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Are Parents Really Just Addicts? Views on Parenting from the Slate Article
A Rebuttal of the Slate Article Suggesting Parenthood Sucks
It was suggested in an article I read on the Slate today, Parents are Junkies (by Shankar Vedantam), that the only reason people become parents is because they are addicted to it. According to Vedantam, parenting is much like a gambler's addiction to pulling that handle on the slot machine. The comparison was that just as the gambler gets the occasional payout or reward from the slot machine, a parent also will feel like they've been rewarded with the good moments they have with their children. With this comparison, one might assume there are more misses than hits with the parenting of children.
The article also contained the words of Daniel Kahneman, who conducted a study with results suggesting that parents are less happy than people without children. His conclusion was that "spending time with children makes mothers about as happy as vacuuming". As I read this, I knew it was meant to shock and get attention. It certainly got mine.
So if this article and study are to be believed, then it would be enough to scare off any potential parent, and especially confirm the decision of those who have, for whatever reason, decided to remain childless. Fifteen years ago, it may have even convinced me. But now, being a mother myself, I know better.
Am I a parent because I'm addicted to some far and between moments (at least as far as that article is concerned) when my oxytocin spikes as one of my children gives me a soft, somewhat sloppy kiss on my cheek and makes me forget the other horrors of the day? I have to tell you, if that were all there was to it, I'd have tied my tubes long ago.
Parenting is Like Gambling?
The gambler puts his money on the table, or in the slot machine, and hopes for a payout. More often than not, they lose. Yet those times that they win entice many of them back to that chair to do it all over again, on the off chance that they might win the next one. This behavior can become such a powerful addiction that the gambler can lose all their money (and sometimes even money that doesn't belong to them) and it can cost them their jobs, friends and family, too.
Is this really like parenting? Sure, a parent does invest a lot into their child, not knowing what the future entails. And there are certainly some hits and misses throughout the experience. But is it really a gamble? Permanent, loving, supportive relationships are being formed through the bond of parents and children. In most cases the relationship between parents and children throughout their lifetimes are equally beneficial on both sides. The parent puts in all they have with unselfish expectations. How is this selfless, often rewarding action comparable to working a slot machine in any real way? If gambling were even close to being as rewarding as my experiences with my children, then I think I'd move to Vegas and live in a casino.
Now How About That Vacuum?
Wow, that must be some vacuum if it creates the same feeling as spending time with a child! I'd like one of those, please. I have a kirby vacuum (supposedly top of the line to hear the salesman tell it), but using that vacuum has not created one memorable moment for me. Let alone one that would be comparable to even the most mudane activity done with one of my children. Should I ask that salesman for my money back?
The study cited in the Slate article suggests that parents aren't really happy because of all the stresses that come with having children. Tell me, is there really anyone in the world, parent or not, who is exempt from stress? I know childless people who would put a big dent in Dr. Kahneman's study, and they're certainly not exceptions to the rule.
Everyone has stress in their lives. Does it make the day a bit bumpier if your child spills their glass of milk when you're in a hurry to get out the door? Sure it does. How about when you pick up your crying little one in the middle of the night and they unload the contents of their stomache all over you. I'd certainly say that's not a happy moment. But I would say, from my own considerable experience, that these stressful moments are less common than the good ones. It isn't a jump to say that equally stressful moments happen that have nothing to do with having children.
My children give me more happiness and inspiration than I'd ever expected to have in life. Watching them learn and grow has taught me more than any other experience I've had. Has that come with more than a few bumps along the way? Yes, it has. But anything worthwhile in life comes with those bumps. I've yet to see an exception to this rule.
Are Parents Really Unhappy?
Happiness is entirely subjective. Anyone can have a bad day, but how you feel about that day depends on what you're telling yourself during those bad times. Parents and non-parents alike have bad times. Perhaps the parents are more honest about them because children easily pick up on it. Perhaps parents are more accustomed to vocalizing their complaints because they have an audience almost 24/7--and the one at home isn't easily fooled or put off when they sense something is off.
Being a parent is an often humbling but extremely rewarding experience. The fact is, you get out of parenting what you put into it. If you're putting positive thoughts and energy towards your children, you'll get that back without question. Is that payoff always immediate? No. But it's always forthcoming, so long as you're not too busy to miss it.
So, my conclusions are much different that the ones made in that article. Yes, parenting has it's challenges. No, that doesn't make parents less happy than anyone else. I don't have my children because of a rush of oxytocin I might occasionally get when they show me affection. I have my children because I enjoy the meaning they give me. I enjoy the learning that inevitably comes with those hard days. And yes, I even enjoy those sloppy kisses they give. But most of all, I love watching them become the adults they're going to be, and I can only pray that I've done it right. Does that make me an addict? I'll leave that for you to decide
Some might say that I've missed the point or spirit of the Slate article. I read it, and yes, I even saw the positives in it (if I hadn't, I wouln't have backlinked to it, or wasted my time writing about a hopeless piece). But I found some of the comparisons in it to be a far, and somewhat offensive stretch.
You can agree, or disagree. That's the beauty of a comment box. I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks. Whether they agree with me or not.
A Link to the Article on Slate
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