Monday, July 12, 2010

Why Parents Hate Parenting

New York Magazine currently has an article you may be interested in reading entitled: All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting. The article is long and well worth reading, but if you want a quick summary, here you go:

1. Most people assume that having kids will make them happier, but most research shows that parents are less happy than non-parents.

2. The more kids a person has, the less happy he becomes.

3. The aforementioned research upsets people who want to cling to the fantasy that having kids is necessary for happiness and fulfillment.

4. Children negatively impact a marriage - more arguments (mostly about the kids), more stress, less time together as a couple, fewer interesting conversations.

5. Theories abound as to why parents are less happy than non-parents:
  • people are delusional and bad predictors of what will make them happy.

  • the experience of parenthood has changed - kids are no longer economic contributors/assets to a family. They are "projects to be perfected" that require intensive work.

  • people have more choices now and experience more loss when they undertake the sacrifices involved in having kids.

  • people try to apply the same logic they have used in their well-developed professional lives to the unwieldy task of childrearing. Frustration and disappointment ensue.

  • The U.S. does not provide adequate social/welfare programs for parents (for example childcare)

  • our culture promotes the idea of the "perfect parent" and nobody can live up to this ideal.

Of course, no critical article about parenthood could draw to a close without a little pro-parenthood backpedaling to soften the blow. The article ends discussing one research study which found that married women were less depressed after they had kids than their childless peers (apparently because they are too busy to think too much). The author posits that a sense of purpose is what makes people happy - implying that having kids is necessary in order to achieve a real sense of purpose in life. She also points out that people are more likely to regret things they have not done, rather than things they have done - suggesting that childfree regret not having kids, but parents don't regret all the many things they have not done, or have given up in order to have kids.


Sea_creature said...

Excellent Excellent EXCELLENT. In the few years since I've decidedly become childfree, I have pondered many of these points again and again. Thank you for siting that article and bringing these great ideas to light again... It was a pleasure to see a few I've missed.

It's my goal, as the years go by, to feel less and less guilty and defensive about my decision and more confident in the fact that I did what's right for ME. I will be happy for those who procreate (responsibly) and wish them well in their efforts to mold a contributing member of society. Thanks to the writings of brilliant people like yourself, I know I'm not alone. :)

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I read this article last week and discussed it with a friend who does want children, but is completely practical/logical about the time and effort that goes into parenting. Not to mention, the lack of fun and daily monotony. Because she is now in her mid-30s, friends have been harassing her constantly about her "closing window of fertility" and asking her when she's going to hurry up and become pregnant already. So, she has a very high respect for my choice to remain childfree.

I feel certain I will never regret remaining childfree. However, I believe I would bitterly regret having a child. I know I do not have the inclination (no ticking bio clock here!), energy, or desire I believe one requires to be a decent parent. Instead, I have chosen the so-called "selfish" route of working on mySELF, my relationship with my spouse, my role as a dog parent, and on improving my writing and career skills.
I feel no guilt whatsoever about this choice. Oftentimes, people even respect me more b/c I made this choice so many years ago, and have only grown stronger and more confident in my decision.

I fully respect the people in my life who are well-rounded, interesting parents--those who are able to maintain their own identities OUTSIDE of their parenting roles. A few had children--I believe--simply b/c they thought it was the next logical step in their lives. Not to say they are "bad" parents, but I don't believe they truly understood what they were entering into...
But then, how many people who choose to be parents truly "get" what parenting entails?
It does seem to me like a life of "joy but no fun."
I'll take the fun and freedom any day.

Oh, and I'm sure it's true that some mothers do feel less depressed (than childfree women) b/c they have less time to truly think about themselves and what they want out of life--they're too fixated, out of necessity, on their role as moms. I, on the other hand, would rather have the time to repair things in my life than think, "Oh, I'll deal with that in 18 years when my kid goes off to college."

Mrs. Ogre said...

Oh dear, there was a similar piece about that same article in our local online newspaper, but from the point of view of mommy bloggers. They would not believe that kids make you unhappy (the author had been pondering on the subject since I sent her the link for the NY article). It was actually funny to see her happiness mirror crack a bit.
Many commentors, some of whom are parents, said that happiness comes from within oneself and if you're not happy to begin with, nothing will make you happy (spouse, job, etc.). One commentor complained about her kids in a long rant, then used the bitch and backpedal theory saying: she doesn't understand what people who don't want kids do with their life.

charmed said...

I read that article and I know parenting would make me miserable. most of the parents I am friends with have to deal with some pretty unpleasant stuff that I am grateful I don't have to deal with. one of my best friends, has a son who is hyperactive, and I wouldn't wish him on my worst enemy. I love him to pieces( he's my god son), but I wouldn't want him. I'm not worried about having to take him should the worse case scenario happen since his god father is his uncle and is also married and would take him in an instant. He's totally infuriating when I am around him though. I know my friends love their kids, but hearing about the crap their kids do makes me so glad not to have any. Another friend just caught her kids trying to smoke which ended in them almost burning the house down when they threw the lit cigarette in the trash!

CFVixen said...

Once again, EXCELLENT post. I finally got a chance to read the article, and I have to agree that today's society makes parenthood even less appealing to me.

Children aren't children anymore. They are projects. And I have enough of those!

Erin said...

People who claim that their "purpose" or even that their legacy revolves around their children are simply copping out of the question. Merely popping out a kid doesn't instantly give your life purpose or credibility or even divine happiness. Anyone can have a purposeful or meaningful life without regard to their procreation status (think Alex's Lemonade Stand or Mother Theresa).

I'm reminded of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, "To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

This is how I want to be remembered -- for making a difference in the world.

M said...

Most excellent post. It's aren't kids anymore....they are projects brought to fruition by the parent's over weaning egos.

I have friends who are parents and still remain true to themselves, but they are the exception. Most of the time when I am around childed people I have to drink a couple glasses of wine to make them interesting.

I have, and am still, working through my anger of being left out of "the club" since I am not a mother. The discrimination a childfree woman endures is amazing still to me, but I wouldn't change anything for the world.

I think the main difference between the happy childfree people, and the unhappy parents is the ability to recognize their own limits, and what truly makes them happy. It takes guts to do that.

I am glad there are people out there having kids. Some are better parents than others, some shouldn't have any at all. I am content knowing I would make a great aunt or adult influence outside a kid's parents. I don't want or need them around 24/7.

As an interesting aside, I was listening to NPR and they had a cadre of women speaking about this research.

It ended up being a self loving, "don't hate on us" gab fest; with the host, Ms.Martin concluding the interview saying she looks at people who give dirty looks to her annoying child and thinks "Who do you think is going to perform your surgery in 20 years??"

My latte almost came out my nose when I heard that.

Really?? about grooming a child for a life of know how many people make it through med school, then residency then become successful surgeons? Not many.

Anyway, an asinine, self indulgent comment by a usually astute host was all I needed to present my case on parental self importance. Case closed.

lauracarroll said...

Read that article with interest..I find it interesting that parents don't experience happiness with the process of parenting, but happiness comes when they look at the big picture and end result -- it is what gives their whole life purpose. Too bad they miss the point that parenthood is just One way to experience purpose in life. But CF know all about that...~Laura