At the end of my first post in this series, I made sure to link to a New York article from last summer, “All Joy and No Fun.” At the time (and probably still), the piece made people go a little berserk. The idea that having children, that parenting is not a wholly rewarding, fantastic experience, seemed to really chafe. I get why, even if I think these stories create a more open, honest dialogue about why some people choose not to have kids.
Last week, Time published another piece along the same lines, “Kid Crazy: Why We Exaggerate the Joys of Parenthood.” This piece focuses on actual studies from the journal Psychological Science about parenting, but the take-away is still the same as the New York article (so much so that it’s mentioned in Time): childfree couples are happier, parents have it rough, and those who think they don’t are sort of delusional. (“Delusional” is not my word, by the way; that’s from the meta title Time chose for the article on their website and one tossed around in the article, based on the study findings.)
According to the studies, parents have been found to be angrier, more depressed, and to have less satisfying partnerships than childfree couples. It also looks at the financial compromises that come with raising a child and how parents explain away the cognitive dissonance that arises when you consider just how much it actually costs to raise a kid today. (In one part of the study, $193,680 was cited as the average for a middle-income family in the Northeast to raise a child until age 18. Google “cost of raising a child” and you’ll get numbers that suggest a quarter of a million dollars is the average a middle-class family shell out.)
Since the topic of money comes up here a lot—the cost of a tubal ligation, for example, or the idea that not having kids is selfish (which in my experience is usually judged from an emotional and financial standpoint)—I’m particularly interested in these numbers. I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on having an extra quarter of a mil in disposable income over the next two decades. That might only be $12,500 a year, but that’s an awful lot of money to most of us. I’m not naive enough to think people choose to have kids for financial reasons, but at what point does it become problematic, if ever?
Because I’ve been doing it here for the last six weeks, all of this also begs the question: do we have to keep revisiting this idea? Do we really need to tell people that their choices might make them unhappy? Doesn’t it just make everyone defensive? Or is there something useful in acknowledging that raising kids today isn’t exactly a picnic? Why do we feel compelled to constantly justify our behaviors, no matter what they are?