Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is having kids worth it?

We had three childless couples over for dinner last Friday. By calling them "childless", I don't mean to imply anything about their stance toward having children. It so happens that one couple doesn't plan to have kids; another couple probably does but no time soon; the third couple, whom we know the least, may or may not want kids someday. I just don't know.

Anyway, the kids ate dinner in the kitchen while we ate in the dining room. We stayed around the DR table after the boys were done, and they would occasionally wander in, climb in one of our laps, chit chat and then go off again. After one of these visits, one of our guests asked "So, they're worth it, right?". If anyone has ever asked you this question, you know how hard it is to answer.

The question seems to provoke joke responses. Yesterday's chart summarizes one direction in which my jokey responses might have gone. After the joke responses, the interrogated brain turns to cost-benefit analysis, which is a useful tool for deciding whether to expand a factory but falls a little flat here. How could one possibly articulate the benefits and weigh them against the costs? I wanted, though, to give my friend a real answer beyond the jokes and the impossibility of valuing human lives and relationships. In the end, I asked if she remembered what it was like to fall in love with her husband. Whatever relationships we've had before, we typically recognize that the love that's strong enough to commit to marriage feels totally different from any love we've experienced before. I can say the same about parental love for my sons. I feel about them differently than I feel about anybody else in the world. My relationships with them produce a variety of strong emotions that make for a different cost-benefit analysis at different times (were I to dare to undertake that).

Are they worth it? I don't think I can answer that. Would I want to go back to a world where these two boys don't exist? Absolutely not.

Have you been asked this question? Do you have any helpful responses to it?


Azure said...

I read about a study that found that parents are less happy on a moment by moment basis than childless couples. The parents reported, however, that the times of extreme parental happiness (child reaching a milestone, child showing love and affection, child performing in a show or sporting event) made up for it. So it is worth it in the big scheme of things.

One difference between parenting and marriage is that parenting dramatically drops off after about 20-25 years. Hence, the time and money expended are substantial, but diminishing. (Hopefully we won't be supporting our kids when they are in their 30's.)

JFo said...

Azure, if you just jinxed us into supporting our kids in their 30s, I'm gonna be really mad.

Anne H. said...

You lost me with this one. Cost benefit analysis? Are you kidding? I ADORE my children and grand children. I would give my life without hesitation for any one of them. My life is immeasurably richer and happier than it would have been without motherhood and children.

Anonymous said...

Having kids looks like a huge waste of time. Why not live up to your own potential? Motherhood looks like oppression to me, and i love giving my husband the undivided attention he deserves. I won't succumb to the thankless, tiring, money pit that is offspring.

JFo said...

Um. Wow?

Anonymous said...

The logic Anne H. uses is problematic. She says: "Cost benefit analysis? Are you kidding? I ADORE my children and grand children. I would give my life without hesitation for any one of them. My life is immeasurably richer and happier than it would have been without motherhood and children." If this is true, Anne H., then why didn't you have one additional child? The additional child you failed to have would have made your life even more "immeasurably richer and happier than it would have been without" that additional child. You say you would "give my life without hesitation for any one" but what about for the one you didn't have? You didn't give your life for that one. This is a problematic rational when looking at any n+1 child, whether n=0, n=1, or n=2.... To put it more simply, say someone has 1 child, the person who has 2 children can say the person with 1 child is missing out "immeasurably" by not having a second child. But someone with 3 children can say that the person with 2 children is missing out "immeasurably" by not having a 3rd child. Someone with 8 children can say that someone with less children is missing out "immeasurably" on what they could have had, and how every single one of their 8 children makes their life that much "richer and happier" and how they would give their life "without hesitation for any one of them." They couple with more children than Anne H. could say that Anne H. was being selfish for conducting a cost benefit analysis of limiting herself, her love, and the beautiful gift of life to only the limited number of children that she had. At some point Anne H. (or any parents) stopped having additional children due to some reasoning of costs and benefits. So to get to the heart of the matter, the real question should be why did Anne H. decide NOT to have the n+1 child?

JFo said...

Anonymous commenter of March 18, you clearly assume that Anne H is an economist, which she is not.

FWIW, "Is having kids worth it?" is the single highest search term with which people have found this blog.