Children…

Nattavudh Powdthavee is completely off the mark.  Having children is not like winning the lottery.  The happiness we experience from our children is lasting, constant, omnipresent, and far deeper than any material gain.  It is also hard, and frustrating, and the most tiring experience of my life, which makes it all that much more meaningful.  Winning the lottery doesn’t come with this sacrifice or personal invesetment, and so of course we value it less.  Having to work for things, or to give up a huge part of our own selves in order to work for others, adds immeasurable value to our lives, the sort of sustained value that really does, in fact, lead to lasting happiness.  It’s not always a rush, like being in love or winning lots of money, but it stays with you.

On that note, I truly feel that this is one of the most pertinent reasons that gays should be allowed to marry.  Denying people one of the greatest joys in life because of sexual preference is immoral and goes against everything this nation stands for.  Gay parents should be every bit as able to face the struggle, the frustration, and the love of raising a family.  They have every bit the same right to the pursuit of happiness that striaghts have.  So don’t listen to this nonsense that children somehow don’t make us happy.  They may make reluctant or negligent parents unhappy, but the vast majority of parents experience a profound and lasting joy from their children.

Fact is, you can’t break this sort of thing down into a nice, scientific study.  It’s not so simply quantified.

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14 thoughts on “Children…

  1. I completely agree. The article is a classic piece of academic bollocks. Perhaps the writer is asking his feelings of fear over becoming a Dad? The thing is, becoming a parent means you have to throw the textbook out the window, remove yourself from being the centre of the Universe and meditate on the utter fascination as a living human being unfolds before your eyes. There is no other creature on the planet that I would give up my life for except for my daughter. All the books on psychology won't make you understand that.

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  2. I think you've misunderstood Nattavudh's point. It's not that having children is like winning the lottery; it's that the total experience of parenting consists of many positive and negative experiences, and that the positive ones may be more intense and less common than the negative ones. But that's just a speculation. What's not speculative is the finding that on average, parents are less happy than non-parents (or, apparently, at best just as happy as non-parents). This can be consistent with child-rearing being extremely rewarding and meaningful, as long as the attendant difficulties and hedonic costs outweigh, on average and over long periods of time, the pleasures.

    These findings (which I admit I have not read, not being a social scientist or expert in this field) must mask enormous individual variations. So some people must get an overall boost from being parents; others are made miserable by it. Stay-at-home parents probably respond differently from working parents; mothers and fathers may experience parenthood differently, as might young and old parents, those in tightly-knit societies ("it takes a village") from those in atomised ones, and so on. But the research seems to be serious, consistent over many studies, and I don't see any reason to dismiss it.

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    • I'd be very curious how any study can meaningfully quantify then compare, as a group, the happiness of parents and non-parents. The very question "are you happy?" means something different, and measures something different, to people in the before-and-after categories.

      My happiness before becoming a parent was a reflection of how well I felt I was measuring up to the demands my life, and whether I was achieving my goals…and how often I got what I wanted. My happiness now is just such a reflection…but for the life I am living now, and reflects the stakes I play for in my life day to day, and the choices and tensions and trade-offs I must make to live my life responsibly. To suggest that the two are really quantitatively comparable, and that a lower "score" reflects poorly on parents, is a little bit like asking two groups of people "what do you think of your own art work?", when one group is primary school students and the other is art-school students. The two groups are evaluating their own experience using completely different criteria. I imagine that if the art students rate themselves more harshly than the primary school students, most people would not draw the conclusion that the primary school students would be able to make more money per piece they produced.

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  3. But you haven't supported your contention at all. You're simply stating it.

    I know that as a parent I wouldn't trade my experience for anything, but that is the "post-child" me talking. I also have to acknowledge that day-to-day, I have increased stress, more worries about the future, and frustrations that I wouldn't have were my wife and I childless. I love my daughter to distraction, but it would be ridiculous to claim that my baseline happiness has increased.

    A parent can't accurately compare notes with their former self. Children are too transformative.

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  4. All this post is is opinion/contention. I'm not trying to counter the study. I'm saying that the very nature of parenthood and happiness simply can't be scientifically broken down into nice, pertinent findings. Having children is far more complex than a simple "Are you happier or less happy?" study can determine. (Oh I know it was much more sophisticated than that, but nevertheless, I still believe that certain things cannot be accurately broken down into cold, hard statistics."

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    • Then why try to study anything? The whole truth of any complex human experience would seem to be resistant to being broken down into "cold, hard statistics." The point in conducting studies in the social sciences is to find meaningful patterns that weren't experientially obvious.

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  5. I think one of the problems with the study and ones like it is an underlying implication that 'happiness'–as defined under a rather narrow methodology–is the only positive emotion that might come out of parenting. It never states this assumption, but it's poking out close to the surface when the researcher nests his research in the context of deciding whether or not to have kids himself. I agree with the OP here (and know what I speak as the parent of two tots who's in the midst of the fog of parenting) that the deeper satisfaction or sense of engagement with life's true algebra goes far beyond happiness: if you ask me to self-assess at any point along the way, I'd say no, I'm actually downright irritible at the moment, thank you very much. But this is how novelists feel when they're writing, how soldiers feel in the heat of battle, how pilgrims feel when the blisters sprout up on the road to Santiago, Mecca, Jerusalem, wherever… ask them years later, and many will say there was no more important, profund, positive experience in their lives.

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  6. Of course, when we disagree with conclusions, it's "not easily quanifiable" by well
    done statistical analysis. Sounds as if the author had a conclusion in search of a
    reason, so he just dismisses all that disagrees with his own worldview and expects
    us to take his word for it because his feelings and anecdotes tell him differently. Pish.

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  7. This is exactly right. Questioning whether parenting makes one happy or not is a decent enough enterprise, but questioning whether happiness is an appropriate metric for determining whether or not to engage in one of the most essential human endeavours is even more important (particularly if you agree with me that some crude form of utilitarianism, rather than anything postmodern, is the typical ethical framework of the average American).

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