When we choose to have children, we’re signing up for years of lost sleep and significant financial investment. Traditional wisdom would say that’s about as selfless as you can get, right? I disagree. Many would even say that parenting is equivalent to decades of self-sacrifice and putting someone else’s needs before our own. Again, I disagree.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you know that I believe we are all selfish. None of us does anything unless there is something in it for us, even if that something is simply that a particular action or “sacrifice” supports the beliefs we have about ourselves and what “good” or “normal” people do.
A recent Psychological Science report called “Idealizing Parenthood to Rationalize Parental Investments” supports my theory – even as it pertains to what many people consider the ultimate selfless act. It suggests that in a day and age when children no longer have any economic value (i.e., we no longer put them to work on the family farm when they’re out of diapers) and cost more (on average, almost $200,000 before age 18), we have simply found other ways to justify what’s in it for us.
In this study, researchers asked two different groups of parents to rate the emotional value of child-rearing as well as the enjoyment they get from spending time with their kids. With one group, researchers first discussed the costs associated with raising children. With the other group, they discussed both the cost as well as the long-term benefits (like elder-care). Surprisingly, the group that was only presented with the cost and not the benefits ranked their experiences more favorably.
Despite the fact that studies have shown parents to experience lower emotional well-being, less-frequent positive emotions, less marital satisfaction and greater depression levels than childless people, modern-day parents rate the emotional value of their youngsters much higher than they did back when children “earned their keep.” And we seem to enjoy parenting more when we consider the astronomical cost – or at least we say that we do. Why? Because “normal” people have children, but normal people must also justify to themselves the time and money required for such an endeavor.
Does this mean that parents are bad or delusional? Absolutely not. We’re just selfish … just like everyone else. The first step to being a Powerful Person in a Partnership is: “To thine own self be true.” In being true to yourself, you have the opportunity to also be honest with yourself and to examine what you’re getting out of any relationship – whether it’s with your children or your mate. Not only does this perspective help us evaluate and maintain our own happiness, but it also prevents us from convincing ourselves that we are making sacrifices for the sake of others and from acting holier than thou. After all, martyrs aren’t great company, or much fun as parents and partners.
So, that’s my two cents. But I would love to know your thoughts on these findings – and on my take. If you’re a parent, what do you consider to be the rewards of child-rearing? Would it seem less rewarding if your children had more economic worth and didn’t require so much work on your part? Or do you believe it’s a selfless sacrifice necessary to propagate the species without any benefit to you? I look forward to your feedback.
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