Parents rationalize the economic cost of children by exaggerating their parental joy

Mar 02, 2011

Any parent can tell you that raising a child is emotionally and intellectually draining. Despite their tales of professional sacrifice, financial hardship, and declines in marital satisfaction, many parents continue to insist that their children are an essential source of happiness and fulfillment in their lives. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that parents create rosy pictures of parental joy as a way to justify the huge investment that kids require.

Richard Eibach and Steven Mock, psychological scientists at the University of Waterloo, decided to explore the role that self-justification plays in parental beliefs about their choice to have and raise children. More specifically, they wanted to focus on parental views of the economic hardships they've endured while raising their children.

The researchers recruited 80 fathers and mothers, each parent with at least one child under age 18. Half of the were primed to focus on the financial costs of parenting: They read a government document estimating that the costs of raising a child to age 18 exceed $190,000. The other parents got this information as well, but they also read about the financial benefits of parenting: the fact that adult children often provide financial and practical support to aging parents. The parents were then asked to take two psychological tests: One measured how much they idealized parenting and the other assessed parents' feelings of discomfort and uneasiness during the experiment.

Eibach and Mock suspected that parents who were focused on the costs of would be more likely to experience feelings of conflict and discomfort. They also expected that these negative feelings would motivate them to idealize parenthood in order to trump the negative feelings.

And that's what they found, with a slight twist. Parents whose feelings of emotional discomfort were measured immediately after priming their thoughts about cost felt much worse than did the parents with a more mixed view of parenting. But if the scientists first gave them the opportunity to idealize parenting and family life, and then measured their conflicted feelings, those were gone.

How else might parents be fooling themselves in order to justify the high costs of their decision to be a parent? In a second study, parents were again primed to think about their pricey life choice or both the costs and benefits of parenting. But this time, the researchers asked the parents about their intrinsic enjoyment of various life activities, such as spending time with their children or engaging in their favorite personal activity. They also asked them how much leisure time they hoped to spend doing something with their child on their next day off from work.

The results were clear: Parents who had the high costs of children in mind were much more likely to say that they enjoyed spending time with their children, and they also anticipated spending more leisure time with their kids.

Eibach and Mock put their findings into a historical perspective: In an earlier time, kids actually had economic value; they worked on farms or brought home paychecks, and they didn't cost that much. Not coincidentally, emotional relationships between and children were less affectionate back then. As the value of has diminished, and the costs have escalated, the belief that parenthood is emotionally rewarding has gained currency. In that sense, the myth of parental joy is a modern psychological phenomenon.

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User comments : 8

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ereneon
5 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2011
Wow, that is a pretty cold hard look at things.
"In that sense, the myth of parental joy is a modern psychological phenomenon."
aroven
4.8 / 5 (5) Mar 03, 2011
I'm going to idealize the joy I get from reading Physorg in an effort to trump the negative feelings that article gave me.
210
3 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2011
It is like trying to put a price, a valuation, on a runners high, or brushing your dog! Even if one had a rough childhood, the joy of getting-it-right with your OWN child exceeds value and escapes expression.
Yes, one would have to come out of a rough childhood relatively sound of mind, learn what had been 'rough' about it (learn the TRUE value of this experience), so as to 'get-things-right' but the joy is obvious and redemptive especially FOR YOU. YOU married an excellent person, who valued you and made a copy of them for the pleasure and happiness of another 'like' you and made the world a better place...THAT is beyond SWHEET!
-word-to-ya-muthas-
Beard
not rated yet Mar 04, 2011
That's 880 dollars a month for 18 years. Are these kids eating caviar at preschool snack time?
beau2am
not rated yet Mar 06, 2011
No. That money goes to when they wreck your car at 16.
-or bail.
beau2am
not rated yet Mar 06, 2011
This, I think, is the point of the article:
"Parents who had the high costs of children in mind were much more likely to say that they enjoyed spending time with their children, and they also anticipated spending more leisure time with their kids."

Meaning: If a parent had ONLY the financial costs in mind -they would attempt to justify the expense by saying what a rewarding experience parenting was -and just how much they enjoyed being a parent.
-AND- If a parent had BOTH the financial costs -and- potential benefits in mind, they were less likely to idealize the joy of parenting.

That's what I read out of this.

People will do what they do -then they'll find a reason to justify it. That's what people do.
ereneon
5 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2011
People will do what they do -then they'll find a reason to justify it. That's what people do.


Well said.
ODesign
not rated yet Mar 08, 2011
"In an earlier time, kids actually had economic value; they worked on farms or brought home paychecks, and they didn't cost that much."

Could be the above was an example of parents rationalizing the opportunity cost of having kids in the past.

In the past Not all kids had much economic value. There's a lot invested in the first few years. Dowery's cost money directly. Teaching kids still took time and without schools that meant the teaching was time taken from the parent. Did Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry fin bring home a paycheck worth the time and effort of raising them? and then they ran off! maybe some relationships were less affectionate because the parents didn't spent $100,000 worth of time to raise them.

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