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The Misguided Pursuit of Parental Happiness

I like ID Crossroads. She’s smart, confident, and dedicated to her career in medicine, a field that I love. She recently posted about having or not having children. Some people said some stupid things about how having kids does not make people happy, and in fact, makes them feel less satisfied. I replied on her blog, but I’d like to bring the subject up here, where my ax grinding will be a little more visible.

In the comments section, docwhisperer cited a study supporting the fact that having kids doesn’t make people happy. Well, she said she cited a study, but what she really referenced was an article that gave us a graph of several studies, the sources of which that were not even cited in the article. I was not very impressed, especially since I couldn’t easily find out how the studies were conducted. And then, basically, the article contradicted docwhisperer’s point anyway.

It started out as a whiner article about how difficult parenthood is, going along the lines of a lot of them I’ve seen lately in the trendy magazines: Parenthood sucks and you aren’t going to be happy. I’m glad I kept reading it though, because then it started talking about cultural aspects of parenting and making several points I’ve long known to be true.

First, a career outside the home that takes on a higher priority generally adds up to having less satisfaction at home with the kids than making the kids a higher priority than the career. Basically, parents who spend more time with their children are happier parents than those who spend less time with them.

Also, though average daily happiness may be lower for those burdened with children, it would appear that the high points are much better for parents than childless people. It is a trade off. Maybe it shouldn’t be average daily happiness we are trying for.

I’m tempted to tell you the whys and wonders of happy parenting, but I don’t think that is the point of it all, really. Because I don’t think we should be having children in order to be happy or fill some void in our life.

We should be having children in order to populate the earth with decent human beings. In order to facilitate their growth, they need to be understood to be unique individuals having and processing experiences in the world. In order to be kind to others, they need to be shown kindness. In order to be disciplined, we need to be an example of disciplined people and give our children a proper framework by which they can successfully evaluate the natural consequences of their own actions. We need to give them the chance to make choices as early as possible. We need to know when and how to evaluate those choices. We need to show them trust, teach them trust, as well as teach them when it is not appropriate to trust. We must teach them critical thinking skills and moral behavior. All of this takes hard work and a lot of dedication to the children themselves. In order to be successful, it is this activity that should take priority over others.

Just because becoming a parent is (usually) so easy doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly as a career. It is very demanding. If you fail in this career, you haven’t just failed yourself. You’ve failed a human being that is intimately your responsibility.

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  1. The payoffs of parenting are are hard to describe to those who are not parents themselves. The joys of parenting are mostly not evident to those around us, the toddler who is finally clean and asleep and so adorable despite the constant work he creates, the glimpse into the daughter’s room finding her on the bed reading because she wants to, hearing that your child stood up for a friend on the playground. The real payoffs don’t come until your children are raised and you see that they have become decent and moral human beings with good values and a work ethic. When you know that the child you nurtured and taught and loved and prayed over and cried for then sent out into the world has grown into a muture and loving adult, your heart is full of a deep joy that you can find in no other way. Ask me…I know.

  2. I think you got it exactly right when you said that people should not choose to become parents just because it makes them happy. I don’t know when society turned that corner, but somehow it is assumed that the principal goal of life is pleasure. Pleasure is a great thing, but seeking it to the exclusion of all other values leads people to a sense of loss when they find they cannot answer the question “Am I happy?” in the affirmative.

    I prefer the ancient Greek approach, which is that the goal of life should be virtue. Reaching for goals that are good instead of goals that simply make us happy (they are not always the same thing)strikes me as much more sensible. At the end of the day, even if I am not strictly happy, I can be at peace knowing I tried to do good things. The failure to achieve pleasure is displeasure; the failure to achieve goodness is the satifaction that I expended myself for the right reasons.

    When I die, I, like everyone else, want to feel the world is a better place because I was in it. Despite every other thing that I do, I am almost positive my best chance of achieving this is in being a good father.

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