Some theorists challenge Powdthavee’s view that we have children to ensure happiness. A specialist in child psychology and author of the article ‘Think parenting is about happiness?’, Ruth Derdikman-Eiron argues that although people often predict that children will make them happier, this is not the reason why people become parents. She maintains that,
“When a person announces he is going to become a parent, he will very seldom be questioned ‘Why?’ But if a person reveals her decision not to have children, she will probably be seriously questioned. This is because having children is our default.” (1)
Having children is thus our standard option as human beings. Derdikman-Eiron further adds that we reproduced before we were capable of ‘rational thought’ and we will continue until we stop living. The argument is that, although factors such as economic burdens may postpone parenthood, people rarely decide not to have children at all. If we are biologically wired to have children, why, according to research does parenthood make people unhappy?
Derdikman-Eiron believes that research showing that parents are unhappy, or at least not happier than childless couples, could be explained by ‘cognitive dissonance’, a phenomenon “when people feel an unpleasant tension when their behaviour contradicts their beliefs or when one set of beliefs contradicts another” (2). In this scenario, people tend to unconsciously alter their views to fit in with their behaviour. She however emphasises that those who defy social norms (in this case, childless couples), have a tendency to strive harder in persuading others and themselves that their choices are logical and legitimate. As a result, when asked whether being childless makes people happier, those that belong to this group may exaggerate the levels of their happiness and well-being.
Derdikman-Eiron further believes that when considering the relationship between parenthood and well-being, one should avoid putting emphasis on the small often occurring difficulties. This is because it crowds our perceptions of the entire parenting experience.
“Reducing parenthood to exhausting and boring routines with few highlights is like reducing love to endless care and comprising with some moments of joy and orgasms; by doing so you miss its very essence” (3).
Perhaps rather than ask parents whether they are happy, researchers should be more concerned with people’s perceptions of the benefits of having children. Also perhaps rather than be concerned with whether parenthood makes people unhappy, researchers should be considering ways of making parenthood less stressful.
(1). Derdikman-Eiron, R. (2009). Think parenting is about happiness? The Psychologist, 22, 370-371. Pp 370
(2). Derdikman-Eiron, R. (2009).
(3). Derdikman-Eiron, R. (2009).