It seems that ‘having children’ is getting a lot of bad press. Decades of data now describes the way that your children decimate your income and diminish your happiness.
The topic has hit the headlines again in recent times. This article in the Sydney Morning Herald shows a new report indicating that raising two children in middle-class Australia costs over $800 000! That’s more than $44 000 a year in after-tax dollars.
And this article reports on a study that emphasises a decades old research finding: that having children reduces your happiness.
Since the 1970’s researchers have been pointing out that our happiness levels drop once kids arrive, and they continue to spiral downwards until our teens begin to leave the nest. Only then do we regain some of the happiness we had before the little cherubs came along.
Are kids a bad investment?
I recently appeared on the Morning Show and was asked whether having children is a bad investment. My response:
As a father of five children I must make a lousy investor! I think I might need a second, and third, and possibly fourth job! Or perhaps I’ll do what most people do and pass up the private schools, the overseas holidays, and the lavish indulgences for a couple of decades. I’m ok with that… no really, I am.
The choice to have a child cannot be reduced to a financial decision – at least not for me, and probably for you too.
Every parent knows that the feeling of staring at their newborn baby in her crib as she sleeps, stirs, wakes, and watches the world around her is an experience that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.
Every parent knows that the exhilaration that comes from seeing their child succeed and overcome an obstacle through sheer determination gives a priceless feeling of satisfaction and gratitude.
Every parent knows that the joy they experience when they see their kids developing into amazing people, absorbed in life, and engrossed in doing, is a joy that money can’t buy.
And every parent knows that in spite of the stress, the sleepless nights, the vomit, the tantrums, the tears (their own and their kids’), the financial cost, and the emotional pains, that they would pay ANY price to help their kids stay safe, healthy, and happy throughout their life. Parents of children with special needs will vouch for that – their investment is greater, their pain more searing, and the costs are deeper… yet counter-intuitively, their joy, growth, and hard-earned wisdom are more elevating than anything most of us will ever experience.
It’s not about the money.
It never was and it never will be.
Sure, having kids costs us a lot of cash (and everything else). So be it. I’ll spend it all and more to raise my family and give them the best opportunities I know of at living a meaningful, productive, and positive life.
And as for the research that says that kids don’t make you happy… well, as a happiness researcher I’ll let you in on a secret. Researchers define happiness as the absence of negative emotion and the presence of positive emotion.
Anyone with kids knows that we have bucketloads of challenges to deal with which reduces the positive emotion and increases the negatives.
But happiness researchers don’t ask about meaningfulness. And they don’t ask us to comment on contentedness, or peacefulness, or elevation, or any of those moments that leave us feeling deep joy that ‘happiness’ doesn’t even begin to encapsulate.
Results take time to measure
In life, it seems that when we look back at hard times – those times that stretched us and stressed us – we often perceive them with gratitude and joy, in spite of the pain we experienced as we went through them. Raising children is like that. It’s hard while it happens, but on reflection we feel incredible satisfaction as we watch our kids becoming independent, achieving things we never thought possible, and creating strong, meaningful relationships with others.
Is having children a bad investment?
Only if you think that having children is an investment in anything other than them.