July 03, 2006

Having Kids is Like Shooting Heroin?

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s essay Does Fatherhood Make You Happy? in the June 19, 2006 edition of Time magazine, offers readers some insight into why parents say they are happy, despite the fact that studies that have found that raising kids is about as much fun as doing housework. Gilbert offers up with three reasons why, at the end of the day, parents feel it’s worth it:

1) Children are expensive, so we rationalize the cost with the idea that children make us happy, much like we rationalize that expensive designer handbag.

2) Happiness is amnesic. One sublimely, happy moment can eclipse eight hours of drudgery.

3) Having children is like shooting heroin. Daniel Gilbert walks us through the analogy:

…Although most of us think of heroin as a source of human misery, shooting
heroin doesn't actually make people feel miserable. It makes them feel really, really good--so good, in fact, that it crowds out every other source of pleasure. Family, friends, work, play, food, sex--none can compete with the narcotic experience; hence all fall by the wayside. The analogy to children is all too clear. Even if their company were an unremitting pleasure, the fact that
they require so much company means that other sources of pleasure will all but disappear. Movies, theater, parties, travel--those are just a few of the English nouns that parents of young
children quickly forget how to pronounce. We believe our children are our greatest joy, and we're absolutely right. When you have one joy, it's bound to be the greatest.

This essay was designed to help us celebrate Father’s Day. Gilbert goes on to say that our ability to love through the most difficult times with our children makes us noble and human. That’s a nice sentiment but what about the people who are caring for their aged parents or the person who is nursing an injured or neglected dog back to health?

I wonder if my parents would identify with any of the above? My dad’s a great guy. Every year, I spend a good ten minutes searching for just the right card for him that communicates how much he means to me. I just never thought to send a card that reads:
Thanks for rationalizing, Dad!!!

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nomadshan said...

When you have one joy, it's bound to be the greatest.

Ouch. That was to celebrate Father's Day?!

I think parenthood is narcotic in other ways, too. How many times have you been somewhere, and a child is repeatedly saying something like, "Mom. Mom. Mom. Hey, Mom." Or just screaming, and the parents are completely zoning them out? Never ceases to amaze (or annoy) me. OK, end of rant. Back to positives :)

Anonymous said...

"Movies, theater, parties, travel--those are just a few of the English nouns that parents of young children quickly forget how to pronounce."

No wonder the last 10-12 years I felt so isolated in childfreedom. I didn't have anything in common with most folks my age because I didn't have kids in the same school or in Little League.

My husband used to tease me when I decided to really get into bird watching. I am now a card-carrying Audubon Society member and I have actually done two Christmas Bird Counts. The friends I made were mostly retired folks!

The silver lining is that parents can resurface again when their kids get older. If they be your friends, it's important to reach out to them.

nomadshan said...

The silver lining is that parents can resurface again when their kids get older...it's important to reach out to them.

I second that, Teri. Babies and toddlers (especially first children) are all-consuming, and probably should be. The parents may be looking forward to when they can be themselves again (do something in addition to feeding, bathing, changing diapers). I have enough pursuits to keep me busy till those parents are able to take a breath!

Robin said...

Oh wow, what a good point. Of course it would be your greatest joy when it's really the ONLY thing in your life.

Tiara Lynn said...

I actually had some commentary on this article and a very snarky response by writer Betsy Hart in my own blog. What could have been an interesting counterpoint to Gilbert's article was destroyed by turning it around into an anti-childfree rant.

"n the end, that's a pretty good way to stunt a soul..."

Unbelievable that she felt the need to turn it around.

That said, I thought the comparison to addiction was a very interesting analogy. My husband and I have often said that it's as if some parents we know are addicted to their children, unable to leave them even with grandparents for an overnight trip. It's sad.

Anonymous said...

Addiction or Love?
I'll never forget the time my dear cousin who is like a sister to me asked me to come and look after her then, 5 and 7 year-old children, so she and her husband could attend a wedding in Hawaii. I had not baby-sat for them ever and the last time I had a babysitting job I was a teen. (I was not invited back because I did not know how to change a diaper...you think they would have asked me first.)

My cousin was miserable the whole time and she called home at least five times a day to speak to them and check-in. As I look back on that week, I realize her behavior had nothing to do with me being deficient or trustworthy, but more about how she feels about her children. They are precious. I was honoured that she let me look after them for a whole week. I really got to know my niece and nephew better, and I would not trade the experience.

My cousin vowed she would never leave them again. It just wasn't fun for her. She is a bit overprotective (ya think?). It's the side to err on if you ask me. I was out of town for a couple of days and when I came home there was a message from her. She is 24 weeks pregnant. She sounded so happy. As we are both 40, I am a little worried for her. I know this is not the ideal age to be having a child, but I’m happy if she is.