Magazine article Psychology Today

The Parent's Balance Sheet

Magazine article Psychology Today

The Parent's Balance Sheet

Article excerpt


Weighing the joys and miseries of having children By Todd Kashdan

ONE EVENING, AS I was tucking my 5-year-old twins into bed, I learned that they already know about unconditional love:

Raven: Dad, we love you, even if you yell at us. Even if you rip out our eyeballs, we still love you.

Chloe: Are you going to die soon?

Me: Why do you ask?

Raven: If you die and eat our brains, I'll still love you.

What's not to love about having children? Then again, nearly every parent has a cost-benefit chart:

* Sexuality exists only on every third Thursday from 11:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

* Quiet time doesn't exist.

* Reading is limited to books about fuzzy animals.

* Weekends are driven by birthday parties, play dates, and lemonade stands.

* Years of relying on one- and twosyllable words leads to neural atrophy.

* Becoming an unpaid therapist means dealing with kids whining over apocalyptic issues, including who gets to scoop the ice cream out of the container first.

How do psychologists, and parents for that matter, square moments of trancendent love with a mountain of tedious tasks? For one thing, our brains are hypersensitive to short bursts of annoyance- insert memory of screaming, whining, inconsolable creatures. It's easy to forget the surrounding meaningful, joyous times. It's similar to being asked about your physical health and instead of counting the years that have passed since you were ill, you look down at the ragged cuticle on your finger, pick the skin away until it hurts, and write down "average physical health." That's because negative moments outweigh the positive moments (this is italicized to show solidarity with my peers).

But we are flawed at assessing ourselves. Ask husbands and wives about household chores, and somehow the workload adds up to far more than 100 percent. To help us understand whether parents experience greater well-being than nonparents, we look to research from Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California at Riverside, author of The How of Happiness.

In a survey of 6,906 people in the U.S., parents- whether married or notreported greater satisfaction, meaning, and purpose in life, though not greater happiness, than their childless cohorts. Fathers derive even greater satisfaction than mothers. (Of course they do. They're the ones who get to toss kids around the room and transform zucchini and squash into bacon batons. …

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