Thursday, April 17, 2008

Do Parents Even Like Their Kids?

According to this childless married man and writer at Reason, Ronald Bailey, the answer is no:

"Economists have modeled the impact of many variables on people's overall happiness and have consistently found that children have only a small impact. A small negative impact," reports Harvard psychologist and happiness researcher Daniel Gilbert. In addition, the more children a person has the less happy they are. According to Gilbert, researchers have found that people derive more satisfaction from eating, exercising, shopping, napping, or watching television than taking care of their kids. "Indeed, looking after the kids appears to be only slightly more pleasant than doing housework," asserts Gilbert in his bestselling, Stumbling on Happiness (2006).
Huh.

How about this theory? When society was agrarian and people needed kids as workers and companions, there was more enjoyment inherent in having children. Now, have a big family doesn't facilitate work, it can inhibit it. So, for parents who are high achievers, having a big family conflicts with the goal of self-actualization. In a sense, parents are forced to serve two masters.

Working takes a parent away from children and that causes guilt. The parents associate guilt with their children which they don't like. They try to devote their free time to their kids. They live polarized lives. But to not work, to stay home and exclusively raise children, can be isolating and unfullfilling especially when a woman has educated herself and imagined a career.

And yet, people have kids. Why? And they claim to love them. And when I look around at the park, I see demonstrations of devotion and happiness and love. One of the best things about having kids is reliving childhood. Getting on the floor and playing with them. Teaching them and watching the light-bulb moments as they learn. Having one climb into your lap and hug you and say, "Kiss, Mama. Kiss!" (That actually happened to me today.)

Children help their parents grow up. Children encourage parents to plan for the future. Parents become more optimistic because they see growth and they desire the future to be better and work to make it so.

Parenting is self-sacrificial, if done even remotely right. And yet, while blissful happiness might not be the result, there does come a satisfaction with serving someone and being a part of something greater than this moment. And as proud as we are at our own accomplishments, nothing, absolutely nothing is more satisfying than seeing our kids succeed.

I'll grant that having children is not all sunshine and daisies. Parents know fear and loss and anxiety like they never experienced as childless people. Parents feel the pull of self-fulfillment verses serving their child's needs. Parents trade some of what life has to offer to give time, money and resources to their children.

This whole discussion seems like a justification for childless couples to explain away their life choices. No one should have kids if they don't want them. But why does it seem necessary to find data to support childlessness or having fewer children? This seems to be straining, given the data used.

H/T Maggie's Farm

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I could not agree with you more!

sandy said...

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