Bringing up a child in the 21st century is so expensive parents have no option but to tell themselves it is all worthwhile.
Most parents say they wouldn’t have it any other way. Children cause them financial hardship, eat up their time and cause untold worry… but mums and dads insist they are worth every penny, wrinkle and grey hair.
But according to scientists, they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Bringing up a child in the 21st century is so expensive parents have no option but to tell themselves it is all worthwhile, they say.
In times gone by, there was no need to idealise parenthood because children would begin working at an early age and provide for their parents.
But today this ‘reward’ is not as likely. So parents have to invent other justifications for the trials of having children, the Canadian researchers say. For their experiment, the psychologists gave three groups of parents passages about the economic cost of parenting to read.
One group was given sheets that focused on the financial layout and included a U.S. government calculation that it costs £120,000, on average, to raise a child.
Others were given the same figure but told that parents are often more financially secure in old age because their children support them.
The remainder read a passage that had nothing to do with costs.
The men and women, who all had at least one child under 18, were then questioned about how much they idealised parenting.
They were asked whether they believed it possible to be truly happy without having children – and whether parents are happier and more satisfied with their lives than childless couples.
Finally, they were asked to rate spending time with their children against meeting friends or their partner and how much time they hoped to spend with their children on their next day off work.
Those who read about the financial hardship idealised parenting the most. They were more likely to say they enjoyed spending time with their children. This group also said that they intended to spend more time with their children on their day off, the journal Psychological Science reports.
A similar experiment using different parents backed up the theory that mothers and fathers idealise parenthood to justify the costs of bringing up a family.
The researchers, from the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, said: ‘The motivation to rationalise the costs of parenting apparently not only increases parents’ idealisation of parenthood, but also leads them to believe that spending time with their children is more rewarding than other activities. This belief then motivates parents to want to spend more time with their children.’
They say the belief is likely to have gained currency as parenthood has become more costly. Put bluntly, today’s children leave home later and have expensive tastes – making it more important for parents to justify their existence.
Cynical as the theory is, it may have its advantages.
Wray Herbert, of the Association for Psychological Science, said: ‘We may be uneasy thinking of our families as dollars and cents but bank accounts don’t lie. If knowing the bottom line makes us want to spend more time on kids instead of, say, TV or golf or work, that sounds like a healthy bargain for all involved.’
However, Siobhan Freegard, of the parenting advice website Netmums, said that if parenthood was as bad as the study suggests, most couples would stop at one child.
Via Daily Mail