How does having kids affect the quality of one’s happiness?

          The question has often been raised: How does having children affect how much happiness there is in a person’s life?

          Now a new twist on kids vs. joy has entered the arena. If kids reduce the quantity of happiness, how do they affect the quality of whatever happiness remains?

          In an opinion piece on CNN.com, Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University, writes about that very question.

Amitai Etzioni, photo CNN.com

          He acknowledges that many fathers feel, “that it interferes with romance and tends to make them feel neglected by their wives.” He even cites a 2004 study among parents that found that among 16 various activities, taking care of kids ranked above only housework, their jobs and commuting in its “enjoyableness.” (Who knew there is such a word?)

          So far, so good. But here is where Etzioni embarks on the road less taken. “The question is not how much happiness children bring or take,” he asserts, “but how good is the happiness?”

          This brings to mind a scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, in which Diane Keaton asks Woody’s character if he’s ever had the wrong kind of orgasm. His response: “My worst one was right on the money.”

          How, we wonder, do the criteria for happiness compare?  Is quantity more important than quality or do we settle for happiness that is merely “right on the money” but greater in quantity than waiting for the “right kind” of happiness? Is occasional, intense happiness “better” than frequent, pretty good happiness?

          Here is what we believe is the crux of Etzioni’s assertion: “We need to return to a precept that social philosophers and religious texts have long extolled: that a good life is not one centered around squeezing as much pleasure out of life as possible. Pleasure of the kind celebrated by those who would rather go out for dinner than stay home with their infants, watch TV than change diapers and gamble than attend a PTA meeting — is Sisyphean. No sooner does one gain this kind of pleasure than one is lacking it again. No wonder it has been called the hedonic treadmill.” What self-congratulatory babble this is.

          Does he really believe that we who are childfree are rushing out to dinner, heading for the nearest casino, or just vegetating in front of the tube? What about those who volunteer to help forlorn animals or the less fortunate, write books and blogs, or get involved in local political, environmental, or ethical causes?

          In fact, we often find that those who have kids are much less aware of the greater community around them.  They seem to be the ones with gas-guzzling SUVs and minivans, whose garbage bins are filled to the brim, and who are clueless about societal issues that don’t relate directly to their kids’ schools.

          He claims that children provide a unique “other” in their parents’ lives.

          The good professor also assumes that kids in and of themselves are a positive. In the years of research we have conducted in preparation for our book, Enough of Us, we have learned what a high-stakes gamble raising children can be. There are considerable risks that the joy parents expect from their kids may be displaced by sadness, disappointment, grief and even despair.

          Its sounds like Mr. Etzioni is merely defending his own fatherhood of five in the face of all the evidence that parents tend to be less happy than the childfree. To his credit he says that while he lost a son (he does not go into details) and has suffered a fair amount of other grief in relation to childrearing, his kids have blessed him with much joy.

          But here’s the kicker. He says he now has “a whole slew of grandchildren.”

          “What fun—and no diapers to be changed.” Evidently Etzioni’s child-based joy doesn’t give a crap (pun intended) about their environmental impact.

            Amitai Etzioni, enjoy your life but please don’t judge the quality, or lack, of happiness in mine.

Is Breeding Kids to Save Others Ethical?

          Thirteen- year-old Jordan Flynn needed a bone marrow transplant.in order to survive. She has a rare disease called Fanconi anemia that destroys bone marrow and raises the risk for cancer.

The 3 girls with Fanconi anemia and their mother
Jordan, Jorga and Julia Flynn with their mom, Doreen – Photo Rock Center.msnbc.msn.com

         Jordan’s mother Doreen was desperate for a solution. She and her husband were unable to find a match for Jordan.  Jordan has two brothers – siblings being the best chance for a match – but neither proved to be a successful candidate to save Jordan. Doreen believes that federal law, which prohibits the buying and selling of body parts stands in the way of the thousands of people who need a variety of transplants. So she is heading a campaign to overturn the law through the court system.

          We have no argument with that either way. The ethical and legal issues are too complex for us to go into here. It’s the rest of Jordan’s and Doreen’s story, however, that generates tremendous ethical issues for us. You may have read about this story in USA Today or seen it on Rock Center on NBC.

          Eight years ago Doreen and her then-husband decided to try in vitro fertilization to create a new sibling- you might say a custom made match – for Jordan. There was a match all right, in the worst possible way. Jordan’s mom gave birth to twin girls, both with Fanconi anemia. After the Flynns divorced, Doreen found herself a single mom with five kids, three of whom had a life-threatening disease.  

         “I was so upset. I blamed myself,” Doreen declared on Rock Center. Amazingly, NBC’s in-house medical journalist Dr. Nancy Snyderman, whom we both respect for her reporting, asked, “Why?”

          “Because it was my fault.”

          “Why?”

          “Because of the way their father and I had them. We chose to bring them into the world. And instead, all I did was bring in two more sick kids.” It seems Doreen Flynn understands the ethical issues better than Snyderman does.

          All three of the Flynn girls have been gravely ill. While the symptoms are not yet severe, the prognoses for survival past the age of 18 are grim.

          The good news is that Jordan received a transplant in May. While only time will determine the outcome, her chances are good. But what about her younger sisters? We can only wish the twins great success in finding donors.

          In our book, Enough of Us, we make the case that every pregnancy is a roll of the dice. There are no unselfish reasons for having kids. (If you can think of an unselfish reason, please let us know). If a kid’s life is a success, the gamble paid off. But if a child suffers, it’s not usually those who conceived him who suffer the most. It’s gambling with someone else’s life.

          This brings us back to the Flynns. Doreen and her husband gambled three times. The first gamble led to Jordan’s predicament. Then, in order to right a difficult situation, they rolled the dice again. Sorry – and the entire Flynn family has our sincerest sympathies – but conceiving children is the most selfish thing that otherwise moral people commonly do.

          What’s your opinion?

Parent-Child Estrangement – A follow-up on responses

          A few weeks ago we posted an article on the disappointment of estrangement between parents and their grown children. We received some interesting responses to that post.

          Before we get to that, we want to relate the story of some dear friends of ours. The dynamics of Carl and Toni’s estrangement from their younger daughter Caroline took many twists and turns.

          She had become unreasonable, irrational and irascible. Carl and Toni could no longer determine whether she was rational, responsible or reasonable. At times they did not even know where she was living. They had, for all intents and purposes, given up on her.

          Long story short, they eventually learned that the mutual estrangement was due to mental illness when they received a call from a mental hospital clear across the country where Caroline was confined and receiving treatment. The diagnosis was that she suffered from schizo-affective disorder with the possibility of bipolar disorder as well. Her dysfunction was typically erratic. And while her parents knew there was something wrong with their daughter, her resistance to seeking help led to Carl’s and Toni’s giving up on Caroline, as she had on them.

          Parent-child estrangement can take many incarnations, not the least of which can be the results of emotional maladies. In Caroline’s case, the relationship between her and her parents is on the mend. Its success will depend upon her continuing treatments and probable lifelong reliance on drug therapy.

          But usually disaffections are not clinically explainable. Take the experience of Sadie Epps, in which the parent estranged herself from her offspring. “My mother and I have been somewhat estranged for several years. We speak and email but we have found that being in the same place to be too difficult. There are many reasons for this, but most of them come down to my mother not approving of my life. My mother abandoned my entire family over the past two years, saying we caused her too much stress. We apparently were a burden to her. Never mind that the four of us have all moved out of the house and have successful lives and careers of our own . . . In December she finally divorced my father, cutting all ties to us. I’m a bit bitter about Mother’s Day. I try not to let it show to friends who want to enjoy the holiday. But I do bite my tongue a lot.”

          In our book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we discuss at length the reasons people have kids and the expectations they have for their offspring, including the nature of their relationships. We point out that frequently those great expectations lead to dashed dreams.

          Carl Jerome writes that he too is bitter about Mother’s Day. In referring to Sadie Epps’s resentments, he says, “Especially when people post inane things on Facebook about how you’ll never know another love like the love for a child.” We think the question is, “How long will that love last when the emotional return on investment wanes?”

          Wilma Dandridge takes a step farther when she writes: “I’m the same about ‘The family always supports you and are there for you,’ and similar claims. I grew up in an abusive (physical and emotionally/mentally) home with my father being the main abuser but also my brother (part of my father’s abuse was to give my brother certain power over me that enabled that abuse).”

          Wilma goes on: “Last year all of my family except my parents severed contact with me. I know that when my parents are gone I will be alone in that regard.”

          Estrangement can go in three basic directions, it seems: upward from child to parent; downward from parent to child, and laterally between siblings. In any case, making children often leaves parents in very disappointing, if not heartbreaking, relationships.

Unfulfilled Dreams: Parent-Child Estrangement

            Most parents dreamily anticipate how meaningful life will be when they become grandparents. They have visions of being proud guests at their offsprings’ weddings and holiday celebrations.  Grandparents who love to host, imagine roasting a succulent turkey for their children and grandchildren for Thanksgiving dinner. And for the winter holidays they imagine their cups will runneth over at joyful family get-togethers.

           In our book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we include a chapter on the problems that children inflict on parents. While kids often bring much joy to their parents and grandparents, there are no guaranties; not nearly. And often the inflicted damage is traumatic.

            For many parents, what they are anticipating is really a move to an ideal land, but one that requires a reality check at the border. There are many parents who will never experience the longed-for fulfillment of that lovely family vision because they have an estranged adult child or children. There are web sites devoted to such a syndrome and a list of books related to the topic of estrangement with titles such as When Parents Hurt by J. Coleman and Family Estrangements: how they begin, how to mend them, how to cope with them by B. Lebey.

            Parents in this predicament are generally bewildered, sad and guilt-ridden. They spend time working to “fix it,” and eventually try to accept their child’s emotional distance. (www.estrangedparentsofadultchildren.com).

            Ellis’s mother experienced such trauma in her relationship with him. Their relationship had been an unloving and bitter one for most of his life. At age 31 he decided that their relationship was too toxic for his own well-bewing. For two years he did not speak to her. It was only when he was getting ready to move from New York City – where his mother also lived – to Los Angeles that he called to say good-bye. Those two years were a difficult time for his mom. (Just a footnote – eventually things turned around and his mother moved to Los Angeles to be near him and Cheryl).

           The worst instances of estrangement are when children cut off their parents without explaining why. “Estranged adult children are individuals who all of a sudden do not respond to email messages, do not return phone calls and stop coming over.” When parents attempt to meet face-to-face, their child refuses to relate to them. Most of these parents thought they had a good relationship with their adult child; hence their bewilderment about being so thoroughly rejected. 

Jon Voight happily reunites with daughter Angelina Jolie after she cut him off for seven years. Photo: YourCelebrityStuff.com.

(www.estrangedparentsofadultchildren.com/Site/Stages.html)

            An article in the April/May issue of AARP The Magazine, examines the problem of children “divorcing” their parents. The article, “The Stranger in Your Family” by Meredith Mara, postulates that apparently there has been a rise in parent-child estrangements, which may be related to a couple of factors.

            According to San Francisco psychologist Joshua Coleman, “The high divorce rate means fewer children see themselves as part of an unbreakable family unit.”  Coleman also blames our culture’s “me-first mentality,” which supports individual fulfillment over tradition or a sense of duty.  

            Mara interviewed Elizabeth Vagnoni, who is estranged from two sons. Vagnoni conducted a survey of estranged parents for her web site, Estranged Stories (www.estrangedstories.com). The survey indicates that almost one out of three parents estranged from their children has considered suicide. Vagnoni points out that when the primal bond between parent and child is broken, “parents feel they’ve failed as a human being.”

            Vagnoni’s survey solicited responses from alienated children as well. Sixty-one percent said they would resume a relationship with their parents only if specific conditions were fulfilled. Sixty percent wanted their parents to apologize, and almost half said they bore “no responsibility” for the estrangement.

            Whether these offspring are wrong or right in their decisions to distance themselves from their parents, the fact remains that children come with no promises. Would-be parents who believe they will be fulfilled at some time when their kids are grown may want to take another look at their own expectations, as well as think twice before making children.

            Kahlil Gibran, author of the classic book The Prophet, expresses it best in this passage from “On Children”:

            And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said,

            Speak to us of Children.

            And he said:

            Your children are not your children.

            They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

            They come through you but not from you,

            And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

             It is important to keep in mind that parents do not own, nor can they control, their adult children – thank goodness. There are no guarantees of happy endings.

 

The Number of U.S. Kidnappings is Telling Us Something

About 800,000 children are reported missing each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). “Missing” can mean several things. In a 2007 Slate Magazine post by Christopher Beam , he informs us that child who runs away from home is counted in the same manner as is a victim of kidnapping. There are several different categories of missing children:  family abduction, non-family abduction, abandoned children, and lost kids. According to 1999 statistics – the latest clearly defined stats, probably because it’s so difficult to discern the nature of many abductions – only about 115 children were victims of stereotypical kidnappings in which children are captured, detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles from home, and held for ransom. The abductor’s intent is either to keep or kill the child. This type of child-snatching is what parents fear most, and it generally makes headlines.
For the purposes of this blog, the relevant detail is that family abductions are by far the most common. According to NCMEC, a mind-blowing 78 percent of all missing children, about 204,000, are abducted by family members, usually a parent. 
The website StopFamilyAbductionsNow.org, lists some interesting facts about family abductions:
• The motive is usually revenge against the other parent, and rarely has anything to do with trying to keep their child safe from that parent who has custody or legal guardianship of the child.
• More than half of abducting parents have a history of violence, drug abuse or a criminal record.
• Children who are abducted by their parent or other relative suffer severe lifelong psychological issues.
Surveys conducted by the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART) indicate that more than a quarter of abductions by family members were reported to authorities in order to obtain assistance in recovering the child. Almost half were under age six when abducted. The surveys indicated that threats, weapons or physical force against the child were uncommon in family abductions. Nevertheless, these kidnappings still involve the trauma of intent to prevent the children from contacting their custodial parents.

Members of Take Root hold their own missing child posters at a Take Root event in 2011 Photo: Take Root

According to Take Root, a national non-profit organization founded by former abducted children, when a child is taken by a fugitive parent, and hidden from loved ones as well as from the justice system,  there are devastating impacts to their development. The following stories, taken from postings on Take Root, provide a sense of the trauma brought about by family abductions, and the fallout for the unfortunate victims.
Nicky, now in his thirties, was abducted from his home in Buenos Aires at age 6. At that time, he suffered from an illness that had to be monitored by doctors in the United States. Nicky’s mother, an American, accompanied him to the U.S. for his care. One day she told her son that his father and grandparents had been killed in a car accident in Buenos Aires, She was firm in her decision that she and her son would not return to Argentina. Nicky’s father, Mr. Gardino, who was very much alive, tried to find his son, without success. But a friend  promised to find Nicky if Gardino would pay for several trips to America. It turned out that this “friend” was enjoying his time in the United States quite a bit, as he was having an affair with Gardino’s wife.  Eventually, Nicky’s mother told her son that his father and grandparents were still alive, but that they were mean and unaccepting people. At this point, Nicky reported “dozens” of moves, along with name and identity changes. Just before entering college, Nicky took the risk of reconnecting with his father. He was welcomed back into the family, embraced by his stepmother and his half-sister whom he never knew existed. Nicky’s mother was never apprehended for kidnapping her son.
Elle had a controlling father who packed up his three children and took them to Mexico. He changed their names and forged documents. They moved constantly, and Elle remembers countless times when they slept in their car. Her father told them that their mother was trying to kill them, so they couldn’t go back to the United States. Elle’s father was an abuser who befriended criminals. Elle grew up in this culture. At age eight, she became suicidal. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, she had little acquaintance with social skills. She and her two brothers fought bitterly with each other. Eventually, Elle’s father brought them back to the States, where their mother found them in one of the many shabby homes in which they resided.  Elle says that if it weren’t for her mother and some wonderful people she met along the way, she would have killed herself. Her father was never apprehended for his crime against his children.
In another scenario, an emotionally ill woman and her husband produced five children. The woman, who suffered from a bipolar disorder and was a substance abuser, eventually abducted the youngest child. It makes a reasonable person wonder: Why do so many people conspire to produce kids – especially addtional children – when they know  their partner is incapable of parenting in a way that keeps children safe? 
Considering the number of abductions each year in America, shouldn’t everyone think twice before making children?

 

Do College Protesters Have Legitimate Complaints?

Across America college students are complaining about rising tuition at public institutions of higher learning. This leads us to a pivotal question: How much are those who aspire to advanced education entitled to?

Student protest
Student protest at U.C. Berkeley –                  Photo: Elizabeth Popham for Politics Daily

We invite our readers’ comments. We would love to see open dialog about this timely and important issue in our blog. There is, of course, no right or wrong answer to that question. Each person’s opinion depends, of course, on individual sets of values and beliefs. In our book, Enough of Us, we raise our own concerns about the inequities of a system that charges higher income taxes on those who choose to have fewer kids, or none at all.
Every child in America is entitled to a free 13 year scholarship. And while they are receiving their K-12 education, their parents are getting tax deductions. Why should that be? No one forced them to have kids. It was a choice.
After high school, lots of young women and men get low-cost educations at junior and senior colleges. But exactly what should these students be entitled to? Why isn’t it their parents who should be footing the bill? After all, we’re talking about their kids.
Of course, many kids are the progeny of poor homes, incompetent parents, and parents who abandoned them, are in prison, or died. We certainly make no case for leaving the unfortunate out in the cold. But what about the rest? How many middle class families live with an expectation of entitlement?
Here are some questions that might focus the discussion a little:
• Did the parents stash away enough money in anticipation of the cost of college?
• Did the parents spend a lot on a mortgage for an expensive home, which cut into the amount they were saving? Were they upgrading their kitchen when they might have been increasing their nest egg?
• How many expensive vacations did they take?
• How many computers, family cellular service bundles, and other tech devices did they spend money on?
• How many TVs were there, and were they attached to cable services. Did the cable packages include premium services like HBO, Showtime and the like? (In today’s dollars, HBO alone costs more than $3,000 over an 18-year span.)
• Did the kids get cars – and insurance – from their parents?
• Did they shop at Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s when they could have been buying at Target and Costco?
• Were the kids raised with a boat, RV, or other recreational vehicle in the family?
Here is our point. When a family indulges itself in other than the necessities of life, only to find there is not enough left to finance their kids’ educations, why is it the government’s (read “taxpayers’”) responsibility to make up the difference?
The average 4-year college graduate owes $26,000 in student loans. That’s $6,500 per year. So? We understand that in times like these, when the government let us down and looked the other way while corporate America gave us – and is still giving us – a royal screwing, it is not a good time for students to pay debts.
Repayment on those debts should be delayed without interest while the federal government pays the interest (or requires the private lenders to hold the debt without interest). After all, it was the government’s lack of oversight that got the world into this mess.
But when times are better, the families that borrowed the money should pay it back. As for those who could not afford college and who did not squander their incomes for eighteen years per child, they deserve help. It’s not the kids’ faults that parents who could not afford them had them.
These are our points. We’re sure you have opinions of your own. We’d love to hear them and we’d love to open a dialog between the folks who read our blog.
One last point. To us, Thanksgiving is the gold standard of American holidays. It’s about gratitude, period. Except for groceries, it’s not about buying stuff. Holiday materialism doesn’t start until a second after Thanksgiving. We both give thanks every year for the bounty in our lives. Unfortunately there are now millions of homeless kids in America. It’s not fair. Our hearts go out to them and we wish them all good fortune. Whatever the status of those striving for higher education, and those participating in Occupy _______ (fill in the blank), we all have much to be thankful for, not the least of which are the freedoms to assemble and to speak out for what we believe in.

My Child Went To Prison

“This happens to other people, not to me,” said a mother we recently interviewed, whose twenty-21-year-old son is in prison.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2009, both males and females between the ages of 25 and 34 who were arrested for a variety of non-traffic offenses, numbered about three million. While only a fraction of all arrestees received jail or prison sentences, it’s clear that a great many parents have suffered during the imprisonment of their offspring. More than one percent of all American adults are incarcerated. And three times that number are either in jail or prison, on probation or on parole – more than seven million, all told. The largest number of these, proportionately, is in the 25-34 age bracket.
The impact on a parent whose child is in the slammer is devastating. Two mothers we interviewed individually used the word “shock” when they recalled first learning that their child had engaged in behaviors that would lead to an arrest, with long-term incarceration likely.
The questions we posed to both of these parents were:
• When you found out your child would go to prison, what were your thoughts and feelings?
• How did you deal with your child’s incarceration for its duration?
• Did you blame yourself? If yes, why? If not, why not?
• How have you come to a measure of peace and acceptance about this event?
• If you had a crystal ball to look into your child’s future before you ever got pregnant, would this situation have dissuaded you from having children?
In each case, the parents did blame themselves. The first mom blamed herself for some unknown failing, and constantly struggled with shame.  Our second mother joined Alcoholics Anonymous as a consequence of blaming her own drinking for her son’s difficulties. “I began to understand my part in his problems.” This gave her “something to work on,” which offered strength and the “courage to deal with the road ahead.”
It is extremely difficult for a parent to come to any measure of peace and acceptance when a child goes to prison. Our first interviewee said that even with the passing of time, and although her child is no longer in prison and is living a successful life, it’s still gut wrenching to think about or discuss this topic.
Interviewee number two said she had come to a measure of peace and acceptance. “More young people than ever are in this situation, and I don’t feel parentally as alone,” she explained. Also, she evaluated her child’s situation philosophically by considering that he developed both mental and emotional skills that he might have been unable to “hone in freedom.”
This mother also said that if she could have seen into the future about her child’s imprisonment, she would not have had children, whereas the first parent said that foreseeing this painful event would not have stopped her from bearing her offspring. Both parents stated that “good and bad” came out of this situation.  “There were many lessons here about things and people we don’t have control over; how difficulty can be transformative,” and how  humans beings can live through things we never thought we could.
In a March 29, 2010 Parentdish.com online article by Jessica Barksdale Inclan, she divulges that her 23-year-old son had been arrested at an anti-war rally and charged with nine felonies, one of which was carrying a concealed weapon. Alex had been arrested before for political protest, so his mother wasn’t completely shocked by the second arrest.
Jessica understood that society needs people who can shake things up. In fact, a parent in Jessica’s wider circle commented that Alex was so brave to “put himself out there.” But, the question on Jessica’s mind was whether her son was protesting “war on foreign soil, or waging a war on some internal demon?” Clearly this mother was in pain and struggling, even though her son had not committed a horrible crime, but an act that some perceived as courageous.
The authorities dropped the charges against Alex. The “concealed weapon” turned out to be a toy slingshot. But Jessica still had questions: “Mothers love their children even if they can’t be proud of them. But how far can that love stretch? What would it take for me to look at my son and back away slowly, leaving him to his own life?”
Her conclusion: “That’s a question I don’t want to answer.”
Our conclusion: With three million young people arrested for crimes such as robbery, murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, motor vehicle theft, forgery, embezzlement, rape, arson, drug issues and driving under the influence, would-be parents might want to think twice before making children.

Hold on, Parents of Rotten Kids: It may not be Your Fault – at Least not on Purpose

For those very few of you who do not subscribe to Translational Psychiatry, you may have missed an interesting recent article. It’s entitled “Differential susceptibility in youth: evidence that 5-HTTLPR x positive parenting is associated with positive affect ‘for better and worse.’”
This is what it’s all about: 5-HTTLPR is a gene. According to a combination of three studies involving 1,874 kids ages nine to 15, the way they respond to poor parenting is likely associated with what we will refer to as “The Gene.” The combined study sought to determine why it is that some kids who come from parents who are toxic, mean, or neglectful do just fine, while others become lousy SOBs, attracting neither affection nor respect.

Photo courtesy SodaHead: OPINIONS… EVERYBODY’S GOT ONE.™

Or, as the dilemma is posited in the study:
“This traditional vulnerability perspective highlights that certain individuals, frequently for genetic reasons, are more vulnerable to psychopathology and poor outcomes compared with  others, and this risk is exerted only in response to the negative effects of environmental influences. In contrast, the DSH (differential susceptibility hypothesis) proposes that some individuals, often for genetic reasons, are more responsive to environmental experiences in a ‘for better and worse’ fashion. These genetically susceptible individuals are expected to exhibit poor functioning and psychopathology under adverse environmental conditions (for example, negative events), but also to flourish and benefit from the positive environmental conditions (for example, supportive parenting).” Veritable poetry.
All of this means that certain kids are more susceptible to the shortcomings or strengths of their moms’ and dads’ parenting abilities than others. The Gene affects the chemical serotonin, which affects moods. It comes in three variants and one-fifth of children are born with a variant that makes them highly susceptible to the impacts of neglectful, abusive or insensitive parents.
This study also examined whether kids with that allele, or gene variant, might be highly sensitive to the effects of good parenting, advancing them into adulthoods that are well-adjusted.
How the researchers determined what good parenting is, whether the respective parents fit into the categories, and how well-adjusted the kids were, depended on three types of evaluation. The first study assessed the quality of parenting using a widely accepted questionnaire on how they parent, while the kids’ behaviors were measured by another widely accepted tool.
The second study evaluated the quality of parenting based on laboratory observations of parent-child interactions. Trained observers coded the observed interactions.
The third study used self-reporting, which included reports from both the children and the parents. What the researchers found was that with warm and supportive parents, the kids with The Gene were just as likely to develop into happy and well-adjusted people as the those kids who had lousy parents were to go the other way.
Let’s put this another way. Most kids have a variation of the gene that makes them relatively impervious to the quality of parenting they get. But the 20 percent who have the “homozygous short allele” of The Gene are far more sensitive to the quality of their parenting.
If you would like to go into more technical detail about this study, we refer you to http://www.nature.com/tp/journal/v1/n10/full/tp201144a.html.
The nature versus nurture debate has raged on for many generations. This study has brought it into better focus. The crap shoot of genetics is affected by the impact of how we nurture, and vice versa. How nurture or environment impacts the early stages of life depends substantially, it seems, on the random genetic makeup we inherit.
This study, of course, is only a small sample of these mutually affecting influences. And it should give would-be, and even current, parents food for thought about how there is only so much you can do as a parent that will determine the type of child you will raise.
We deal with this topic in the first chapter of Enough of Us. And it should make us think twice about what to expect before making children.

When it Comes to Parenting, What’s the Difference Between Joy and Fun? (Part 2)

Where were we? Oh yes, continuing from last week’s discussion of why, on average, parents seem less happy than the childfree in modern America, part of the answer seems to be choice. The abundance of choices as to whether or not to have kids, how many, when – and if one (or two) wants to adopt – seem to writer Jennifer Senior, reasons for unhappiness among the child-burdened.
“While children deepen your emotional life, they shrink your outer world to the size of a teacup, at least for a while (‘All joy and no fun,’ as an old friend with two young kids likes to say.)” Senior refers to a collection of essays in which the writers debate whether to procreate. Those who chose childfree existence mentioned that it enabled them to travel, to take physical risks, and for one novelist, it enabled her to inhabit her characters without the hazard of being pulled out of her mindset by the demands of her real life.
Allow us to interject personal observations here concerning the child-associated deepening of emotional life. We are both animal lovers. Correction; animal L-O-V-E-R-S.  Between the two of us, we have had a wide assortment of domesticated creatures in our pre- and post-marital abodes. And we L-O-V-E-D them all deeply. In May we had to have our beloved greyhound Ginsberg euthanized. This, just five months after his right front leg was amputated. The latter brought us much grief. But he rebounded and after a couple of months he was back to his old running-just-for-the-joy-of-it behaviors. Except for the days he was recuperating, he brought us joy and fun every single day he was in our lives. When he left our lives (by “our” we mean the two of us and our 15-year-old mutt), we grieved. We are still grieving. No previous pet affected us the way he did. He was such a pure soul; a naïve personality who depended on us. But after his passing, we realized how dependent we had been on him – how he expanded our lives and how he deepened them. Our point is that there are other ways to deepen each of our lives and make them richer without taking on the responsibilities, burdens and risks of creating children. While you may not like dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, parakeets or any other animals, surely there are alternatives to kids. Otherwise, wouldn’t those who want kids but are unable to have them — and who don’t care for pets —  be the shallowest people of all? Somehow, however, members this group are as likely as any others to find meaningful ways to deepen and expand meaningful lives.
While mothers often feel that kids take up too much of their time, dads often feel they don’t spend enough time with them. According to studies by the Families and Work Institute, “It’s the men, by a long shot, who have more work-life conflict than women,” according to its president Ellen Gallinsky.
The hazards don’t end there. Children adversely affect the relationship between parents. Thomas Bradbury is a UCLA psychology professor with two kids. “Being in a good relationship is a risk factor for becoming a parent,” he says. One study that examined disagreements among 100 married couples found that 40 percent of them were about their respective children. That percentage did not include conflicts that were precipitated because the parents were already at wit’s end.
According to Senior, one man in the study put it this way: “I already felt neglected . . . And once we had the kid, it became so pronounced; it went from zero to negative 50. And I was like, I can deal with zero. But not negative 50.”
Senior’s article touches upon the fact that dissatisfaction grew with the greater wealth of the parents, that it dipped when the kids were between ages six and 12, and that its ugly head reared again during the kids’ teen years. “But one of the most sobering declines documented in Changing Rhythms of American Family Life is the amount of time married parents spend alone together each week: Nine hours today versus twelve in 1975.” What’s more, one UCLA study of 32 families found that spouses spent less than 10 percent of their time at home alone together (we assume this number does not include time sleeping).
There is frequently a disconnect between loving your kids and loving the act of parenting. As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “When you pause to think about what the children mean to you, of course they make you feel good,” he says. “The problem is, 95 percent of the time you’re not thinking about what they mean to you.” And we would even dispute the notion that when parents think about their kids they “of course” feel good about them.
Personally, we have lost count of the number of friends and acquaintances who have told us that when they think about their kids they are overwhelmed with anxiety, depression, anger and fear . . . and sleeplessness. “Thinking” is the operative word here. All of the above are reasons enough to think twice before making children.

When it Comes to Parenting, What’s the Difference Between Joy and Fun? (Part 1)

In our August 10th essay we quoted from an article in New York magazine written by Jennifer Senior. In referring to the transmutation of children’s role from worker/helper to emotional centerpiece over the last century, she wrote, “Kids, in short, went from being our staffs to being our bosses.” We decided to revisit that article, which appeared in the New York July 4, 2010 edition.

Photo: cute-babypictures.com

The article started with a description of Jennifer coming home from work into the enthusiastic outstretched arms of her 2 ½-year-old son. It was bliss. But once she settled in, so did the kid’s “terrible twos.” She describes the boy’s persistent tantrums in agonizing prose that ends with his time-out in his crib. “As I shuffled back to the living room, I thought of something a friend once said about the Children’s Museum of Manhattan—’a nice place, but what it really needs is a bar’ —and rued how, at that moment, the same thing could be said of my apartment. Two hundred and 40 seconds earlier, I’d been in a state of pair-bonded bliss; now I was guided by nerves, trawling the cabinets for alcohol.”
A wide variety of research indicates that parents are not happier than nonparents. The New York article cites a 2004 study in Texas that surveyed over 900 working women. Of 19 categories of pleasurability, child care ranked 16th behind such mundane activities as food preparation, housework and even napping. Mothers, according to some researchers are generally less happy than fathers and single parents are even unhappier; not a good indicator for America, where almost half of all births among under-30 parents are to unmarried women.
A compilation of family data by a group of sociologists, “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life,” indicates that contemporary married moms have less leisure time than did their 1975 counterparts, by 5.4 hours per week. Seventy-one percent say they would like more time for themselves, as do 57 percent of married dads. Even so, the report shows that 85 percent of parents still think they don’t spend enough time with their kids.
A huge source of pain for many parents, especially mothers, is that there are so many chores – years and years of never-ending chores.
There was a time when having kids was an automatic. If you got married, you immediately assumed the horizontal position until you struck gold, and thereby legitimized your existence. And oh, the embarrassment of not being able to bring forth issue. But now we have choices. The sexual revolution, with the catalyst of passive contraception in the form of the pill and intrauterine devices, suddenly gave lovers a spectrum of choices. And this, speculate two psychologists, may be why many parents are less happy. By becoming parents, they have precluded exercising many of the choices available to the childfree. By having kids, they have become have-nots when it comes to alternative options. In 2003, W. Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge conducted a study going back to the 1970s. They found that parents’ dissatisfaction increased from generation to generation and, surprisingly, that dissatisfaction increased with the respective generations’ wealth.
As fellow psychologist Daniel Gilbert, of Harvard, put it after he had a child, “They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.” For those who choose the childfree option, such liabilities are moot.
Chapter 8 of our upcoming book, Enough of Us, deals with such potential impacts on parents. We will continue this discussion next week. This is a good place to pause because it gives the reader some time to consider the issue of whether the joy of parenting might be paid for by a paucity of fun.