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Are You Lying To Yourself About The Joys Of Parenting?

Is my husband lying to himself about the joys of parenting? Or does he really dig this action?

Parenthood, especially the life of a stay-at-home parent, is filled with long nights (newborns!) and even longer days.

Days can go by before you actually converse with another real, live adult. It can be lonely, grueling and harder than going to an office every day.

It’s a thankless job in which you’re often rewarded with a bite to the hand or a tantrum in the cereal aisle. And the cost of raising kids… EEK! My husband and I dread those grocery store trips in which we have to restock the diaper supply. It can very nearly double the bill.

New research says parents just like us are exaggerating their happiness to validate their choice to have children.

In the study, 80 parents were asked to read about the financial costs of raising children (including the fact that having a child can cost $190,000 from birth to age 18), and then asked how emotionally satisfying having children was. As a control, another set of parents read the same material but were also given information about how grown kids help support their parents.

The parents who read only about the costs of parenting were more likely to say that they received more emotional satisfaction from parenting, wanted to spend more time with their kids and had more fun when spending time with them compared with the control group.

“The costs of raising children motivate parents to idealize parenthood,” the authors write. “The perceived joys of parenthood may thus be a rationalization of the high costs of having children.”

“Many people believe that to be truly fulfilled in life, it is necessary to experience the joys of parenthood. Children are considered an essential source of happiness, satisfaction, and pride,” Richard Eibach and Steven Mock of the University of Waterloo, wrote of their study in the March 2 issue of the journal Psychological Science. “However, the idea that parenthood involves substantial emotional rewards appears to be something of a myth.”

Back in the early part of the twentieth century it was cost effective to have children. They worked on farms, in coal mines, factories and helped support the family. But since the 1920s, the economic value of having children has been dropping fast. And, according to the new research, as children’s economic value plummeted, their perceived emotional value has skyrocketed, becoming, “the economically worthless but emotionally priceless child,” as Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer wrote in her book, “Pricing the Priceless Child” (Princeton University Press, 1994).

“Children’s declining economic value may have been a contributing cause of parents’ increasing exaggeration of children’s emotional value,” the researchers wrote.

But if we’re all exaggerating the joys of parenting, we aren’t aware of it. A Pew Research Report, published last may shows 87 percent of mothers giving birth in 2008 said “the joy of having children” was the reason they decided to have their first (or only) children.

Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I don’t even have a teenager! But it’s still the coolest thing I’ve ever done too, even if it costs a million bucks and my children don’t take care of me when I’m old. There are joyous moments, yes, but they peek through the monotony like the sun on a cloudy day.

And hey! Some of us win the jackpot, right? Somebody’s got to be Justin Bieber’s mom and delegate where all that money goes.

Hmmmm… Violet’s two now. I think that’s about the right age for some voice and dance lessons. Mama’s gotta pay the bills, yo.

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