You Have Kids. Be Sad.

Here’s the latest in the “children make you less happy” genre. An excerpt:

Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological revolutions of modernity. As we gained in prosperity, childhood came increasingly to be viewed as a protected, privileged time, and once college degrees became essential to getting ahead, children became not only a great expense but subjects to be sculpted, stimulated, instructed, groomed. (The Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer describes this transformation of a child’s value in five ruthless words: “Economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”) Kids, in short, went from being our staffs to being our bosses.

Which strikes me as mostly bunk. American adults nowadays often both raise children and support elderly parents of their own. It’s entirely bloody obvious how children are an economic asset. They’re going to take care of us when we’re old. Maybe having kids won’t make us happy right now — and certainly, raising kids includes a lot of profoundly un-fun work — but if everything works out all right, kids are money in the bank.

How’s that for ruthless?

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7 Responses to You Have Kids. Be Sad.

  1. Jennifer says:

    Still, nursing homes are full of people unhappy because their children never visit. Would those people have been able to upgrade to better old-age places if they’d invested or saved the money they spent raising their children?

  2. James K says:

    A good point Jennifer, a retirement fund doesn’t have a mind of it’s own and that has some benefits.

  3. Johanna says:

    Of course if I am senile and can no longer make adequate decisions, having my child oversee my care still seems the safer option than having strangers making those decisions for me. A retirement fund can be abused either way.

  4. Jason's husband, Scott says:

    I don’t believe I ever thought I’d be happier in the simplistic sense when we had children. I expected my life to become richer and more meaningful, and as our daughter is becoming more communicative, more a complete little person, my life really is becoming better. No, we don’t have quite the resources or freedom we did before, so yes, we have to cut down on the things we used to do for fun. But in exchange, I’ve got one more person whom I adore, and who adores me, living in my house, and just doing normal stuff is much more precious to me now. Also, I’ve reconnected with my extended family in a way I hadn’t previously realized would happen. A reduction in my time and money available for “having fun” (i.e. paying for entertainment) is a fine price to pay for the richness of family.

  5. Johanna says:

    Jason and Scott,
    I don’t know you but when I found you were to be parents, I had a really good feeling about it and was so excited for you. I am so pleased that you are able to experience the priceless joy of raising a child.

  6. James K says:

    This is a good observation Scott, I don’t think happiness is a simple one-dimensional variables and that’s one of the reasons I’m a little suspicious of happiness studies

  7. Jason and Scott,
    I don’t know you but when I found you were to be parents, I had a really good feeling about it and was so excited for you.

    Ditto!

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