“Joy” of parenthood masks cost downside

Parents justify the cost of having children by exaggerating the joys of parenthood, according to a study at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Dividing 80 parents into two groups, researchers gave one group information explaining the $185,000 cost of raising a child to 18 while the other group was asked to read about the long-term benefits of parenthood – including support kids can offer aging parents in later years.

When the parents were interviewed later, those who had been reading about the cost of raising a child were more likely to focus on the happiness their children bring into their lives, saying they enjoy being with them. Despite an awareness of the costs, the parents diverted their focus to more positive things.

“Although raising children has largely negative effects on parents’ emotional well-being, parenthood is often idealised as a uniquely emotionally rewarding role,” the study says.

The idealisation is a form of psychological defence parents use to cope with the downsides, the researchers say.

The testing measured their idealization of parenthood while also looking at their discomfort and uneasiness during the course of the reading and interview questions.

The researchers comment in their report that this technique is a modern phenomenon because, in the past, children would traditionally grow up and contribute to the household income, but in modern times the contributions have become lower while the costs have increased, leading parents to find emotional justifications.

The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

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