Does having kids actually make people less happy?
November 16, 2006 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Happiness and children. In your experience, is it true that children actually decrease their parents' overall happiness?

I've heard this before, and it always stuns me - having children actually marginally decreases parents happiness. The reason it stuns me is that I always hear from parents how being a parent is such a wonderful experience, despite the hassle and hard work. I don't have kids, but definitely want them in the future, although the thought of being a parent does sound exhausting. But I think that life without children would be somewhat hollow (for me), especially as I get older and my friends all have kids, and my interests are still essentially self-focused.

What's prompting this post is an article I just read from CNN - "The Truth About Happiness May Surprise You."

The quote that got me was:

"Our genes hardwire us to reproduce, but children have a small negative effect on happiness, research shows. If you're a parent reading this, you're most likely shaking your head. But Gilbert said the findings are clear when parents are asked about their level of happiness in the moment."

"When you follow people throughout their days, as they're going about their normal activities, people are about as happy interacting with their children, on average, as when they're doing housework. They're much less happy than when they're exercising, sleeping, grocery shopping, hanging out with friends," Gilbert said. "Now, that doesn't mean they don't occasionally create these transcendent moments of joy that we remember as filling our days with happiness."

Anecdotally, do you think this is true? One reason I ask is that it seems like it's incredibly shameful to admit that you don't take joy in having children, so I wonder if the blase attitude isn't underreported. The other reason I ask is that I find it very hard to believe that having kids isn't an overall net positive in terms of happiness. But I'm willing to listen.
posted by Amizu to Human Relations (43 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have kids, but I have three nephews (all my sister's children) and several close friends with kids. I can't speak for "net happiness" (a funny thing to try to quantify, methinks), but I do know that they express a decrease in certain types of freedom and an increase in certain types of stress by virtue of having children. My sister (and brother-in-law) and my friends do not have the freedom to sleep in, read as much as they like, go to the movies on a whim, or -- more significantly -- deviate from their career paths purely for the sake of personal gratification (i.e., with three kids, a mortgage, and a future of college payments, my brother-in-law really can't meaningfully consider quitting his gig as a lawyer to pursue screenwriting, the way he feasibly could have done so ten years ago).

They spend a (significant) proportion of their income on all the demands of child-rearing, from food to clothing to shelter to childcare to medical and dental expenses to college. They experience a kind of worry and fear for their children's safety and well-being that I -- as much as I adore all the kids in my life -- will never know (at least not if and until I become a mother myself). They also experience worry and fear about their own qualities as parents and how their choices, large and small alike, will affect the quality of life for their offspring. And for all that, they all love their kids boundlessly and could never imagine life without them.

So the stress, the limits on freedom, and the immense rewards all coexist, as paradoxical as they may sometimes feel.
posted by scody at 2:43 PM on November 16, 2006

In my opinion, it's both.

The love you have for your children is what enables you to make sacrifices, clean up poop, get up in the middle of the night , and so forth. But all that is draining, too.

Overall I am very glad I had my children, who are all grown now. But there were some difficult days, I cannot minimize that.
posted by konolia at 2:43 PM on November 16, 2006

"people are about as happy interacting with their children, on average..."

There's your answer right there. Gilbert's definition of happiness - how you feel during an activity - leads to this outcome. In my experience, actual time caring for children is work. And like many kinds of work, it is not necessarily satisfying in itself all the time. The results however can be very satisfying.

That aside, I think of my mother, who was depressed for a large part of her life. She loved us and tried hard. But children were a trial to her and an added burden and I have little doubt she would have been happier childless.

Myself, I love my daughter to bits, and find great happiness in her. But there are plenty of moments where I am not merely neutral but definitely negative about the current parenting activity.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:47 PM on November 16, 2006

In my experience:
At child's birth -- net happiness
At child's age two -- net grumpiness
At child's age four -- net happy happy
At age seven -- awash, depending on her mood and how "embarassing" she thinks I am

Of course parents are going to tell it makes them happy. And I think, once kids are out of the house, it's easy to look back and say, "Man, that was a lot of work, but it was worth it."

But in the middle of it, it's a rollercoaster, lows and highs. Not having kids ensures your life will be a little more under your control -- moneywise, healthwise, timewise. Me, I think the highs are worth the lows.

I've seen kids send people into depression or seeing their loved one in a whole new light, sometimes not flattering. It's a stress, an ongoing, expensive, uncontrollable stress. For some, the payouts are worth it, for some, no.

I took a class in the psychology of happiness years and years ago. Lots of stuff about the happiness set point and how kids don't really shift it either way. But a couple's contentment with each other drastically increases at that point when the kids leave the house (on average). Would they be as close if they didn't have kids? No one knows. But man, they're enjoying the empty house (statistically).
posted by Gucky at 2:57 PM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I wasn't impressed by that article. "Happiness" is so subjective and contextual, and it's meaning changes as we age. And, worth noting, is a word not defined in this article.

The study of happiness as in psychology doesn't necessarily make for a very useful metric for making major life decisions, because satisfaction and happiness are not the same thing. Having kids, or being in a relationship, or loving anyone or anything, entails non-happiness in addition to happiness, which skews the moment-to-moment happiness rating on the happiness-o-meter.

I know someone who adopted a dog, loooved the dog, and therefore returned it to the breeder the next day. She realized that someday, the dog would die, which would make her terribly upset. To avoid future pain, she preferred to not experience joy, either. I bet she's pretty "happy" according to these surveys, but she's pretty cold, too.
posted by desuetude at 3:00 PM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am the father of a 16 year old girl. Your question really surprised me! I had not heard that before. There has never been a time I have ever equated my daughter with unhappiness. Sure, it's challenging, and it's hard work. But from the second she was born she has brought me unmeasurable happiness and joy.

When she was a baby I loved every bit of interaction with her, whether it was playing, or even changing her diaper. As she grew up, the challenges increased, but so did the fun. Talking, singing, and laughing with her as a toddler brought incredible happiness, joy, laughter, and great memories. Now as a teen, of course the challenges are bigger, but so is the happiness in seeing her become a wonderful young lady with her own thoughts, hopes, and dreams.

I have no idea what to make of that study. I am stunned, just as you are.
posted by The Deej at 3:00 PM on November 16, 2006

I think "happiness" is a fluid concept and of course, individually subjective. A very narcissistic person might indeed find their overall levels of happiness (where happiness = things I do to make me happy) diminish with the arrival of parenthood if they were unable to expand their sources of happiness. A person under stress (generated from any number of sources) might find their levels of happiness negatively affected by the responsibilities of parenthood while another individual with the same stressors might react by finding their children a great source of happiness/escape valve.

Gilbert seems to be cherry-picking his data by focusing on "on the moment" measurements vs a more holistic survey, even his statement about income levels does not (from CNNs admittedly brief overview) take into account regional cost of living expenses which can affect just how far $50K can go.

Full disclosure: 1 kid. I'd much rather hang out with him than not.
posted by jamaro at 3:04 PM on November 16, 2006

My immediate emotional response was wtf? How can they say that? And then I thought of some childless by choice friends and their freedom and wealthy lifestyle. And then I thought of Maslow's hierarchy of needs (and looking that up it doesn't explain the satisfaction of parenthood the way I thought it would). And then I thought of Steve Martin's Parenthood and grandma's rollercoaster and stuff.

It's a personal thing, I think. For some people, parenthood gives great meaning to life and satisfaction along with worry and and work. For others, not so much. Not everyone likes gardening either. I, personally, am happier as a parent (into the 16th year) because it helps me be less selfish/selfcentred, and to connect to people in ways that I wouldn't otherwise, and that is the very tip of how it affects my life. I certainly don't recommend it for everyone.
posted by b33j at 3:14 PM on November 16, 2006

Net happiness: definitely up. You just have to factor into that equation changes in worry, anxiety (about both the real and imagined), sleeplessness from time to time, the expense of feeding & clothing the little kneebiters, the pressure of Dear God I'm now responsible for the wellbeing of another human life! and all that it entails.

That said, there are brief, fleeting moments when I would welcome the opportunity to send my son to go play in traffic. Most of the time, though, I'm a proud & happy papa. n.b.: I was convinced at age 28 that I would never have children, and quite happy with that. My son was born when I was 30.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:15 PM on November 16, 2006

Here's an article on another study that concluded that parents were less happy than non-parents.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:17 PM on November 16, 2006

Maybe, maybe not. But grandkids definitely seem to increase people's happiness -- and if you can tell me a way to have grandkids without having kids I'd like to hear it.
posted by jlub at 3:17 PM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Here's a link to another study about happiness being about the choice we made. It's 20 minutes long but fascinating.
posted by b33j at 3:18 PM on November 16, 2006

Daniel Gilbert has a more detailed article here:

To sum it up:
"We feel confident that we are happy with our kids, about our kids, for our kids and because of our kids—so why is our personal experience at odds with the scientific data?

Three reasons. When we pay a lot for something, we assume it makes us happy, which is why we swear to the wonders of bottled water and Armani socks.

Second, just as a glorious game-winning homer can erase our memory of 8 1/2 dull innings, the sublime moment when our 3-year-old looks up from the mess she is making with her mashed potatoes and says, 'I wub you, Daddy,' can erase eight hours of no, not yet, not now and stop asking.

Third: Movies, theater, parties, travel—those are just a few of the English nouns that parents of young children quickly forget how to pronounce. We believe our children are our greatest joy, and we’re absolutely right. When you have one joy, it’s bound to be the greatest."

He also names various studies on the subject.
posted by martinrebas at 3:24 PM on November 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

Thank you Martin - I see my link is old and doesn't work anymore.
posted by b33j at 3:32 PM on November 16, 2006

Going slightly O/T:

You'll never see people as morose as the parents of a dead child or person. Yes, even if there are 8 other happy living children in the family, all successful and healthy, the dead sibling will put a terrible burden on the parents for the rest of the life - more so than on the siblings, aunts/uncles, and friends of the deceased.

Factor that into the relationship that parents have with living children on a day-to-day basis, and how harm or death of their children is their greatest fear, constantly and actively. A great deal of social (and legal) policy in this country is due to parents wanting to protect their own children, and making that desire society's burden. (obscenity censorship, drunk driving laws, drug laws, toy regulations, warning labels on consumer products, etc) Those of us without children understand, surely, but we each experience a small amount of restriction in personal freedom on a day-to-day basis because of policies, practices, and laws that are meant to "save the children". Some of it is reasonable (and some of it is not), but it all exists because parents live that fear day-to-day, and are willing to turn the world upside down to keep their kids safe.

In that sense, I believe the parent-child relationship is probably the most stressful type of common interpersonal relationship (for the parents, anyway). It's well known that stress has both psychological and physiological manifestations. It probably does have a negative affect on the mental state and the health of the parents.

But biologically, having any children who live to reproduce is a 100% win over having no children. Dying older and happier without offspring is how your genes are removed from the gene pool. This is the way we are built, and I suppose it makes sense.

Also, if we're going to talk about the stress of a strict parent-child relationship as costly on the psyche - why not add in the reciprocity of the overwhelming benefits of interactions with grandchildren? I'm sure that whatever marginal net loss the kids bring is completely offset by the net gains in happiness brought upon by the third generation...
posted by brianvan at 3:37 PM on November 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

Having kids has added a huge amount of stress to my life. Physically, it's exhausting. I'm sleep deprived and have little mental 'down time' to just space out and recoup. THere is a lot to negotiate all the time, which explains why if you asked me in a given moment how I felt, I'd probably register as less happy than before I had kids. BUT

Overall , having kids has added tremendously to my life satisfaction. There are the moments of transcendant joy that go beyond any feeling I had before kids - but beyond that - I feel more focused, I feel that I am important and necissary, and my life has a deep meaning that it lacked before. Overally, I'd say I'm happier.
posted by serazin at 3:43 PM on November 16, 2006

My daughter has been the best that ever happened to me. And I say that, even though it has been very hard, and it sometimes still is. I do not think you can understand how hard it can be, if you haven't had children yourself. But I wouldn't trade the good things for anything. The happiness I feel now is much, much deeper than anything I have ever felt before.

I do think it is too superficial to just look at happiness as a measurable thing, and look at costs and benefits of having a child. Since having a child I have grown tremendously as a person. I may not feel shiny happy all the time (especially not when she throws a tantrum about ice cream - or something), but I did not always feel shiny happy when she wasn't there either. My daughter constantly amazes me and I love her so much. I have never felt the particular kind of happiness that you feel when your child (for example) speaks her first sentences before. It is totally incomparable to the happiness of being able to go to the theather whenever you want. You may both call it happiness, but it is not the same thing.

I think it is very difficult to answer this in general though. I do see many people who seem to suffer more than I do, and I think it depends for a great deal on attitude. If you expect your active two year old to sit still for thanksgiving dinner for three hours, you are going to have many unhappy moments. I think parenting books are a mixed blessing, but I am very glad that I read a couple of good books (I have recommended "Hold on to your Kids" a few times in AskMe already) and found some like minded parents that I could talk with and share my frustrations with.

I also think that people who have a good support network that helps take care of the kids, helps tremendously in not feeling overwhelmed. When I was a child my mother could always drop us for a few moments at a neighbor's house, or at an aunt's or grandma's. Many parents today do not have that option. I also sometimes feel that we hold each other to impossible standards - that can make it harder as well. But those are individual things. Just because on average parents are a little less happy, it does not mean that you will be less happy as a parent!

On preview: Second, just as a glorious game-winning homer can erase our memory of 8 1/2 dull innings, the sublime moment when our 3-year-old looks up from the mess she is making with her mashed potatoes and says, 'I wub you, Daddy,' can erase eight hours of no, not yet, not now and stop asking.
I think this is where I have a problem with Gilbert's definition of happiness. He argues (if I read it correctly) that those "I wub you daddy" moments do not ACTUALLY erase those eight hours of nagging, that that is merely how we trick ourselves into thinking that children do make us happy. I think those moments DO in fact erase the negative things. That's one of the magical things about having children. And I think that if you really had eight hours of no, not yet and stop asking, you are doing something wrong. Parenting does not have to be like that.
posted by davar at 3:43 PM on November 16, 2006 [3 favorites]

Kids you get to love and laugh with, scold and feed, teach and hold, and worry about and get pranked by, all in your house, with a woman you love, probably do contribute to overall happiness a great deal. I wouldn't know, personally, but I imagine it must be so, since infanticide is easy.

But I can tell you that children for whom you owe a monthly support check, are never consulted about, who visit for 3 weeks in the summer that they'd rather be spending at home hanging with their cool friends, who complain about their Christmas presents, and don't invite you to their weddings, well, not so much.
posted by paulsc at 4:09 PM on November 16, 2006

posted by Dr.Pill at 4:11 PM on November 16, 2006

posted by JekPorkins at 4:30 PM on November 16, 2006

In your experience, is it true that children actually decrease their parents' overall happiness?

Not everyone is meant to be a parent. And that's ok. I just birth control was more or less mandatory and people had a fuller understanding of the highs and lows of raising kids. 'Cause as bad as it can be for a parent, imagine how the kid will feel if they detect they're bringing down the parent.

Wanda Sykes, the comedian, has this great bit where people ask when she's gonna have kids. She says she's not going to. People insist that she will. She says no she won't. "Oh, you'll change your mind when you get older." She agrees, to be polite, but then whispers to the audience "No I won't."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:35 PM on November 16, 2006

Interesting. Here is what I say.
Happiness is relative. I would use the word JOY instead. The joy my son brings me greatly outweighs the stresses he brings. And he does bring some. Or better said, I have put more on myself in assuring his future. (He is two.)
Here is what I suggest, though to those who will miss their freedom when having a kid.
Have one later. Our kid came one day before out 11th anniversary. Yep. I can say with all certainty I got all that freedom issue stuff worked out of my system entirely before his arrival. This is the best of both worlds.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 4:47 PM on November 16, 2006

I was just gobsmacked by this question. It never occurred to me that someone wouldn't have children because it would make them "less happy" or that someone would even make a study to quantify happiness based on having or not having kids. I know childless couples who are perfectly happy with all the things they do and have without children. And yet,... and yet, I love my children and am incredibly lucky to have had the privilege of being their parent. I would have been very unhappy if I had never had kids.
posted by Lynsey at 4:59 PM on November 16, 2006

I read a study about the effect of children which studied the sum total effects into old age. They basically came up with two rather bland but convincing determinants.

Your happiness with or without children is dependent on
1) The correlation between whether you have children and whether you wanted to have children.
2) Whether you maintained good relationships with your children when they were adults.

Those for which both 1) and 2) were positive answers, were ahead overall in happiness over their lives compared to childless couples.
posted by zaebiz at 5:19 PM on November 16, 2006

I swear I am not making this up: As I was reading this, my three year old son walked into the room and said: "Daddy, I love you." That, and the hugs around the neck, the bizarre humor and the new stuff cropping up all the time ... I don't know. I don't have as much time to read or go see movies, but ehh. It's generally pretty great. I'd agree that it rearranges the notion away from the ephemeral, quantifiable stuff and towards the cyclical, deep-level stuff. Other life pursuits can have the same effect, but parenthood pulls you that way by the guts.
posted by argybarg at 5:52 PM on November 16, 2006

For a lot of people, happiness means being in control, following plans, etc.

Kids are disruptive to all that. Do love my kids? Of course. Am I frustrated and unhappy when I need to take time off work to take one to the doctor? Of course.

Do my kids give me happiness? YES. Do they also disrupt my life and maybe decreasing my overall happiness level? Sure.

Given the choice, would I have my kids all over again? Of course. And maybe one or two more, if possible.
posted by Doohickie at 6:00 PM on November 16, 2006


But grandkids definitely seem to increase people's happiness -- and if you can tell me a way to have grandkids without having kids I'd like to hear it.

They do indeed, and I have found that way: I married a woman with a grown son who married and had a kid, and now I'm a happy grandpa—I highly recommend it!
posted by languagehat at 6:17 PM on November 16, 2006

As a new(ish) father, I'm still getting used to having ZERO time for myself. I don't even have time for all the work I've committed to, let alone any recreational persuits. As such, I sometimes start to wallow and whine about my long-lost personal life

... but ...

When I look at my boy, my heart just about bursts with joy and love. It's all I can do not to squeeze the poor little fella 24/7.

Never been happier, but YMMV.
posted by likeSoy at 6:46 PM on November 16, 2006

I have long felt that people who claim that having kids was the best thing they ever did are pretty much following the thinking in the quote by martinrebas, above, especially the points that:

1) if you pay a lot for something, you assume or convince yourself that it makes you happy; and

2) since many / most of your other options are cut off, the one that is left (the kid/s) must, by default, become the thing that gives you joy.

I think that these combine in a way, such that if you have made the commitment to become a parent, you simply *must* convince yourself that it was a good choice, or else you have to face up to the idea that you have let yourself in for years & years of sacrifice & limitation for nothing.

Many parents say that they are happy to make these sacrifices, that children give them something to live for, that previously their lives were empty, and so on. However, imagine anybody committing an equivalent amount of time, effort & money into any single other project, on a more-or-less daily basis spanning 18 years or more, and tell me if they would not experience a similar level of satisfaction & direction in life, as their project unfolds.

However, in the case of these hypothetical projects, there would probably be options to quit the project if it loses its appeal, switch to a new one, take an extended break, and so on. In contrast, short of adoption or infanticide, parents are completely locked in & therefore have simply no option but to justify their choice (or accident) to themselves.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:03 PM on November 16, 2006 [3 favorites]

In contrast, short of adoption or infanticide, parents are completely locked in & therefore have simply no option but to justify their choice (or accident) to themselves.

Yep. Better make good decisions in life, or you're screwed. Offspring aren't the only thing that's true with.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:12 PM on November 16, 2006

I think this is where I have a problem with Gilbert's definition of happiness. He argues (if I read it correctly) that those "I wub you daddy" moments do not ACTUALLY erase those eight hours of nagging, that that is merely how we trick ourselves into thinking that children do make us happy. I think those moments DO in fact erase the negative things.

Yes, and while I'd certainly acknowledge the amount to which we're hardwired to justify our own decisions varies only by degree, the problem I see with these studies is that the concept of "average", while perhaps statistically accurate, is a pretty unrevealing yardstick for being a parent. The "home run in the bottom-of-the-ninth" is the whole frickin' point. I'd rather slog through 8 and two-thirds innings of shite before a moment of glory than coast along at "meh" all my life.

And slogging through shite brings me to my second problem with these studies; the whole emphasis on happiness as the be-all/end-all. Sure - nobody wants to be unhappy, but when parenting is difficult and exhausting is when I'm most conscious of the maturity I've gained; the wisdom, the patience. In short, it's when I can feel myself growing, and if I'm occasionally sad about missing beers with friends or having to pass on seeing Sonic Youth, well, it's still deeply satisfying, whether or not I'm skipping along humming a tune.
posted by jalexei at 8:57 PM on November 16, 2006

I'm not a parent, but I am a daughter. I'm 20, and I have a sixteen-year-old brother. I'm childfree (this reason's part of it, but there are also others that aren't relevant).

I definitely agree with the study's findings. I see very few ways in which my brother or I have contributed to our parents' happiness, and many ways we've contributed to their unhappiness. I don't think the equation could possibly be anywhere neutral, let alone positive.

Kids make your life suck: caring for multiple people (drains time, energy), providing for multiple people (drains time, money), worrying about multiple people (drains energy, serenity), interacting with kids (drains time, energy, patience), planning around multiple people's schedules/tastes (drains happiness because you can't do what you want to do).

Kids make your life great: the occasional loving gesture (adds happiness), maybe the occasional awards ceremony (adds pride).

I don't see how the two sides can even come close, unless -- and this is still tentative -- you're the parent of the best person in the world.
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:05 PM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I admit upfront that I skimmed over the comments here. Likely, mine will mirror the majority, from what I could tell.

Kids are challenging in a unique way. I know many folks who never planned to have kids and now feel burdened. Sometimes they handle it well; sometimes not so much.

I never planned to have kids, either. I'd planned on being an old, witchy, "get off my lawn" cat lady. I was getting close to 30 when I first got pregnant.

Having children is a HUGE responsibility, especially if you do it right. Just the fear alone (Will they wreck their bike and have go to the ER today?) can be overwhelming. The lack of freedom can be frustrating. The daily demands can be overpowering.

My children are now 9 (boy) and 8 (girl). Even on my downest day, one of them will do something that brings me joy. Getting them to the point where they are self-sufficient enough to bathe themselves, make themselves breakfast (I can sleep in on weekends! Woohoo!), and look after other basic needs helped a lot. They both still think I'm one of the coolest people on the planet. We dance and sing with each other. We play games together. We have interesting conversations. I intend to milk that as much as possible until the day they turn into teenagers. Then, I intend to endure that phase with the loving discipline I've used so far until they become adults.

Hopefully, at that point, they'll think I'm pretty cool again.
posted by lilywing13 at 9:48 PM on November 16, 2006

My dad is facing a personal and professional dilemma right now, and over the last couple of days all four of us -- my parents, my brother, and I -- have been talking calmly and sensibly about his options, emailing documents back and forth for review, making him laugh, helping him stay focussed and relaxed.

After a long serious round of editing and strategizing earlier this evening, my dad and I got sidetracked and, bizarrely, found ourselves trying to remember the words to "A Visit From St. Nicholas." We simultaneously looked it up online and read it out to each other a few lines at a time, laughing.

We all love each other so much it's impossible to quantify. We get mad at each other, of course, but we also send each other the best books. We save up stories for each other, knowing that no one else is likely to get the point. We're all busy and geographically dispersed, but we get on planes when we can. I can't wait to fly out there next month.

I know not everyone's experience is like this. But you said you were looking for anecdotes -- and seriously, when my parents talk about how much my brother and I mean to them, I don't think they're flattering us or fooling themselves, because why would they? and anyway, we feel exactly the same way.
posted by tangerine at 11:22 PM on November 16, 2006

booksandlibretti: all parents believe they are the parents of the best people in the world.
posted by crocomancer at 12:27 AM on November 17, 2006

I don't think you can dismiss parental happiness as some sort of rationalization of the hassles/responsibility of having children. At least not any more than you candismiss childless couples' happiness as a rationalization of an empty, meaningless life....

Just kidding. Mostly.
posted by jaysus chris at 1:29 AM on November 17, 2006

You asked for our anecdotal experience, so here goes - I disagree completely with the notion that children decrease happiness. Mine (1.5 and 4) have done nothing but increase our happiness exponentially. Also, the fact that time is in greater demand now means it is more precious, which has also improved my relationship with my wife. Supply and demand doesn't just work for trinkets and coal.
posted by jbickers at 3:39 AM on November 17, 2006

I love my kids (15 and 19), but, given the opportunity for a do-over (and knowing what I now know) I would never do it again.

The happiness balance isn't about the kids as individuals themselves. Rather, for me, the happy/unhappy balance is directly tied to my financial ability as a parent to provide for them, and the stress levels inherit within that dynamic. In recent years, this ability has taken some terribly severe hits, so my "children=happiness" levels are pretty-much into some severely negative numbers.

posted by Thorzdad at 5:01 AM on November 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think the article compares apples and oranges, with a few peaches, cherries, and even tomatoes and carrots thrown in. How can you possibly compare the general but transient level of "happiness" one feels while grocery shopping -- grocery shopping? really? -- with the lasting worth of those "transcendent moments of joy" also mentioned?
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:42 AM on November 17, 2006

I'm a bit late to the game, but I just wanted to emphasize what Brandon Blatcher said above: kids can tell when they're not wanted, and any parenting decision should include an assessment of the possible child's potential for happiness, too.

To illustrate: I grew up in an area where a lot of the people had kids as a knee-jerk reaction to getting married, to carry on the family name/business or some other such nonsense. The point is, most of these parents cared little for actual parenting, and just threw money or lawyers at their kids' problems. And a lot of them had problems: not necessarily homeless-on-the-street problems, but definitely whoa-you're-a-sociopath problems.

It's a terrible way to grow up if your parents are unwilling or unable to raise you, and it's a terrible thing for society too.

I guess my point is this: be honest with yourself about whether having kids will make you happy -- not your significant other, not your parents, not your fear of being lonely when you're old -- and you will make the right choice. But if you find yourself rationalizing reasons to have children ("maybe it will help my marriage!" "all my friends are having kids..." etc.) then please realize it will ruin at least two lives: yours, and your child's.

That said, since you're already questioning whether parenting is the right thing for you, I'm sure you'll make the right choice. Just be honest with yourself.
posted by AV at 10:19 AM on November 17, 2006

Kids make your life great: the occasional loving gesture (adds happiness), maybe the occasional awards ceremony (adds pride).

That is just missing so, so many of the good things about being a parent.

And yes, there's lots of stress and frustration and worry too. But sometimes I can just look at my children, when they're playing, or sitting reading a book, or just sleeping, and I just fill up with happy.

Plus, I get to finish any ice cream they leave.
posted by reynir at 3:28 PM on November 17, 2006

I think kids make the ups higher and the downs lower. So basically I think life just becomes more intense and interesting :-) Also just like with anything in life parents need balance. If they are doing parent duties 7 days/24 hours with no breaks yes it can get depressing. But overall I'd hate to go through life without having children.
posted by suz98 at 2:34 PM on November 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't have any experience at it, but from observing real people with kids and watching the movie "Parenthood", I gather that having kids really distracts a person from having a relaxing and fun life. Why add more stressors to your life when you don't have to? Plus, it sounds like a task for those with nerves of steel.

I am going to be thrilled being someone's Aunt Onepapertiger instead of 'Mommy.'
posted by onepapertiger at 9:34 PM on November 25, 2006

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