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.
Do I want to murder my kids sometimes? Absolutely. But that’s just life; there are times my wife wants to murder me, too, and I have no doubt that if she did, I would have had it coming. But on the whole, I’d say that having kids makes me quite happy. They add a whole lot more love in my life, and that is a good thing. If somebody told me I would be happier without kids, I would respond that they did not know the first thing about me. Likewise, for me to suggest to those without kids that they need to get with the babymaking if they want to lead happy lives would be both arrogant and wrong.
That’s the funny thing about parenting nowadays. A lot of people in my parents’ generation (born at the tail end of the Silent Generation) were expected to go to school, marry and have kids in short order. People in Generation X (to which I belong) and younger see kids as an option often pre-empted by career. A lot of people wait until they are 40 to have kids. A lot of people just don’t have them. And that’s fine.
It does make me think about the ongoing issues the life industry has with getting people to buy more life insurance. Getting married, buying a house and having kids are the three big precipitating events to buying coverage, and if one of those events is becoming a “maybe, maybe not” proposition, then we need to rethink who needs life insurance and why. Buying life insurance is often described as an act of love, and it is. I guess the question is, if more of us are living lives purely to see to our own wants, is there less need for life insurance? Sadly, yes. We don’t all need to be having kids, but a world where we need each other more, not less, is probably a better world for everyone.