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Did You Know? Your Kids Are Ruining Your Life

Perfecting Parenthood: Kids Make You Unhappy?Well, my day’s shot! I just came across one. You’ve probably read them before, these articles that shower bad news about how much children cost and how unhappy they make you. Delusional parents believing that kids are worth all the money and time and frustration and effort, but the plain truth is that kids make parents unhappy. We are suckers and pretenders, forced to fake a smile as we live a life of regret and envy.

Wholly cow! Is that real? Seems real. Scientifically proven. Psychological research indicates that working mothers rank caring for children just slightly higher than commuting or chores. Childless couples report being more content than those with children. Changing diapers, cleaning spills, chauffeuring, punishing -- it’s all a cause for depression!

The recent study indicates that parents, when reminded about the costs of children, report that children are more rewarding than parents who were not reminded. This difference is caused by cognitive dissonance, which is the internal struggle when two incompatible ideas collide inside a person’s mind. In this case, the parents have been reminded of a child’s great cost and so they inflate their feeling of love and happiness to keep the bad feelings out.

I offer simple contradictory proof: My wife and I have 3 children. After my first I had smelled the dirty diapers and cleaned the vomit. Yet we chose to have another. After the second I had experienced the terrible twos, learning to walk and talk, and another dose of poop and barf. Yet we again chose to have another.  That's quite a delusion!

So why the disconnect? Why are researchers finding this?

Researchers Asked Dumb Questions

Children are totally integrated into your life, from the moment they’re born until death. This is not remotely the same as having a dollar in your pocket with which you can buy a donut at the slightest whim. That donut is pure happiness for a minute or two, but then it’s gone. It doesn’t make sense to compare the dollar or the donut against children and say, “Which makes you happier, a dollar, a donut or cleaning up baby vomit?” That’s a dumb question.

Another dumb scenario: A child is the closest family member you have and you’re totally responsible for it. It’s almost like a limb, perhaps your arm. Now, sometimes your arm hurts because you bump it or cut it, and you do also have to wash your hands after eating ribs, trim the fingernails, maybe do some curls or push-ups to keep it strong. “Does trimming your fingernails make you happy?” is a dumb question. Even “Does your arm make you happy?” is pretty dumb. You want to keep it? What if I tell you that you that cutting off your arms saves you all that maintenance work PLUS you could save money on clothes because you'd only have to buy tank tops from now on!  Dumb suggestions and dumb questions.

It’s About the Meaning of Life

If all we cared about were happiness then we have drugs for that! We could just be constantly high until we died. Too bad not many people reading this would say, “Hey, what a great idea!” Why is that? Because such a life is wasted, meaningless. But it would be really happy.

Children are a main way that people can find some form of meaning. Kids are important responsibilities and they create legacies to live on after parents cease to exist. People are highly motivated to find a purpose or meaning to their lives (see Victor Frankl’s classic Man's Search for Meaning). Lack of meaning in life eventually causes unhappiness as we realize our mortality. Finding meaning is the cure.

Finally: Researchers Aren’t Finding Much Interesting

We all make excuses to justify ourselves. This is the hallmark of dealing with dissonance, we try to balance it out. If I ask you the following:

“You just spent $10,000 on that Rolex, do you like it?”

Then you may strongly say:

“Yeah, of course I like it, I bought it didn’t I. It’s awesome, totally worth every penny for this beautiful and high quality piece of jewelry that will last for decades and I’ll pass on to my kids.”

If I ask you instead:

“You just spent $10,000 on that beautiful and high quality watch, which will give you satisfaction and pride for decades and could be passed down as a family heirloom. Do you like it?”

Then you might just say:


If I’m just yapping to you about the costs, then you feel the need to come up with benefits to justify it. It will seem like you’re more enthusiastic than if I hit a more balanced view. Such a result is what the researchers found. They said “Your kids cost 190K, are you going to spend a lot of time with them?” and the subjects said “You bet! Tons of time, we’ll go camping and to Disneyworld and when I’m old they’ll visit with the grand-kids and they’ll be there for me when I’m on death’s door, and so on.” To others they said “Your kids cost 190K but they will give you lots of great memories, emotional support and will love and care for you all the days of your life. Are you going to spend a lot of time with them?” so the subjects said “Yup, probably”.

It is obvious that if you emphasize the negative, subjects may try to emphasize the good to ease their minds. But does that say anything important? No.

Where Happiness Really Comes From

There are two types, or sources, of happiness.

  1. Happiness in the Moment: This is happiness that is specifically being felt at a moment simply from what you are doing. Eating that delicious donut might do it. Most people get this kind of happiness from being with friends or family. Talking with someone you like or love, playing games, whatever -- just being with people you care about.
  2. Comparisons: Does your arm make you happy? Not usually. You don’t think about it. But when you see the struggles of an amputee you become grateful and happy for your own arm -- it would be so much worse without it. That comparison makes you happy, but without it, there is no happiness being generated by the presence of your arms.

    Memories are a big source of happiness. When you go back in time to relive great experiences then the positive feelings come rushing through. You are comparing the awesome things you saw or did to having done nothing, and it makes you happy. Also, relived memories are often better than they were at the time because all the negative aspects are stripped away. Climbing Mount Everest is one of the most difficult and unhappy experiences while it’s going on, yet people do it to get the memories, which are super!

Families are a good source of both types of happiness. We get to be around the people we really love a lot of the time, so we’re generating tons of in-the-moment happiness. Yes, there are moments of relative unhappiness, but most of that family time should be happy time. The only problem is that it’s mundane. Few people will remember eating dinner with the family as one of their happiest, best memories (although I’ll bet that at your deathbed it will be at the top of mind for many, just like arms suddenly become very desirable in view of an amputee).

The second type is maybe a little less common or intense in families because families can’t do things as extremely as individuals. It is admittedly easier for a young single person to take a trip around the world or become a kick-boxer or whatever big thing than the middle-aged parents of two or three kids. However, it is really up to the parents and the situation. I go camping and touring and adventuring with my family often and I do activities on the side like run marathons to get the big memories. My kids and I generate super memories together like winter camping in the backyard, them surprising me by writing a book for me, jumping of the diving board with my kid for the first time, watching my kid perform a poetry reading in a big hall, so on and so forth.

Kids are work, they cause trouble, they cost money. Would I trade them for the money and work back? Nope. That’s all the answer you need.

Good Books To Read

Man's Search for Meaning (Victor Frakl)

Stumbling on Happiness (Daniel Todd Gilbert)


Hope you liked the post. Please do me a favour ...


The 'slug phase' in our

Jenn N's picture

The 'slug phase' in our household was different for my husband. I was badly injured by the labour and was not able to physically get up for a couple months, then my mobility was limited for a long time after that. My husband was handed the baby after he was born and left with him for 2 hours while they tried to wake me up from the general anesthetic. From that moment on, he became an amazingly involved care taker of a newborn. I think because he was forced (due to circumstances) to be so hands on so frequently in the first four months that he really bonded with our son in a way many husbands do not get a chance to. I believe that if I had been physically able, I probably would have been scooping that baby up to be with me every single moment - never really leaving space and time for Dad. I'm glad in the end it worked out the way it did, my husband has a remarkable bond with our son that started on day one for him.

I do believe however, that hormones and nature play a huge part in hard-wiring women to fall in love. I would not have believed it had I not gone through it myself to see it happen.  

I think so many people feel

julie's picture

I think so many people feel children are not the blessing from God that they are.  It is hard on really tough homeschooling days to view them the way God does but IT is what gets me through the day. 

We have four.

But I chose to stay at home which means we forgo many things a dual income family might enjoy.  But that was what we chose.  The only thing I can imagine harder than staying home with them is working and then having to be a mom.  My hats off to women who work, do homework, clean, cook, fall exhausted into the bed to do it all over again.  That seems harder than what I do even on my worst days.



great post..

Margo aka The Child Whisperer's picture

great post..

i totally hear you about the absurd comparisons of the study - and of course if asked whether you would prefer to sleep 8 consecutive hours or just 2 hours, they seem to be rhetorical questions with obvious anwers.

one thing is for sure, i still recall the pre-parenting stage of my life and to be honest with you, there is not much that comes to mind in terms of actually being responsible for anyone (except myself) and the majority of people can feel that they have been plunged in the icy waters of parenting without prior warning..
hey, let's be honest - there are no decent parenting classes and while some (like you and i) choose to claw our way through that by first admitting that we need to learn parenting skills and then going through the motions of acquiring the knowledge, many others just give up because of the vast area that is - truthfully - is an art, not a science.. plus kids vary in their temperament, developmental abilities, pace and all it takes to make a grownup cry is a toddler who is not willing to take a bath.. and when added on top of the crazy work life, it's a recipe for recalling more calmer days..

but back to your post :).. kids do cost money - and lots of it.. hey, i am a finance person by nature (and trade), so can't help but adding up the amounts.. my way of battling those is to eliminate any and all extras (no wipe warmers and no fancy outfits, ok, maybe one) - and instead keep the child entertained the old-fashioned way.. yep, the best way that i know is to bore the kid first and then start the DIY projects.. for example, last weekend we "made" (from cutup cardboard box), a board book that the child had illustrated.. half and hour of peace and quiet coloring followed by an intensive "reading" sessions (to the toys).. the cost - priceless :)

with respect to the childcare costs - which ARE staggering and those "$1 per minute" late fee policies just make me wonder if i am in the right industry - they do add up BUT it's a personal preference whether to pay them or not.
some choose to stay at home and provide better care - which totally makes sense - but in my case, after having had been left with a rather active child at home for more than 1 day (the holidays, weather-related closures, etc), i came to realize that (1) i am a lousy playmate (not knowing all the latest "hottest" jungles like "i want to ride a firetruck" or the new interpretation of "row row" that ends with "if you see a crocodile, don't forget to scream... AAARRGGHH!!") and (2) enclosed space does not do anything to better my mood or my feeling of security because there is a finite number of toys to play with.. thus, paying the childcare fees is completely worth every penny for me.. and in addition to that, i am able to work and bring some money home (to be used for bills and the college fund)..

to sum it up, yes, kids cost money and yes, it's worth it :)

please keep the posts coming

I think the truth is there is

Marlee's picture

I think the truth is there is a biological affinity for your offspring. It's like there is a spiritual impossiblity in not loving your own children (unless you have a sickness). That said, I'm a step-mom, and don't have any desire to have children of my own for the exact reasons stated in the study. But...I do take my duty as a step-mother with the utmost seriousness, grace, and love. I strive to be the best step-parent possible. ;)

"We are suckers and

Elle's picture

"We are suckers and pretenders, forced to fake a smile as we live a life of regret and envy.". That is my new parenting motto.
I have 1 child and she is almost 10 years old. My husband wants a boy. There are many reasons why I stopped at 1 and why my daughter doesn't want any siblings.

1. My husband was a little bastard (according to his family) as a kid. I mean, flinging cats over the wall, hammering nails on the sofa, putting mud on your car...etc.
2. He's in the military and always on the move (I had to raise my daughter on my own).
3. He's anti-social (& sadly my daughter has picked up on it) to certain people.
4. After my daughter, I realized I'm a "1 child only" mom.
5. Strollers, minivans, SUV's, vans, trucks scare the hell out of me.
6. I'm DONE with the late night feedings, diaper changing and vomits.
7. Taking care of my 1 year old nephew for the night truly made me not have anymore.

Honestly, I feel much better...getting this out of my system. I had it bottled up for years.
Kudos to all the parents. My daughter is the world to me and I won't trade her for (almost) anything...LOL