Nov 17, 2010

Parenting as Addiction

Okay, so this is a blog quoting a blog quoting another blog, but I don't want to make it look like I found this item all by myself. This is a new post at Freakonomics that I like.

It's a theory that says parents continue procreating even though parenting is hard/miserable/stressful/etc, because they are addicted to the rush they get when their children do something lovely.

I love the economists.
I read stuff like this and my reactions are: recognition, partial agreement, amusement, and exasperation (bloody economists! Have to boil everything down to incentives!).

But it is a funny and clever take on parenthood from a behavioural economics-style perspective.
(Though the original article they quote is by a journalist, not an economist, and is a wonderful read)

I think it's partially true but I do think that the "addiction" to the joyful moments is actually a side-issue, tangentially related to why we "continue to procreate". Isn't the real reason just that it is such a strong biological imperative? This is enough of a reason because it is the basis of all life. All life wants to exist and then pass itself on, that's pretty much what life boils down to in its essentials. No one has to explain or defend procreating, to my mind, when it's such a basic, compelling biological urge - we often feel we more or less have no say in it. 
[Which is not to say everyone has to do it, or life is nothing without it. Not at all.  I don't think anyone needs to explain or defend either state - having children or not having them - both are completely natural states].
The "addiction" factor probably kicked in somewhere along the way as an adaptation that helped the process, but I don't think it is the reason.
It probably is the reason we don't always give into despair and depression at the daily grind, because we do remind ourselves about these "rewards" to balance the hard bits.

But anyway have a read, because it's good. Here's a sampler:

 “The unexpected, kind, and loving things that children do produce chemical surges in their parents’ brains like the rush of the pipe or the needle. Like addicts, parents will sacrifice anything for the glimpses of heaven that their offspring periodically provide.”
-  Shankar Vedantam at Slate, quoted at freakonomics

I like the "periodically" !


  1. Hmmm. We only have the one child and she was a surprise. Glimpses of heaven are thankfully frequent and the mother tiger instinct has shown to be alive and well inside of me.

    However we never felt the need to try for another. Sapphire was a bonus (I had a brain tumour and was told that I'd be unable to have children - yep, there's a paper written about me in the Endocrinology department of Royal Melb. somewhere). She has enriched my life so much but I was reluctant to consider having another one.

    The 'unexpected, kind and loving things' are shown every day and when she hurts I hurt and I often joke that we hit perfection the first time around and didn't want to risk tempting fate with a second.

    Interesting article though - but I wonder if the author would follow up on people who don't have children? In my group of friends/peers, it's a 50-50 balance.

  2. Wow after all that Kath, you and Sapphire must be very close. I understand the reluctance to try for another. Our girls were IVF "miracles" and I feel so incredibly lucky to have them I was the same. I sort of felt it was like being ungrateful or thumbing our nose at nature to try and have more because we weren't "meant" to have these ones, and who knows maybe the universe would punish us with something awful... Amazing how superstitious pregnancy and parenthood can make you! But you're right too there's not much commentary anywhere looking at people with and without kids. It's all sort of either or.



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