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Are Parents Really Just Addicts? Views on Parenting from the Slate Article

Updated on May 28, 2011

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

The Point

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.

Tell Me Your thoughts on This Issue

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    • evvy_09 profile image


      8 years ago from Athens, AL

      I read the article and I can see the point trying to be made. I don't have children (not for lack of trying) and not sure if I can. Never bothered me until I spent time with my nephew. He's the kind of kid that can make anyone want one. And I see my friends with their children and they seem more content and satisfied than they ever were before.

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from United States

      Thank you all for your comments. I love to hear about others who feel the same way as I do about parenthood!

    • onegoodwoman profile image


      8 years ago from A small southern town

      Who is this person,

      that I should defend or justify

      my 'parenthood' to?

      It simply need not be done.

    • breathe2travel profile image


      8 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

      I'm addicted to my kids! When I'm gone from them for too long, I'm ready to see them again. ;)

      But, I don't have kids as a russian-roulette attempt at fleeting moments of "happiness"...

      I have five children... Many,many people often offer the comment, "Boy, you've got your hands full." My reply, "Yes, but my heart is fuller - overflowing."

      I believe I understand the point of your hub,and I agree with you. I wonder, "Does the author of the linked article have children?" I did not read it.

      I am sad for the parents and the children of said parents who do not enjoy parenthood & the privilege of raising children. Yes, I am challenged daily, but when I put my best foot forward to serve my family, those days are more rewarding than when I was running high in a career circle...

      keep writing.

      Warmest regards~

      BTW - voted up, voted useful. :)

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from United States

      Being a writer myself, I know what he was attempting. He was looking for attention and he got it. I'm not saying his article had no merit. I'm saying that his comparisons and what he based it on is flawed.

      Because I choose to respond, doesn't mean that he's on to anything. I'm always looking for something to write about, and he got me thinking. A good thing. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how wrong he was.

      I read all of what he had to say. I don't put my name on anything without being well-informed about it. Parents, in my experience of not only being one, but also knowing a great many, are not any less happy than someone who is not a parent. I would say they're just more vocal in their complaints because there are those who think being a parent isn't a real job. Which anyone with common sense knows it is. But that's another topic.

      I find fault with the comparisons and the study. For every study out there saying one thing, there is another that will say something entirely different. It all depends on how the study is run.

      You can look through all the skeletons in my closet and you'll find that I'm actually a much happier person now, as a parent, than I ever was without children. Is that the same for everyone? I'm sure it's not. But I also know it's not uncommon.

      There are just as many happy parents as non-parents.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I think that you missed the point. The author is attempting to reconcile two phenomena: on the one hand, research shows that parents are less happy than non-parents. Of course happiness is subjective, which is why these studies rely on self-reporting. On the other hand, parents, like yourself, are offended by this willingly tell anyone who asks about how great parenting is. You might say: ok, the research is flawed; maybe it is, but you are in no position to make that judgement, I doubt you've read it, and mostly likely you're simply offended at the very notion which in your mind does not reflect how you feel, so you write an article in response to express your outrage. the funny thing is, this is exactly the paradox that the author is trying to reconcile. I can only assume that it is an honest attempt, and the author is the first to admit that his explanation might be wrong. In a weird way, your response makes me think that the guy might be on to something.

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from United States

      Good to know someone sees it like I do. Thanks for your comments MamaX5.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I agree with your rebuttal to the Slate article. You're not saying that parenthood is always easy, you're taking issue with his analogies. Parenthood can be frustrating and hard at times. But people don't take it on for a high - the comparison is weak.

      Addicts are intensely self-centered and will make choices solely based on when they can get their next score. Their sense of personal and moral responsibility towards themselves and others is diminished due to their addiction. Parents, on the other hand, more often than not give up their own personal desires, and even basic needs (ie, sleep), for the welfare of their child - whether they get that wet, sloppy kiss or not.

      Most people have a basic desire to love and nurture. Many of the childless couples I know have pets that they love and adore, and that innate nurturing tendency is directed that way. In fact, in many cases, the more you serve someone or something, the more you love them, oftentimes with no expectation of reward.

      Basically, the Slate article uses a trite, superficial, and offensive analogy to make a weak argument. Parenting is anything but self-centered.

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from United States

      Boy do I know what you mean there! Thanks for your honest input :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Okay, I went and read the other article. I can see what they are saying, but I also don't think the comparison is the same. It's like comparing Apples to Oranges.

      I think that anything in life, including parenting, can be different for people depending on attitudes. I can think "life with kids is going to be hard and suck until I get a hug from them." Or I can think "Where can I find the good moments during the bad moments."

      Attitude is what makes us happy or not. Not whether we have kids or not. Not whether Timmy spilt his milk all over the floor.

      In fact, my 1 year old spilled half a gallon of milk all over the table once. I just sighed, picked it up and helped clean up the mess. You can laugh or cry about situations. I choose to laugh if I can.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I didn't read the article you are talking about, but regardless of that, I think you are right on with how it is to be a parent. I love my kids more than anything, but sometimes they drive me crazy. But then so does my husband, and so does the dog. There is good and bad in everything.

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from United States

      No, I don't think I did miss the point. I wrote this because I had a problem with the comparisons that were made in the article. Some of those comparisons were ridiculous and even offensive.

      Are parents junkies? Do we only have children because of our addiction to an occasional rush of oxytocin? I don't think that's it at all. There's a lot more to it than that, and if you didn't see that, then I guess you missed the point of my article.

      Thanks for your stopping by anyway :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      You totally missed the point of the article you responded to. Way to go.


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