Parents rationalize the economic cost of children by exaggerating their parental joy
Any parent can tell you that raising a child is emotionally and intellectually draining. Despite their tales of professional sacrifice, financial hardship, and declines in marital satisfaction, many parents continue to insist that their children are an essential source of happiness and fulfillment in their lives. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that parents create rosy pictures of parental joy as a way to justify the huge investment that kids require.
The study found that the more parents were primed to think about the realistic drawbacks of parenting, the the more those parents felt conflicted and bad about parenthood. But when given an opportunity to idealize parenting, they gladly took it - and the negative feelings disappeared. Parents primed with a more balanced view of parenthood were less likely to feel conflicted or negative about parenting and less likely to idealize.
Parents reminded about how bad parenting really is actually predicted they would spend more of their leisure time with their children in an upcoming weekend, versus matched controls primed to have a more balanced view of parenting!
From the press release:
Eibach and Mock put their findings into a historical perspective: In an earlier time, kids actually had economic value; they worked on farms or brought home paychecks, and they didn't cost that much. Not coincidentally, emotional relationships between parents and children were less affectionate back then. As the value of children has diminished, and the costs have escalated, the belief that parenthood is emotionally rewarding has gained currency. In that sense, the myth of parental joy is a modern psychological phenomenon. [Emphasis mine.]