Monday, March 7, 2011

Parental Delusion: Throwing Good Money After Bad

Thank you to my reader Zarina, who forwarded me a link to an interesting article in Healthland (Time) entitled Kid Crazy: Why we Exaggerate the Joys of Parenthood, by John Cloud. Cloud discusses new research published in the journal Psychological Science which found that parents - faced with the draining financial and emotional expense of raising children - convince/delude themselves that parenthood is rewarding. It's a coping mechanism designed to alleviate the cognitive dissonance they experience when their negative experience of child-raising butts up against the over-glorified myths of parental bliss that permeate our culture.

My readers know I have been making the same argument all along - that the Stepford Wives mantra of "parenthood is the most fulfilling role in life and the root of true happiness" is nothing more than parents trying to make themselves feel better because they know, deep inside, they are faced with a lifelong prison sentence for which there is no escape (see my posts The Bitch & Backpedal; Beneath the Surface: A Two-Pronged Theory and Having a Child is So Worth It! - which officially make me a broken record on the issue). And now scientific research is bearing me out. I love when that happens :)

Although it doesn't surprise me that parents continue to delude themselves this way - after all, they have to ease their psychological pain somehow - I continue to be fascinated by the fact that more people don't recognize the drudgery that is parenthood and avoid it at all costs. Why are people so ready and willing to buy into the parenthood myth when their own observations about the reality of parenthood should tell them to run for the hills? All of us were children at some point and from that vantage point, had a direct view of how happy (or unhappy) our parents were. And then as we mature and become adults, parents surround us everywhere - our friends and family members start having kids and our view of what parenthood is expanded even further. We can see very clearly that parenthood is 98% stress, strain and drudgery and yet 90% of the population chooses to believe the "parenthood is the root of ultimate fulfillment and happiness" myth instead of believing what they see before their very eyes.

Now THIS would be an interesting area for scientific research.


Spectra said...

Interesting. I was thinking a lot about this last night--my husband and I were watching "Freakonomics" and started discussing why birth control makes so much sense in this day and age. We no longer are at the mercy of our sex drives-before birth control, couples had sex and sometimes they got pregnant and had kids. Then they HAD to be parents so they tried to make the best of the situation. My mom and dad didn't use BC and ended up with me and my sibs and they let us know all the time just how much of a pain in the butt being a parent was. At least my mom never told me that being a mom was all peaches and rose petals--I think moms who genuinely LOVE being a mom are few and far between, actually.

Mali said...

I think it would be an interesting area for research. But ultimately the article said it: "... all such evidence will never outweigh the desire to procreate, which is one of the most powerfully encoded urges built into our DNA."

Childfreeeee said...

Mali, I wonder how much of the desire to procreate is built into our DNA versus programmed into us by the environment.

How much of a drive to procreate do you think people would have if they weren't bombarded from every direction by "parenthood is the ultimate path to fulfillment" messages?

CFVixen said...

Great post.

"Mali, I wonder how much of the desire to procreate is built into our DNA versus programmed into us by the environment." such a great question. I've often wondered if people were really hard-wired to have kids. Because if they are, that would make me deficient in some "normal" human urge. I mean, it's not like sleeping or eating which everyone has to do in order to survive. Reproduction isn't necessary. Sex (while fun) isn't necessary either.

I've often thought it was more societal pressure in the modern world than an actual "hardwiring." And generations ago, people reproduced numerous offspring as a result of no effective birth control and needing human resources (so to speak) to farm the land.

I think if you ask most people why they had kids, many of them had them because "that's just what you do." In other words, it's an expectation. Like they have to pay their dues or something.

Childfreeeee said...

I think humans are hard wired to have sex and the sex drive is something that automatically happens on its own (for most people) but I don't think we're hard wired to have kids. Having kids is something that we actively decide. We can decide to have sex without protection and have kids, or we can decide to have sex for the enjoyment of sex on its own, without kids.

There are far too many people who do not want kids for the claim that it is hard-wired to be valid. I think about 10% of the population is now CF by choice and the numbers continue to grow. And 40% of all women end their child-bearing years without bearing children.

Clare said...

The question of whether we're really hardwired to procreate has interested me for a while since I seem to be missing that gene altogether. If we're to take it at face value that we're programmed to breed, then it should follow that we also have, like most life forms, an innate knowledge of when to slow down or stop procreation when population outstrips resources. Humans have managed to override that instinct, though. It's my completely dilettante opinion that non-breeders are as important to the biological health of our species as breeders. It just doesn't make sense to outbreed your resources.

Temujin said...

Maybe the sex drive has evolved to get humans to reproduce and it's hardwired into us because of natural selection. If that's true, and if evolution is the only thing that matters, then I would also say that humans have evolved a rational, tool-making brain.

Thanks to natural selection we now have the natural capacity to understand where babies come from and can invent tools like The Pill. We human creatures can interact with the natural world around us and make use of our nearby biological resources like, you know, latex from a rubber tree.

If you ask me, choosing to be childfree is just as much a part of our DNA as reproducing is.

sara star said...

I was thinking, often Mothers and Fathers say that those little moments where the child says "I love you" and looks all cute are worth more than all the sacrifice, etc. And they seem to imply that childfree don't have those moments. But I do have those moments, with very little of the sacrifice. When I visit with my friend and her children, her daughters will sit in my lap, hug me, call me their "big friend" (because I am tall), and tell me they love me. But guess what? I don't have to do 99.99% of the parental stuff to get that.

I also volunteer to mentor a young teen. I get to take her new places and watch her discover new things. I get the hugs and the sweet little gifts on my birthday etc. Again with out all the tantrums, fights, and stresses.

I also get to feel good about my contributions to society and to the next generation. I am not saying people shouldn't have kids at all, but I am saying these "worth all of it moments" are available with out "all of it".

I am not left out, I do not "not know what its like". Well I guess its true, I don't know what it feels like to get the little rewards after all the sacrifice. Perhaps the heightened contrast makes those little moments all the more special. But I don't know if thats true, I wonder just because if a friend or family member of mine is a total drag, I find the few good moments a little more disingenuous.

Christy said...

My theory is that all these people look around at their miserable, tired, disappointed, or angry parents and think, that won't happen to me. It will be different when I do it! I'll just change this one little thing, and it will turn out just fine!

This phenomenon doesn't just occur in the decision to procreate, either. It also happens in cases of drunk driving, athletes, astronauts, investors, people who drive to the store to buy a carton of soy name it! The world if filled with cock-eyed optimists, who are constantly being surprised by the tiny detail that life is not tailored to their desires, nor does it have their ultimate happiness in mind while it makes it's plans.

A life of constant surprise must be so much fun!

marin said...

If reproducing is a part of dna why birth rates changed so much during last decades (dna doesn't change so fast), why is it related to woman level education and why the istinct kicks in at different ages depending on country, social status, social pressures, woman rights, etc...?

Dogsledder said...

The comments to this article, and there are a lot of them, are stunning in the anger and resentment shown by parents. They apparently don't realize that their shrill vitriol actually inforces the studies findings.