Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Children Don't Make People Happier

I remember reading that a while back and being shocked. I mean, there you are, growing all your 'bundle of joy' faculties as we speak and someone is questioning whether or not you can really bring the happy? Please. Who would assert such a thing? What moron would make a claim so easily falsified by legions of smiling parents?

It turns out it was the parents themselves.

Studies reveal that most married couples start out happy and then become progressively less satisfied over the course of their lives, becoming especially disconsolate when their children are in diapers and in adolescence, and returning to their initial levels of happiness only after their children have had the decency to grow up and go away.

Economists have modeled the impact of many variables on people's overall happiness and have consistently found that children have only a small impact. A small negative impact.

Crazy, right? I mean, I just spent eleven hours on a plane with your mother, who split her time lying on the floor at my feet and orally depositing airplane food into the toilet (I know that's disgusting, but she's throwing up so much I'm running out of fresh ways to say it), and she'll be the first to argue with these results. Impossible, she will tell you. Everyone with kids is happier. Their kids are the best thing that ever happened to them. They wouldn't trade them for all the tropical vacations and not throwing up in the world.

I've noticed that, in fact, most parents will tell you exactly these things. Usually right after you've suggested that you might not be interested in kids, or wondered aloud if changing diapers and fighting over nose rings is how you want to spend the next eighteen years of your life. Words to that effect tend to make parents defensive. You seem to be implying that maybe they've made a choice you're not going to make, and by extension, that their choice might be incorrect. Children are a blessing, dammit!, and if you don't think so you're horrible, selfish, and probably somehow involved in something illegal. Also, you're probably a communist.

Married people are no different. Get married and it suddenly becomes very important to get all your single friends into the club. Holdouts are suspicious. They're saying something about the rest of us. Something bad. We humans like have everyone in the same boat, even if it's sinking.

I'd just like to be able to talk to someone about kids and not feel like they're selling me something. The reality is that kids force you to do a number of things you don't want to and prevent you from doing a number of things you do. Is it so wrong to just be honest about that? It's a long, numbing, slog punctuated by transcendent moments of pure joy. I can live with that. It sounds a lot like being a writer. Just with less crying.

Kids are clearly a source of misery as well as joy. The problem is that until you have your own it's much easier to see the former than the latter. The moments that parents remember: first words, first steps, first indication of an athletic prowess that will allow them to retire early, are different from the ones non parents remember: the screaming toddler on the plane, the kid who keeps kicking their seat, the pregnant lady who's crawling back and forth to the bathroom for eleven hours. It's not surprising that they see the issue differently.

The bottom line is that despite what they say individually, in aggregate parents say their children make them less happy. I didn't say it, they did. But, if happiness were the only thing any of us were after there'd be much longer lines for crack. Am I excited about changing diapers and begging you not get a barbed wire tattoo? Hell no. But I'm not excited about writing outlines or reading rejection notices either. I do it because on rare occasions it leads to something that makes me happier than I can explain. If I have to pretend that I'm going to love every minute of being your father I think we're in trouble. The data seems to indicate that I'll love just slightly less moments than I hate. The fact that so many parents are willing to dispute that indicates that the one kind will be much easier to remember than the other.


Anonymous said...

Very well written and true!

Anonymous said...

I love it....great blog!!

Anonymous said...

well written, like the sentiment, maybe leave a link or something to the original survey/stats


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