In recent years more and more articles are being published about the negative consequences of having children. So far we’ve discovered that parents exercise less, weigh more, have poorer eating habits and suffer higher rates of depression. If that isn’t discouraging enough with the current state of the economy many of us have trouble supporting ourselves let alone a child and the days of the stay at home parent seem largely behind us and yet the percentage of households in America with children under 18 living at home has only dropped 6% since 1950. Are we still having children because of a flawed cultural belief that they will make us happy or is the data inconsistent with the nuances that people claim make parenthood the greatest joy in their lives? Here’s a look at what the experts have to say.
Parents Exaggerate the Joys of Having Children
I don’t know about you but when I hear people claim that having children is the best thing that ever happened to them I picture the crying, the sleepless nights, the dirty diapers and I am sure that they are at best just lying to me and at worst lying to themselves. Turns out many experts agree with me. In an article on Time’s Healthland website parents of young children reported feeling more stressed out, angrier and more depressed than their childless peers and for every additional child these feeling only grew worse. A study was conducted by Ontario researchers to see if perhaps cognitive-dissonance could explain that despite the financial and emotional burden of parenthood people are overwhelmingly positive about the experience. Cognitive-dissonance is the psychological term used to describe why “people are highly motivated to justify, deny or rationalize to reduce the cognitive discomfort of holding conflicting ideas” It basically comes down to the fact that as humans we don’t like to admit that we’ve made a mistake so we’ll hang on to relationships simply because we’ve invested a lot of time in them just like will fix up a car because we’ve already sunk a lot of money into it. After several rounds of experiments including ones with control groups the results were in. The more negative information about the cost of having children a group was given the more they idealized being a parent.
Children: A Poor Investment?
You know the argument about having children so that someone will take care of you in your old age? Well it turns out that it is cheaper to pay for end of life care than to raise a child so don’t plan on breaking even. In the past having children was a way to increase a family’s financial status. Children were free labor for the family and they were expected to earn their keep. Today children are protected and nurtured and very little is expected of them other than to eat, sleep and grow. To compensate for this lack of financial value parents have put an ever increasing importance on the emotional value of their children or as one researcher put it “the economically useless but emotionally priceless child.”
Well needless to say I don’t have children so I don’t know how to quantify the look in a child’s eye Christmas morning or the knowledge that, for at least the first few years anyway, you will be purely loved and idealized by another little human being. Some of the best relationships are the tumultuous ones fraught with extreme highs and extreme lows. They may not be rational or quantifiable but they are profound and precious. Perhaps at the end of the day it doesn’t even matter that we are deluding ourselves so long as we believe the fulfillment to be true. I for one will listen to the experts on this one but I suspect that the human race isn’t going to stop having children any time soon no matter how poor the financial investment.