Saturday, August 01, 2009

Either-Or Strikes Again

In a report headlined "Is Parenting A Joy Or A Trial?", Science Daily describes an article that appeared in The Psychologist. The article described the results of a study concerning the relative emotional effect of having children. The study found almost no correlation between having children and being happy.

I find two different levels of either-or problem here.

Of course, one level concerns the Science Daily headline: "Is Parenting a Joy or a Trial?" My first answer, both from my experience as a parent and from my GS training: Yes. "Parenting" encompasses a life-time of experience, and to attempt to sum anything like that up into one of two gross categories amounts to gross foolishness, in my view. Most parents can recount a whole panoply of moments, from horrible to fabulous to excruciating to heart-rending to ecstatic, as a result of living with kids. And most non-parents have a similar array of experiences, resulting from different kinds of experiences but similarly emotional.

Of course the study did not reduce their subject to quite to simplistic terms. From the quotes from the researcher, it appears that the study looked at broader, averaging type indicators of "life happiness", and concluded that having children does not necessarily make people happier than those who have not had children.

On the other hand, in a neat bit of "blind sight", the researcher discounts the belief that children make you happy as "focussing illusion"--the idea that you focus on one aspect while overlooking others. Focussing illusions leave us open to disillusionment when "real life" presents those overlooked details in a way we can't avoid. The researcher suggests that we imagine parenthood as wonderful and then become disillusioned by the reality of it.

But it seems to me that some people might very well focus on the negative future possibilities and then become pleasantly surprised by the reality. After all, we know that having kids will cost money and time, but we may no idea how great it can make us feel to see them graduate from college or buy their first house.

As usual, it seems that the either-or approach fails to accurately represent the full spectrum quality of life experience.

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