A recent study by Professors Chris M. Herbst of Arizona State University and John Ifcher of Santa Clara University suggests that people who have children are happier than those who do not have children. The idea wasn’t so much that people who have kids are necessarily made more happy by it, but they are in some way “inoculated” against the things that tend to make childless people less happy.
The study is in stark contrast with a 2010 New Yorker article called “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting,” which suggests that if you love parenting, it’s in spite of the intrinsic misery of parenting. A lot of folks in the articles’ comment section felt even less charitably about it than that. As a childless friend of mine put it: “I must be inoculated against diaper changing, temper tantrums and car pooling to soccer practices, then…Have all the babies you want; I’ll have adult conversations and exotic vacations.”
Now, I’m a father of two kids, and becoming a parent is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’m having adult conversations with my kids now, and when my wife and I went to Costa Rica this April, the kids came too and the trip was made so much better because of it. Heck, half our reason for going was to show the kids a bit of the world. Some of the most meaningful things we do, we do because we have kids.
But my friend’s response was not the first time I’ve seen someone speak harshly against what appears to be some unwanted pressure they feel being exerted upon them to reproduce. Parenthood is not for everybody, and while being a parent is an obligation, becoming one is not. It’s not a question of whether parenting is intrinsically a ticket to more or less happiness. It’s an experience that is what you make of it.