adopting a child from Thailand. What stopped me? And what do I 'thank God' for? I'm not married and single dudes are not in the running to adopt. I look back on a decision which obviously would have changed my life and altered a path I have dreamed of ever since I returned from years on the road. I take risks which are simply not okay with dependents. Risks that I don't want to give up. Risks which drive me, risks which challenge me like no other. Add to this the facts that I am completely self-centred, and I quite simply don't want to delay my 'retirement' because of the costs associated with a child. I know this and I'm happy I do.
posted by gman at 4:56 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


ridiculously stable equilibrium

That is part of the gist of Gilbert's distillation of current work on the matter.
posted by everichon at 5:01 PM on March 27, 2009


I was on the bus today. Some 3-4-year-olds came in. The bus was happy, everyone smiling. The kids went out. The bus went back to silent.
posted by krilli at 5:03 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Every straight couple I know that was so desperate to have children, that made having children the top priority of their marriage, is now divorced. Every single couple. That is not an exaggeration. Statistic say money after infidelity is what break up marriages. Then the pressures of child rearing is third. I think number three highly influence one and two. The pressures on couples after they have kids can help motivate affairs and can strain finances (or the resentments due income disparity) to the breaking point.

I think having kids becuase you think it will make you happy is fine. But odds, and this studies conclusions, are it won't. We all take make educated guesses as to what will fulfill us most. With our careers. Out partners. It's all a roll of the dice. Somethings have much better odds of turning out well. Having kids is a much larger wild card. And though much of it is biologically driven it's a tough road to leave to mother nature to fill up your happiness tank on. Evolution never cared much if you were happy with kids. Just that you scratched out enough survival time to have them.

The most dire problems facing us, other than an asteroid heading for the planet, is a result of people. Too god damn many of them. The problem now is that, and this is gong to sound incredibly harsh—but deep down you all know it's true, about 80% (and I think I'm being charitable) of this planet should not be having kids at all. So that means most of the people right here, right now, who have kids probably shouldn't have them. Everybody believes they are the magical exception. They have to. After the fact they better. Still the majority delude themselves that they are happy are clearly not happy - as this study proves. But who could blame them. See the problem isn't kids. It's parents.

Most people are neither emotionally, physically, or financially equipped to produce the well adjusted healthy offspring we need to become the productive humans that will save our future. And you hear people argue that if you consider these aforementioned variables then you will never have children. So you shouldn't consider these variables. I hear it all the time. But the fact is you should. If we did the world would be much better off. There would be fewer parents.
posted by tkchrist at 5:05 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was on BART today. Some 3-4 year olds came in. The BART train was unhappy, everyone scowling. The kids went out. The BART train went back to being happy.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:09 PM on March 27, 2009 [11 favorites]


I think a bigger question than "do kids *really* make you happy?" is "Do most people *really* realize how to be happy?" Most don't.

In regards to higher divorce rates, etc, the question is "Do you have skills to stay married to one person?" While it seems like a stupid thing to say, people get divorced because they don't know how to stay married. It's a cultural thing, too. The sense of entitlement fostered by North American individualist, egocentric culture.

[Disclaimer] We're expecting our second child... tomorrow.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:14 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why you think it's "important" to me.

Because you've devoted several posts on Metafilter to saying. essentially, "you didn't really have the experiences you claim to have had, and neither did the people who have told you about having similar experiences."

If you want to find out how readily the sentiment is to be found, try this pretty straightforward google search. Among the many others on that page you'll find the Pope (rather hilariously) telling us that "there are so many couples who decide to remain without children for reasons not rarely selfish." But perhaps you think the opinions voiced by the Pope are obscure and utterly without influence or echo in the world at large?

I don't doubt you when you say that you haven't had this experience yourself, but I rather suspect that it's you who is the remarkable case here (I would also not be surprised if there were reasons for this: e.g. that you didn't form a stable partnership early in life, and therefore raise people's expectations that children would be the next "natural" step, or that you move in rather restricted social circles of like-minded people; but maybe you're just lucky--whatever the case, I'd be grateful if you didn't just blithely dismiss my account of my own, and others', experiences).
posted by yoink at 5:14 PM on March 27, 2009


Sorry for the snark. Here's a more substinative comment, building on everichon's recommendation of Stumbling On Happiness. I read it a couple of years ago but at the time I thoroughly enjoyed it: it examines how people think about the choices they've made, especially compared to their peers, and how they explain their choices in a way that makes them happy with them.

So, someone without children will look at someone with children and think, "It's great that Daisy has kids, but I sure am happy I didn't have them. It'd drive me mad!" and Daisy can look at her friend Teresa and think, "Poor Terese, she doesn't know what she's missing." Both parties frame their choices in ways that mean their choice is in some way superior, although the choices are quite obviously not black and white issues.

I hope I've explained that well; it's been a while and I might check that book out from the library again. Some chapters were more compelling than others, but a great overall read.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:16 PM on March 27, 2009


And you hear people argue that if you consider these aforementioned variables then you will never have children. So you shouldn't consider these variables. I hear it all the time. But the fact is you should. If we did the world would be much better off. There would be fewer parents.

Y'know, I do consider the variables of "ZOMG! Overpopulation!" when I think about having children.

And then I think about the fact that I only have one life to live on this earth and while, yes, I care about the common good, I'm not going to sacrifice that which is meaningful to me to crusade for a losing cause. As you say, the world is going to keep producing children. What I can do, personally, to try and help this is to help raise children who are equipped to try and solve the problems of their own generation. That's what I can do.

I can't be a climate-ologist stopping global warming. I'm not going to end Third World Debt anytime soon. But I can do my best to educate young kids (what I do) and raise healthy and strong children of my own (what I hope to do).

That's not to say that all parents are crusaders, but some of us who are in the "child-rearing" camp HAVE considered the variables and we've decided that "FUCK IT, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!" isn't the option for us.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:20 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


(whoops: "substantive" *blushes*)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:23 PM on March 27, 2009


Because you've devoted several posts on Metafilter to saying. essentially, "you didn't really have the experiences you claim to have had, and neither did the people who have told you about having similar experiences."

Excuse me? I never said nor infered this. On the contrary, I have acknowledged that being told you're selfish for not having kids DOES happen. I started out in this thread basically saying both sides could stand to be a bit more understanding. I have absolutely no idea where you derive "several posts" saying that I think people are imagining things, and that what they said happened didn't happen.

And your Google-fu aside, I still think absolutist statements like "the same people who really push the line that having children is the most joyful experience you could ever have are also the people who insist that there is something 'selfish' about the decision not to have children" help about as much as calling the childless selfish. Take that for what it's worth.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:27 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think, in world-destruction terms, there's a big difference between having one child and having more. My parents said once they had me, they were outnumbered and everything got much more complicated and stressful and unhappy. They divorced.

Anyway, one is a good number, I think. You get to participate (if that's something you want), you get to have the fulfilling feeling of giving and giving to a helpless being, and you don't accelerate the overpopulation problem.
posted by marble at 5:31 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah--one is a good number. So is several hundred, if you do it right :) I liked our (one) kid so much that I decided to become a teacher. I still love kids, and I've been teaching for nearly twenty years now. I love them, and I send them home at the end of the day, and I ship them off to the next teacher at the end of the year. They're funny and original and passionate and they really love adults who treat them right.

My daughter just picked my husband and me up at the airport from our vacation; I'm not saying that makes me happy because she is taking care of us finally. I'm saying it makes me happy because I am endlessly astonished that she has become a functioning adult who can drive, even to the Philadelphia airport. I'm easy that way.
posted by Peach at 5:47 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you're morally conscientious, sensitive, smart and caring enough to be considering being childless - to help with the population problem - it is your obligation to have children to pass on the good genes and values.
posted by krilli at 5:50 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


What I can do, personally, to try and help this is to help raise children who are equipped to try and solve the problems of their own generation. That's what I can do.

Yes. You can do that for other peoples kids. Or you could adopt. In no way are you bound to produce your own offspring in order to raise a child to help solve the world problems.

And "ZMOG over population" wasn't the particular variable I was referencing. Though in the larger context of public policy, we all should think about it. I was thinking more about the emotional, physical, and financial ability of each couple to raise a child of their own. And raise it well. An ability which most people grossly over estimate.

FUCK IT, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!" isn't the option for us

I don't even know what that means or why it is being said in reply to my comments in such a hysterical melodramatic fashion. I would imagine "Fuck it we're all going to die" doesn't have to be an option for people who do choose to be likewise responsible and NOT fill the world up with their progeny as well.

Once again you could adopt a kid and raise them to be humanities little savior.
posted by tkchrist at 6:02 PM on March 27, 2009


humanities

heh. or Humanity's, too. Both work out. Bother need help.
posted by tkchrist at 6:08 PM on March 27, 2009


I just feel the need to mention the whole birth control thing. It's not as easy, cheap, reversible, effective, convenient, or widespread as we want, of course. Once it is more so (any or all of those things) the overpopulation issue will be improved somewhat.

I think the elephant in the room is that many people end up parents who most certainly did not sit down and have a Serious Talk with their significant other and both wholeheartedly decide "Let us form babby!"
posted by marble at 6:16 PM on March 27, 2009


That's not to say that all parents are crusaders, but some of us who are in the "child-rearing" camp HAVE considered the variables and we've decided that "FUCK IT, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!" isn't the option for us.

Well, but I don't think you really can have considered the variables if you've concluded that the only possible alternative to your course of action is some kind of all-caps, unhinged fatalism. The fact is that you could might well make a better contribution to humanity by not having kids and adopting and/or caring for existing kids. I don't for a moment condemn your selfish intention to go ahead and have kids anyway; I'll probably do it myself one day and, even if I don't, I will be acting just as selfishly. But call it what it is: something you plan to do for your own fullfillment.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:17 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just got back from my son's hockey game. They lost, but after the game the whole team was all smiles and laughter, and my son was beaming about the awesome glove save he made to stop a clear breakaway. It made me feel happy.
Carry on.
posted by rocket88 at 6:17 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like the way that every 20 comments or so on this thread, someone posts an anecdote about one of their kids doing something cute or impressive. I'm baffled as to what they think it proves, but it provides a nice sort of rhythm to the thread.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:29 PM on March 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


If one is much better off and happier not having children than why not go a step beyond and not have a wife or live-in other? After all, as Janis noted: Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose...free at last, free at last..no kids, no wife...are we happy now?

So, is this a vote for polygamy?

Having kids is experiential and I really only get one chance at it, so what the hell I say...

Huh... I've never really thought about it this way before. I'm not really interested in having kids. Neither have I been interested in experimenting with drugs. Perhaps there's a connection?
posted by ODiV at 6:36 PM on March 27, 2009


Doesn't prove a damn thing. It's just that--a nice sort of rhythm to the thread. I read with interest, follow the arguments, think about my daughter, a smile comes to my face, and I happily digress. All you people don't have to be happy having kids, and I don't mind if other people don't reproduce, and I don't want another one, but damn.

I guess, as usual, I'm a statistical anomaly. Having a kid made me happy.
posted by Peach at 6:37 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Deliberately not having children also suggests an attitude of just not giving a crap about keeping the whole human enterprise going, of being vain enough to bracket your existence by your own birth and death and to hell with the tribe.

This is a bit nonsensical. Empirical evidence suggests that the human enterprise has done a fairly decent job keeping itself going so far and all evidence points to this continuing in the future.

Why do you assume that the only way to improve your tribe is to make another member? You could easily argue that a schoolteacher can (ideally) do more for the overall welfare of his/her community than any individual parent. What about those who don't want to leave careers focused on bettering the tribe? Is the assumption that one's offspring are improving the tribe by their mere existence not the height of vanity?

I totally understand the joy and happiness that kids can bring and love all the little ones my friends and family have made, but to suggest that those who don't want/have them are selfishly ignoring the good of the community is borderline offensive.
posted by Adam_S at 6:55 PM on March 27, 2009


So it's commonplace to you, then. That's too bad. Might I suggest not talking to these people anymore?

MSTPT, I always enjoy your comments, but when I read this bit I interpreted it the same way that yoink did. It read like you were belittling yoinks experiences.

I may be sensitive to it, however, having not been born with the "gotta have a baby" gene, I am made all too aware about how wrong my decision is a little too frequently by others. It's not an uncommon experience, I don't think, for a woman who decides not to have children to be made to feel as if they are somehow inferior. I can almost hear the brains of people working to figure out what is wrong with me when I tell them I've no plans to have kids. That may just be my insecurities coming through, but I'm willing to bet that other women who don't want kids feel it, too.
I think because it is the biological imperative to reproduce, those of us that don't feel it particularly strongly might be a bit sensitive to the number of times that we need to defend our decision.

I think we're still too close to the era where it was a womans duty to have kids, and hopefully we're getting closer to the time when women like myself won't feel the need (or be pressured) to defend their decision, it will just be another decision made.
If it helps, just think of us as the atheists of childbirthing.
posted by newpotato at 6:57 PM on March 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


We had our daughter because we needed something to match our throw pillows from Pottery Barn. Selfish? Yes, but the neighbors love what we've done with the place. That is happiness.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:03 PM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I wasn't sure if having a child would make me happier or not. I didn't plan on having any. I didn't plan on getting married. I skipped the marriage part- I KNEW that wasn't the key to happiness. I got pregnant while dating a man I knew was incapable of being a responsible father and I was right and he's nowhere to be found. I had my daughter anyway. I had (and still have) a good, stable job with good tenure, I was already in my mid-30's and I figured that in some ways, having a child without a spouse might be easier. And it is, in many respects. I'm not neglecting a relationship. I don't have to feel guilty when I'm not in the mood for sex. I don't have to argue about methods of discipline and parenting. I'm not expected to cook anything in particular for supper, except what my daughter and I like.

Is it tough? You bet. I bought a house and we have 3 pets and all the yard work and housework falls to me, but now that my daughter is 4, the scary hard part is coming to a close and it's been fun. It's been all the normal trials and tribulations of parenthood, but it's been good for me. I was somewhat unmotivated and directionless before I had my daughter, and having her and knowing I needed more money caused me to kick it into high gear at work, which I did. My parents bought a house nearby, but rather than being super-invasive, they just sit back and help when I ask, which isn't too much. I'm back in college so they do keep my daughter on the nights I have class.

And in some very fundamental ways, I am happier. I am certainly not any less happy than I was before I had a kid. I have more to be concerned about, but I think I just have that inclination to be a parent. We don't all have it and that's OK. I know lots of people have children because they feel pressured, they think they have to or are supposed to. I can't explain what I was thinking lying in bed that Wednesday morning, 4 weeks pregnant. I do know that as it dawned on me that I could do this, better than a lot of people, and as I realized I was going to have the baby, a calm and a peace like no other came over me. Not happiness, not joy, but a resolute feeling that I was doing the absolute correct thing. So I'm not sure about the article- I think that it's a very simplistic thing to think that having a child will make you happier. I never thought of it in those terms before. I just figured I'd make a good parent and if I had an opportunity to throw a smart, healthy kid out there in the mix, might not hurt. Of course, we do deal with the stigma that her father has chosen not to be present, but all things considered, no dad is better than deadbeat dad of endless disappointments.
posted by PuppyCat at 7:06 PM on March 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


MSTPT, I always enjoy your comments, but when I read this bit I interpreted it the same way that yoink did. It read like you were belittling yoinks experiences.

It wasn't my intention to belittle his experiences - as I said in my first comment in this thread, being told you're selfish for not having kids is amazingly rude. In fact, all I'd said was that both sides could stand to be more reasonable.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:07 PM on March 27, 2009


Once again you could adopt a kid and raise them to be humanities little savior.

Adoption costs a hell of a lot of time and money. Not to mention certain sets of standards that a person may or not meet. Not saying that parents shouldn't meet any standards, but adoption laws/approval discriminate on various levels that they should not. Certain locations bar single parents, or men, or gays, or people below a certain income level, or fat people, etc. Poor and want to adopt? Sorry, you're out of luck. Gay and want to adopt from certain places? Sorry. Fat and want a Chinese baby? You can't.

Away from that for a moment, there's something about looking like your family. Adopted kids do eventually take on the mannerisms and resemble their parents, but there's something about really looking like members of your family. It's a comfort to children, and it can be quite meaningful in various circumstances. I look like my late grandmother and that's a sort of comfort to my mother on some level.

That said, I'm more in favor of just make your own decision on the matter and leave judgment out of other people's business. Whether you choose to reproduce or not is your business, and my decision is my own.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:13 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you are happy, you'll probably still be happy with kids. If you are NOT happy, having kids may not make you happy. This seems to be the gist of it, right?
posted by orme at 7:24 PM on March 27, 2009


It wasn't my intention to belittle his experiences - as I said in my first comment in this thread, being told you're selfish for not having kids is amazingly rude. In fact, all I'd said was that both sides could stand to be more reasonable."

Quoted for emphasis.

I've had it from both sides; the smug friends who insist I should have kids to the smug childless friends who profess that kids cramp their style. I've been a smug parent and a smug childless person myself so I get it. I don't get the debate but it almost seems to boil down to "I'M HAPPIER." vs. "NO, I'M HAPPIER!" which is sort of weird. I think cases can be made either way.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:25 PM on March 27, 2009


Forget happiness. This is why you (and I mean you, Metafilter reader) should have children. Lots of them.

I would be more concerned, honestly, with things like the Quiverfull Movement, as featured on NPR. Multiple quotes from this story seriously invoke having children for the sole purpose of training them for God's Army so that they can "overtake the government". Actual words.

For quite a while I have been fairly committed to not having children, but hearing people from the Quiverfull movement talk, and watching documentaries like Jesus Camp where the 'children as God's Army' concept gets repeated over and over, and hearing these kids regurgitating and being taught to 'properly argue' against scientific findings...

Well. Let's just say I'm reconsidering, occasionally against my better judgment. It probably does not help that I live right across the river from the Creation Museum.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:25 PM on March 27, 2009


Okay, I'll bite, having kids absolutely won't make you happy. As a matter of fact, it's an obscene amount of work, but I'm going to offer my four reasons for doing it, if anybody cares:

1) Around half of my peers are *ahem* child-free, by choice, and they invariably think that my wife's and my decision to have children was profoundly stupid. This, of course, is mitigated by the fact that they think that, "well, if -anybody's- having kids, it might as well be the friendly neighborhood Squids". What I've found, however, is that among the child-free, there is some sense of triumphalism and indignance in the twenties and thirties, which tends to cede to a sense of regret, usually by the fifties. It's not uniform, of course, but I do sense a feeling that having dogs and going out to see live bands at bards stops being quite as cool once you cross 50.

2) Self-actualization - I'm in the tech biz, and needless to say, lots of my peers dropped out of college (or hell, never attended), and held people in disdain who were finishing college. I dropped out (3 times, actually), but finally finished (it took 8.5 years), and somewhere around year 6.5, writing my bachelor's thesis, I finally realized that, even though I learned precious few technical skills in college, I learned an immense amount about writing, argument, research, and software theory. Sure, it didn't make me any more money, but I now feel it a fundamental part of my personal growth. Kids are similar, in that regard: Not necessary (for the individual), but providing for a hell of a lot of personal growth.
3) Imparting values on the next generation - Hell, cause who else is? The public schools?
4) My grandparents were awesome, high-school sweethearts who were madly in love with each other until one of them kicked the bucket, ran a string of successful business ventures, had 5 kids, 12 grandkids, and, at present, 6 great-grandkids, and every single family affair, no matter the size, was presided over by this awesome matriarch/patriarch combo, who were just splendid people and their loving progeny. I, in many regards, saw that as an ideal, and something that I'd like to duplicate (if on a smaller scale).


And finally...
5) It will be nice to have somebody who will take care of my ass and come visit me when I get old.
posted by The Giant Squid at 7:26 PM on March 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


I never had children of my own, but I've been helping to raise my stepchildren for over 24 years now. On a day-to-day basis I don't know that having children made me happier or less happy. There were highs and lows, as with any long term relationships. There were rewarding moments and horrible moments, and mostly just a life to live. Circumstances aside, we often bring our own potential for and sense of happiness - or a lack thereof - to whatever we do. So. I love my kids. And my grandkids. I'm very glad to know them and to have shared a life with them. And I'm probably happier now than I have ever been before. But would I have not been happy if I'd lived some other life? Impossible to say. It didn't happen that way. I just know that I'm glad I took the path I did.

I will say this, though. Having children changed me, irrevocably, for the better. It gave me insight into the simple humanity of my own parents. It made me more responsible, and more patient, more kind, and less arrogant. Putting the needs of others above my own on a regular, constant basis taught me a very specific kind of humility and maturity that I doubt I would discovered anywhere but in the foxhole that is family life. I know that I, personally, learned as much from my kids as they ever learned from me.

For me, along with the love and companionship, it's this sense of personal growth that I find value in far more than any fleeting sense of "Happiness," cap "H."

But that's just my story, though. I've never really felt like my life is a commentary on anyone else's life. I, personally, honestly do value diversity in the world, so I'm just as happy that there are other lifestyles out there to observe and learn from. So go forth and multiply* - or don't. Whatever makes you happy is fine by me.

*Offer not good for Octomom*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:28 PM on March 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


This conversation about parenthood is based on the idea that a child has only one set of parents. To poorly paraphrase bell hooks, if the whole community, together, raises a child then who is childless?

I do not want children, but I'll read books with your kid and keep an eye on them, but I don't want responsibility for another human being so take your kid back at the end of the day.
posted by fuq at 7:40 PM on March 27, 2009


It would be pretty bizarre evolutionarily for having children not to produce serious satisfaction

Oh, it definitely does, but evolution didn't count on birth control.
posted by grouse at 7:43 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


My son makes me happy. I'm smiling as I type this, just thinking of him.
posted by signal at 8:11 PM on March 27, 2009


I thought having a kid would be terrible. I can report that not only is it the most enjoyable experience of my life, but I am happier than I have ever been. Just one persons experience, it is not for everybody, I feel sure of that. I feel very lucky, and I can say with a strong degree of certainty that there is not another person in the world I prefer to spend time with.
posted by jcworth at 8:46 PM on March 27, 2009


there is no good reason to have a kid. so far the happiness I have achieved is from having it not be about me anymore. oh and getting treated like a rock star. that's nice too.
posted by that's MISTER drunk to you at 8:56 PM on March 27, 2009


It would be pretty bizarre evolutionarily for having children not to produce serious satisfaction-- another thing that makes me skeptical of this research. but of course if i fail to be able to have a kid, i may embrace it wholly ;-)

Agree with Maias. The article simplified happiness as if it is simply indulging in things that instantly gratify you, and unhappiness is doing things that are unpleasant (like changing nappies). What about challenges? What about doing things that give you satisfaction over time, a sense of purpose? What about the actual relationship you have with your child/children?
posted by FieldingGoodney at 9:04 PM on March 27, 2009


What's with this idea that childless couples are going to keep partying on until they get too old, then quietly regret not having kids?

I'm 32 and I stopped partying a while back. In addition to my full-time job, I spend approximately 20 hours a week working on environmental and social justice issues, and I do it because although my married-with-kids sisters are interested in these issues and agree with me in almost every detail, we all know that there's no way in hell they've got the time to do anything about it what with all the toddlers and the cost of raising them. But someone's got to take care of this stuff, and even though I'm not an expert, I've got the time and energy and inclination. And I enjoy it, and it makes me happy - no martyrdom here.

If you want to improve the world's values, solve climate change, help kids get a better education, improve the healthcare system or whatever, there's many more direct ways of doing it than having a kid (or even adopting one) and hoping you'll do such a great job of raising them that *they'll* sort out all the ills of the world.
posted by harriet vane at 9:11 PM on March 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


What's with this idea that childless couples are going to keep partying on until they get too old, then quietly regret not having kids?

What's with this idea that people with kids can't accomplish anything besides rearing children and paying the bills? Virtually all the parents I know are activists. They may not be typical people but are any activists? Are you honestly trying to suggest that the only people doing heavy lifting in activism are the childless? Because that's just contrary to reality.

The need to believe one's decision is valid I understand. The need to believe one's decision is better I really don't get. Possibly there is more than one way to live life?
posted by nanojath at 9:43 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid I thought happiness was playing with legos and eating cookies whenever I wanted.
When I was a teenager I thought it was getting a car, a girl, getting what I thought was freedom.
Things change.
And if you look for happiness in some thing, you're doing it wrong. It's never static and you're never going to be static.
It's not a contest nor an achievement, it's a way of being.

I will say though it's not diminished by being shared. Quite the contrary. And it can be shared with kids. (although there are many people and methods)
If your happiness is contingent on being in a state superior to someone else or exclusivity, perhaps your 'happiness' isn't what you think it is.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:19 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


what a peculiarly meaningless subject to devote so much attention to! i guess that's why it's generating so much discussion (the mind loves to fill in its structural blind-spots with inchoate, systematizing narrative).

how could happiness itself ever be anything other than a delusion (at least, a delusion in the sense that it's only a subjective impression, which being by definition subjective, doesn't exist as an aspect of objective reality)? misery, emptiness, smug self-satisfaction: every profound realization, every fleeting emotion or peak experience is a delusion. what subjective impression isn't?

i love my 2-and-half-year-old son, and when he suddenly tells me to close my eyes, and then surprises me by kissing my eyelids, it makes me happy.

if that feeling of happiness is a delusion, it's the best delusion i've ever known (and i've known a lot of them). and i challenge you to name any happiness-generating experience that's "objectively" more real than that.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:22 PM on March 27, 2009


I like the way that every 20 comments or so on this thread, someone posts an anecdote about one of their kids doing something cute or impressive. I'm baffled as to what they think it proves, but it provides a nice sort of rhythm to the thread.

I think we are just giving counter-examples to the original article.

It's like farming--you put in a lot of hard work, but the results and good memories give you a satisfaction that makes it worth it. It works if you like farming. I'm glad I don't live in a community that would expect me to farm because I know I'd hate it. The whole 'hard work and results' thing just wouldn't work for me in this case. The pigs would starve. The cows would go unattended. Or maybe not, but I'd be very unhappy the whole time.

It's the same way with kids. If you are into kids, then it can be enjoyable. Don't do it otherwise. I have some friends who have been married for many years and are very happy without kids. They love to travel to various wildernesses and I live vicariously through their photos.

And I've been to events with them where someone says, "so when are you two going to have kids" and I just want to slap the guy when I see my friends tense up.
posted by eye of newt at 11:12 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


OSX smug + Political party won last election smug + "I don't own a TV" smug < vasectomy smug.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:18 AM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Surely the reason to have kids is because going out till 4am, clubbing and abusing substances gets kind of undignified after 35.

I entirely fail to agree - I passed that barrier over 10 years ago and I still do all those things with nary a qualm and a great deal of fun.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:39 AM on March 28, 2009


If you're having kids in order to make you happy, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

This is interesting (and I can't quite gauge your tone of voice, if you see what I mean, but...): What on earth would be the right reasons, if not to become happier?


I think what the "wrong reasons" poster means is that if your life isn't happy and you're having kids to change that...you're kinda doing it for the wrong reasons. I mean who thinks introducing kids to an unhappy situation is gonna make it better? Thats like getting a cash advance on your credit card when you're in a not-so-good financial situation; it ain't gonna work.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:04 AM on March 28, 2009


The selfish thing is partially recognition that the deliberately childless are unwilling to take the risk (and having children is a huge risk, far more than simply getting married), which unwillingness might be perceived as cowardly and therefore selfish. Deliberately not having children also suggests an attitude of just not giving a crap about keeping the whole human enterprise going, of being vain enough to bracket your existence by your own birth and death and to hell with the tribe.

NB I am addressing your question, not rendering judgment, so no nasty cracks, okay? Plenty of people who are best advised not to be parents and I wish more of them would act on it.


1. I believe the proper term is "child-free", and not childless. I mean you are Tuberculosis-free, and not tuberculosis-less, right?

2. Selfish is taking the risk in spreading your genes to take up world resources when you aren't sure if your offspring are going to be a benefit rather than a burden on the species (and planet).

3. Ummm...you can't dish out all sorts of nasty cracks by calling childfree people "selfish" in your passive-aggressive way, and not expect people here not to respond. Your response IS the definition of "judgment".

4. As a person who is NOT child-free...I hope I don't become a hater like you. I'm not a hater, I just crush a lot (of diapers).
posted by hal_c_on at 3:16 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I based the decision not to have children not on MY potential happiness (or lack thereof), but on the probability that the children themselves would probably not be happy with me as a parent. Whether it would make ME happy is kinda immaterial in my mind. If I'd thought I could have raised healthy children in a loving environment all the way through to adulthood, I would likely have done so. I just have too many flaws to make a good parent, so it wouldn't have been a kindness to procreate, for myself or the potential kids. You should have a deep understanding of yourself before you commit to having children, because there are no easy takebacks, and if you decide wrongly, the kids will suffer and you probably will too.

That said, *I* was born with one purpose: I was intended to be one last shot to hold my parents' marriage together. It failed, they divorced, my siblings joined the Army, and I was stuck taking care of an alcoholic, drug-addicted mother from the age of 5 to the age of 12 when she died. And my mother was the *better* of the two choices (and my parents did give me the choice, though they also did try to influence my decision, in ways so obvious that even a 5-year old could see it). I'm glad that I was born, I'm very thankful to have had a life to live, and I've tried to make it worthwhile to those I've encountered along the way. But still, that was no reason to have a child, to try to use me as glue to hold a marriage together. (And when that failed, then to attempt to use me as a legal weapon in the divorce.)
posted by jamstigator at 4:35 AM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Very few men or women will have children from a sense of public duty, even if it were far clearer than it is that any such public duty exists. When men and women have children, they do so either because they believe that children will add to their happiness, or because they do not know how to prevent them. ...

"To be happy in this world, especially when youth is past, it is necessary to feel oneself not merely an isolated individual whose day will soon be over, but part of the stream of life flowing on from the first germ to the remote and unknown future. As a conscious sentiment, expressed in set terms, this involves no doubt a hypercivilized and intellectual outlook upon the world, but as a vague instinctive emotion it is primitive and natural, and it is its absence that is hypercivilized. A man who is capable of some great and remarkable achievement which sets its stamp upon future ages may gratify this feeling through his work,* but for men and women who have no exceptional gifts, the only way to do so is through children."

-- Bertrand Russell in The Conquest of Happiness (from this blog post -- relevant self-link)

* This was published in 1930, so please excuse the sexist language.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:36 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


To elaborate on the first paragraph of that Bertrand Russell quote...

People who have children are selfish.

But you know what? People who don't have children are also selfish.

EVERYONE is selfish.

You're either going to have kids because you want to have kids, or not have kids because you don't want to have kids, or accidentally have kids even though you don't want to have kids. Those exhaust the possibilities.

"Selfish" is meaningless. Don't let your life be ruled by someone else's choice of adjective.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:46 AM on March 28, 2009



I based the decision not to have children not on MY potential happiness (or lack thereof), but on the probability that the children themselves would probably not be happy with me as a parent. Whether it would make ME happy is kinda immaterial in my mind. [...] You should have a deep understanding of yourself before you commit to having children, because there are no easy takebacks, and if you decide wrongly, the kids will suffer and you probably will too.


I've been trying to phrase almost precisely this, in relation to that quote at the top of the thread:

If you're having kids in order to make you happy, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

I don't agree with it remotely as a generalisation, but that's sort of how I view my decision over whether to have children; my first question isn't about what I want, but whether i'm ready, wise/fulfilled/sensible/interesting enough yet to be good enough for them.

I don't view anyone else's choices through that lens, though. I was also a child of people who would probably have been happier had they not had me. It made a deep impression and left me feeling that it was important to me personally to be whole as a person, as well as want one, before having a child.

Definitely isn't the One Way, though. 2 sets of friends who became unexpectedly pregnant almost right out of high school, and thus didn't have time to start or finish everything they planned, have both raised weird, happy, interesting kidlets.

Who knows? Maybe i'll just get a dog.
posted by pseudonymph at 6:02 AM on March 28, 2009


Wouldn't a more useful study also look at the effect on the grandparents' happiness?
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:10 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Grandparents have the easiest part of the bargain. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if part of the motivation to have kids was to have grandkids.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:20 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


> I was on the bus today. Some 3-4-year-olds came in. The bus was happy, everyone smiling. The kids went out. The bus went back to silent.

Add 10-12 years to the ages of the kids in this adorable anecdote and see who's still smiling.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 6:46 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess, as usual, I'm a statistical anomaly. Having a kid made me happy.

The study said on average the happiness of those with and without kids is the same, so you may be one of the ones whose happiness increased while someone else's decreased. But, possibly, you may subjectively think your happiness has increased when the question is framed as "has having a child made you happier" but it may turn out that if you were to just give a number on a scale from 1-10 every week for 5 years with no knowledge that the study was taking notice of the fact that you had a kid half-way through, your happiness would not have increased. (The average arc was higher for the year before and after birth but then lower than the original baseline after that)

I have no idea how they did this study, and as others have said, it's entirely possible that the method is too crude to be meaningful, or that the notion of happiness has been too simplified for most people. If happiness is understood to mean fulfilled, satisfied, pleased with the larger direction of one's life, we will probably answer the question differently than if we understand it to mean feeling good, relaxed, enjoying the day. Of course, people still disagree over which is more important. Some think we should live in the moment, others that what matters is the longer story - so the vagueness of a word like "happiness" is not always accidental. It theoretically lets the respondent decide what's important and then whether that is going well...
posted by mdn at 7:37 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think that by arguing "Well, if you want kids, you should adopt!" is a bit disingenuous. Where in my statement that I want to have children did I indicate that the children that I raise *would* be biologically mine?

HOW people have children is just as personal as IF they have children and to tell someone "You shouldn't add to the children that are already out there - take someone else's." is just as pig-headed as saying "You shouldn't have kids, period."

The solution to over-population involves better reproductive education and birth control across the board, not the upper-middle class of American adopting out all of the poor homeless kids of the world.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:24 AM on March 28, 2009


I wish this thread had been more about the psychology and/or neuroscience behind "I will be happy if X" instead of another Breedernonbreederscheißekampf.

Oh well. I'm off to find more ways to undermine the longevity of the tribe.
posted by everichon at 8:32 AM on March 28, 2009


Breedernonbreederscheißekampf.

Hat tip to you. I do agree, unfortunately, this is MeFi, and it's always a crapshoot.
posted by The Giant Squid at 10:53 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid I thought happiness was playing with legos and eating cookies whenever I wanted.
When I was a teenager I thought it was getting a car, a girl, getting what I thought was freedom.
Things change.


No, no, you were right as a kid. Granted, you probably want better cookies than Chips Ahoy or Oreos, and you might want slightly more complex models than you might have wanted as an 8-year-old, but Legos and cookies are pretty much awesome.
posted by explosion at 11:05 AM on March 28, 2009


I think that the happiness involved in having and raising children is hard to quantify. In the moment to moment existence of the day - sure, I'm less happy. More stress, less money, less free time, the majority of the day putting someone else's needs, wants and desires ahead of my own, etc.. But overall, I'm happier than I've ever been. Having a child quieted my constant, nagging existential anxiety and dissatisfaction. I can't really explain why. Perhaps it's more of a gestalt thing - there's a definite increase in negative experiences but the struggle to get through them and learn new coping skills adds up to greater sense of satisfaction.
posted by echolalia67 at 11:34 AM on March 28, 2009


1)...What I've found, however, is that among the child-free, there is some sense of triumphalism and indignance in the twenties and thirties, which tends to cede to a sense of regret, usually by the fifties. It's not uniform, of course, but I do sense a feeling that having dogs and going out to see live bands at bards stops being quite as cool once you cross 50.

Typical trivialization of what childfree people do with their time - the assumption that all their pursuits are trivial and ultimately unfulfilling.

2) ...Kids are similar, in that regard: Not necessary (for the individual), but providing for a hell of a lot of personal growth.

I would not disagree - but not necessary for personal growth.

3) Imparting values on the next generation - Hell, cause who else is? The public schools?

A noble reason, but not one that you need to be a parent to do.)

4) My grandparents were awesome...

Kind of the same thing as number 3.


And finally...
5) It will be nice to have somebody who will take care of my ass and come visit me when I get old.


Your kids may not see fit to do that.
posted by agregoli at 12:57 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I decided I didn't want to have kids when I realized that bringing a new life into the world without absolute conviction about an afterlife also meant I would be bringing a new inevitable death. In a reductio ad absurdum sense, having children is an act of murder.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:35 PM on March 28, 2009


[edit] ...except for the accidental pregnancies, that's manslaughter :)
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:36 PM on March 28, 2009


gfrapefruitmoon what you just wrote made no sense at all. How people have children makes all the difference. You could have ten thousand embryos frozen and 9,999 of them disposed of. You could have eight children after extensive fertility treatments with no plan on how to take care of them rather than exploit them as media freaks.

Of course it matters. And your original argument was that you wanted to have children to help solve these problems that you so fatalistically described as an either/or choice.

And it was about as straw-man-y as it gets.

The article in question was indeed ALL about "having" your own kids. When you say "have" it is implied that is a euphemism for giving birth. And I suspect you know that. If anyone is being disingenuous in their argument it is you.

You don't have to give birth or even adopt to help with grooming a future generation of well prepared future humans. If that is your focus then one could find a way to help humanity's children. Without having them. So it's a pretty dumb premise to argue from as a reason to have your own children. We are ALL vested in humanity's children. All of us. The fact is we should begin discouraging every single person from having kids. And begin encouraging people to think more broadly about what the human family means. Fewer children with more parents would be best.

And the idea that it's nobodies business — that's it's all the only realm of individual choice — to have children is simply not correct. What you do with your own body is your choice today but after you actually HAVE the baby? Sorry. It's no longer just about you. Because the rest of society has to live with the result of this new life brought out into the world and what this life eats, shits, and kills. And the fact is that most parents are not prepared and lack the proper resources to raise children well. Most people on this planet are terrible parents. Most of the time through no fault of their own. It's a sad fact. And we could do with less of that. We could pool our efforts and help with raising all of humanities children. Instead of selfishly soaking up resources for only to our own precious little copies of Massive-Consumptive-Selves. That time is over. The old way is sentimental garbage. There are too many of us now. It's time to change how we think about this. It's the only way forward.
posted by tkchrist at 5:54 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you honestly trying to suggest that the only people doing heavy lifting in activism are the childless?

No, of course not. Just trying to counter the attitude from parents that all childfree people are living selfish, hedonistic lifestyles (go back and see how many people are making snide remarks about shallow partying), and that having kids is somehow a better way to help the planet than becoming an activist.

But the majority of activists I know are not currently actively caring for small kids - either they're young enough that they're not ready to have kids (but probably will one day), or they're old enough that their teens don't need constant supervision. Only a minority of them are childfree as a lifestyle choice, same as the general population.

I honestly believe, and I think this study backs it up, that if you're happy having kids, you'd have been happy without them. Happiness is an attitude or personality trait, which can be affected by circumstances but will return to it's natural level for a person over time.
posted by harriet vane at 6:25 PM on March 28, 2009


Just trying to counter the attitude from parents that all childfree people are living selfish, hedonistic lifestyles... and that having kids is somehow a better way to help the planet than becoming an activist.

To be clear I absolutely agree that both of these ideas are absurd.

Happiness is an attitude or personality trait, which can be affected by circumstances but will return to it's natural level for a person over time.

In the end I think I agree with everichon that this would be a more interesting conversation that would be better introduced without being tied to this particularly contentious context. As I reflect on the discussion my main thought is that there is a substantial difference between a decision that you think will make you happy and a decision that you think you will be happy with. It's hard to keep the latter, much less relevant perspective out of this kind of conversation.
posted by nanojath at 7:34 PM on March 28, 2009


(And anyone with a Lord Peter Wimsey nickname is okay in my book)
posted by nanojath at 7:36 PM on March 28, 2009


Pleasure is a physiological response with subjective components, so to some extent, pleasure can be studied objectively. Happiness, however, is an entirely subjective phenomenon. So by its very nature, happiness precludes the possibility of objective analysis. IMO, if you ever think you've managed to objectively analyze something you've labeled 'happiness,' you're mistaken. Here's why.

Suppose I wanted to invent a device called a happiness meter. Never mind how it will work; it's just a big box with an electrode helmet that's supposed to be able to scan a person's head, analyze certain aspects of their neurological state, and then return a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer indicating whether they're happy.

Now suppose in order to test and calibrate my device, I invite thousands of volunteers to the lab in my garage and subject them to questionnaires in which they self-report on their personal happiness, all the while, letting my happiness meter in its various prototype iterations chug away, doing its thing. Of course, in carrying out these tests, it would be prudent to assume that some subset of test subjects will knowingly make false reports. And since one of our requirements is that our device be able to discern "real" happiness from mere "delusional happiness," we can't assume that any test subjects who self-report being happy actually are.

So in this scenario, how could we ever hope to discern the liars and self-deceivers in order to get the baseline we need to calibrate our device? Wouldn't we need, in essence, to have a fully-functioning, properly-calibrated happiness meter already at our disposal?

If we approach this problem by making assumptions about what constitutes the subjective experience of happiness, identifying the common neurological markers of some subset of experiences we assume to be representative of happiness generally, and then designing those assumptions into the happiness meter and the questionnaires, then we've calibrated the machine to detect not happiness, per se, but happiness as we defined it. We end up with a device not calibrated to accurately gauge happiness, in other words, but one rigged only to conform to our own personal beliefs and attitudes about happiness.

I find it impossible to imagine any methodology for calibrating such a device that wouldn't bump up against the problem of its own circularity. I believe this may be a consequence of the fact that it just isn't possible to construct a formally consistent, rigorous definition of happiness, which throws the epistemological tenability of any objective study of the subject into serious doubt.

If I'm correct, then in effect, all claims regarding objective knowledge about what gives rise to or increases personal happiness are a priori false, because it is both theoretically and practically impossible to form anything even approaching an objective description of happiness due to its fundamentally subjective nature.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:33 PM on March 28, 2009


This is interesting (and I can't quite gauge your tone of voice, if you see what I mean, but...): What on earth would be the right reasons, if not to become happier?

Had to go away after posting... thought I'd come back to clarify since a number of people have been asking what I meant, though by this point I think most of my points have already been made by other people.

First off, I didn't mean it shouldn't be a reason, but it shouldn't be the only reason. When you have a child, it is no longer just about you - another person has been brought into the equation, a person that is your responsibility. To bring someone into this world who is dependent on you with only your own fulfillment in mind will likely translate into a poor experience them. It doesn't mean that things won't change or work out, but it certainly is a bad start.
posted by cimbrog at 9:42 PM on March 28, 2009


Really, since when is life about your happiness? Far as I can tell the happiest people are those who think everyone is their responsibility.
Except for Gautama "Screw you I got mine Jack" Buddha who said...well, it'd be redundant to go into really, but the point is... y'know, kids are people too whether they're yours or not and everyone was a kid once.
Someone mentioned the other day that it's ok to treat people like they were going to die that night, but it's better to treat them as though they were 2 year olds.
I think you'd get a peace prize if you could bring that level of understanding and patience to the table everywhere you went.

"Granted, you probably want better cookies than Chips Ahoy or Oreos, and you might want slightly more complex models than you might have wanted as an 8-year-old, but Legos and cookies are pretty much awesome."

True. Key to having kids - you can again play with legos and eat cookies and everyone thinks you're just really into being a parent.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:07 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cheers, nanojath. The subject of happiness/contentment is fascinating, it's just hard to get past the personal viewpoint to a more abstract one.

Tangent: I used to work with a guy who had learned at his previous job to always ask "Can we all support this idea/process/method?" instead of "Are we all happy with this?" at the end of a meeting. The latter question caused an eruption of complaints from all quarters and destroy the consensus and compromise that he'd just spent an hour negotiating between everyone. The word 'happy' just set everyone off like firecrackers :)
posted by harriet vane at 3:16 AM on March 29, 2009


The solution to over-population involves better reproductive education and birth control across the board, not the upper-middle class of American adopting out all of the poor homeless kids of the world.

Huh? Why aren't they both a good idea? They're not mutually exclusive.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:42 AM on March 29, 2009


After you've called the deliberately childless "cowardly...selfish...not giving a crap about the human enterprise...vain" and somehow not brave, you trot this out? Dude, please.

Read what I wrote again. I was responding to someone's bewilderment at an attitude by laying out the reasoning behind the attitude. Never said I shared it. Indeed, I specifically noted that I was personallly not rendering judgement because frankly I don't care what people do or do not do in this area.

The bravery question is a matter of false advertising. The decision not to have childrern can be sensible, self-aware, charitable even, if you know you'd be a lousy parent- but how on earth can it be called brave? What serious risks do you run, what bold unalterable paths do you blaze in not having them? My point was that it's a little silly to claim a pretty serious virtue by dint of inaction and a choice not made. (And again, I was referring to a previous running of this question in the blue.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:11 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I realize that my attempts to translate thought into text haven't been going as well as planned on this subject. Probably because it's both intensely personal and political. Also, rationally, I agree that overpopulation is a huge problem.

But where I find myself getting bogged down is that having a child is fundamentally a personal choice. To get back on to the original subject of the article: the outcome isn't always what you think it's going to be. Having children isn't going to make you happier, and to do so for that reason will be a disappointment.

However, even in light of overpopulation and evidence that it's not going to make your days any sunnier, I do believe that there are *right* reasons to have children. Having a family is a fundamental right of being human. And every person should have the right to decide what that means.

I want to have children because I know that if I don't, I will regret it. I want to experience my own life through the lens of raising children of my own, in addition to the children that I teach. I find that teaching is absolutely no substitute - for me - for having a family.

I don't want to be painted as someone who isn't thinking through the consequences of having a child. I'm about as prepared for the realties and the responsibilities as anyone ever is. I've spent my entire adult life working with young children, and I know that it's just that - WORK. I'm not making a sentimental decision. I'm making a decision about what I want the rest of my life to look like.

And yes, that involves creating new human life, but y'know what? I think it's worth it. I think human beings in general are worth it. I think we're pretty awesome, and I think what each person contributes positively in terms of their energy and ideas and relationships to other people is worth far, far more than the resources that they take up. I think we are more than eating and shitting machines. And I think that if we can collectively get our eating and shitting machines together, we can fix some of the issues that we have with resource allocation. But that, fundamentally, isn't the point.

The point is that having kids isn't a magic band-aid. But on the other hand, NOT having kids does not entitle you to any kind of moral high ground.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:42 AM on March 29, 2009


I agree with you about "brave". It's not a good word to describe either the decision to have kids or not have them.

But the decision not to have kids isn't one of "inaction". I have to take action every day to make sure that I don't have kids by accident. My other choices involve getting plastic-y things inserted in my body for years at a time, or having a major operation. Inaction is better used to describe getting pregnant because you didn't bother with contraception or even think carefully about the responsibility of raising another human for 18 years.
posted by harriet vane at 7:44 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


The responsibility doesn't end after 18 years. It's really for life.
posted by grouse at 8:00 AM on March 29, 2009


I bow to Harriet Vane's clarifications, she is quite right, of course.

As to yoinks:

IndigoJones's later statements demonstrated that claim to be a hollow one.

Again, read what I wrote, not what you think I wrote. I admitted ignorance on much and was ready to bow to those who could demonstrate fact contrary to my unsupported suggestions. Not that you did. The wikipedia article you link to, far from supporting your view that population increase is really still a problem, says:

"Some countries experience negative population growth, especially in Central and Eastern Europe (mainly due to low fertility rates and emigration) and Southern Africa (due to the high number of HIV-related deaths). Japan's population began decreasing in 2005[9] and some Western European countries are also expected to encounter negative population growth."

Your upbound China population graph stops in 2003. This one doesn't. Nor does this one. But again, I'm no statistician, so counter intuitive interpretations welcome.

Everything else I wrote was statement of anecdote, not opinion, much less judgement. I related what people do and why they do it as a matter of illustration, nor to start a pissing contest. (Ok, I did take a swipe at Octomom, but she is lunatic poor thing and a statistical aberation) Oh, and I voiced sadness over the ongoing extinction of the many peoples and their languages around the globe. Yet somehow you manage to bring in the phrase "white supremacist".

I get it, this is an emotional issue, but do try to hold it in, please.

(How far we fly from the original post! Can one really quantify happiness seems to me the real questions. With due respect to the head doc, my guess is that's a mug's game.)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:11 AM on March 29, 2009


Can one really quantify happiness seems to me the real questions.

The great philosopher John Lennon said that "Happiness is a warm gun."

I think happiness is a warm kitty, myself.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:25 AM on March 29, 2009


The reason I want children is that I know I *won't* be happy without them. I know that if I don't have children, I will feel like I fundamentally missed something in life - even if that something is to wipe someone else's butt for years until they grow up and I have to pay for them to go to college.

I used to feel that way. Then I got a back injury and various things that kind of took precedent over starting a family during the time where I should've been popping out the little buggers. And I have a whole career based up on children too... seems like everyone who looks at my work assumes I must have a brood of 'em. And I would've liked that, I'm sure. Unlike my parents, I *wanted* kids.

But without them, I'm just as good. And I'm happy. You just have to learn to fully appreciate what you've been given in life and not focus on what you don't have. THAT'S the real key to happiness. For everyone. With or without munchkins in tow.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:30 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was responding to someone's bewilderment at an attitude

IndigoJones, to respond to a question with a list of stereotypes is pretty bad form.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:43 AM on March 29, 2009


IndigoJones, to respond to a question with a list of stereotypes is pretty bad form.

I personally didn't see the initial response as a list of stereotypes, but rather, just an attempt to respond to the question of why some parents choose to think the child-free are "selfish". It's an intellectual exercise. If you were to ask me, for example, "Why do some Christians believe Muslims are going to Hell?", I could give you the rationale behind that thinking, but that doesn't mean I agree with the position. I think a person should generally avoid conjuring up a viewpoint they don't themselves share, but IndigoJones has made a real effort to be sane and levelheaded in this thread.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:18 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just thought I'd pop in to do my standard plug for Voluntary Human Extinction, and direct everyone toward the rather unpopular world of anti-natalism.
posted by phrontist at 4:56 PM on March 29, 2009


I've always taken issue with Schopenhauer on anti-natalism (on top of his thoughts on eugenics). His basis being the whole 'suffering' schtick. But life itself contains only natural suffering. The whole saddling our kids with debt, silly ideas, all that, doesn't necessarily follow from procreation.
That and the whole thought on complex traits such as magnanimity being genetically based. No one is a fascist by birth. I suspect even Hitler would have turned out better if he hadn't had the hell beaten out of him randomly every day (not saying the inbreeding there helped, but y'know, turning your father's hometown into an artillery testing range, may be a sign a guy has got some rage).
I will say tho, historically, when a populations numbers have gotten out of hand if predators or some other intelligent guiding force doesn't pare them down to manageable, nature has pretty brutal and often straightforward ways of doing that itself.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:01 PM on March 29, 2009


You can't exactly quantify happiness, but you can certainly ask people questions about how happy they feel.
posted by agregoli at 5:33 PM on March 30, 2009


I've always been fond of the truism that you can divide the world into two groups - those who have children & those who don't - and in general, each group feels sorry for the other.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:13 PM on March 30, 2009


I actually find that an awful lot of the people who go on the loudest about how they feel sorry for people who are in a different situation... are often just trying to distract themselves from feeling sorry for themselves.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:01 AM on March 31, 2009


I'm sorry you feel that way.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:42 AM on March 31, 2009


You can't exactly quantify happiness, but you can certainly ask people questions about how happy they feel.

Agreed. But what you can't do, if they say "I'm happy and here's why," is then turn around and say, "No you're not and here's why."
posted by saulgoodman at 6:34 AM on March 31, 2009


I've always been fond of the truism that you can divide the world into two groups - those who have children & those who don't - and in general, each group feels sorry for the other.

Holy generalizations, Batman! This statement is so so wrong I don't even know where to start. Maybe if you changed it to "those who choose to have children" it would be a bit better. Even then.

Otherwise you're going to end up spouting this line off at a party and the couple who are "running out of time", have been undergoing fertility treatments, and who desperately want a child will just happen to be standing next to you.

Or, you know, it'll be the guy whose kid killed and ate the neighbour's daughter or something. I dunno.

I know you're not too worried about offending people, but huge sweeping statements about kids are practically guaranteed to upset someone in the room. Unless it's about your lawn and how they should get off of it. Then it's generally okay.
posted by ODiV at 8:00 AM on March 31, 2009


yeah, "choose to" works better than the "in general" that i was trying to use to catch the exceptions: people who want children but can't have them, or people who didn't want children but ended up with them anyway, and wish they hadn't.

it loses its punchiness if too many caveats are thrown in, a bit like reading a jokey statute.

(there's a reason why there are no jokey statutes)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:08 AM on March 31, 2009


Again, read what I wrote, not what you think I wrote.

IndigoJones, what you wrote was that "The selfish thing is partially recognition that the deliberately childless are unwilling to take the risk (and having children is a huge risk, far more than simply getting married), which unwillingness might be perceived as cowardly and therefore selfish."

You didn't say that this was the "opinion" held by those who denounce the childless as selfish, you said it was what they had "recognized." One might choose not to have children for all sorts of reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with being "unwilling to take risks."

You further wrote: "Deliberately not having children also suggests an attitude of just not giving a crap about keeping the whole human enterprise going, of being vain enough to bracket your existence by your own birth and death and to hell with the tribe."

You didn't say "some people read into the decision not to have children an attitude of..." you baldly stated that it "suggests" that attitude, which directly implies that the burden of proof is on the childless to disprove that "natural" assumption.

So yes, I did read what you wrote, and it certainly did not come across as the disinterested explanation of a position you do not, yourself, share.
posted by yoink at 2:06 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


The selfish thing is partially recognition that the deliberately childless crack-free are unwilling to take the risk (and having children smoking crack is a huge risk, far more than simply getting married smoking pot), which unwillingness might be perceived as cowardly and therefore selfish.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:51 PM on March 31, 2009


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