Monday, November 16, 2009

Advice I Got

The recent post on "Kidlessness" elicted quite a few comments, some of which reminded me of a bit of comforting advice I got from another FSP years ago when I was sort of freaking out about the impending birth of my daughter.

I had absolutely no interest in babies; I thought they were ugly and I had no idea how to take care of one. I had had some traumatic experiences helping out (not by choice) at a local preschool when I was a teenager. I confided my fears to this colleague, who had two kids.

My colleague said "All babies are scary and gross. Except your own." She said she was profoundly uninterested in babies etc., but she loved hers intensely and was fascinated by them from the start. This was immensely comforting.

And prophetic. I couldn't believe it when I saw my daughter for the first time. She was beautiful. How lucky I was to have one of the only cute and fascinating babies on the planet. A few years later, looking at her baby pictures, I realized that she was as hideous as every other baby. Yes I know, some people think babies are cute -- I encountered quite a few of these people and was both grateful for them and alarmed by them -- but I have never thought this about babies, except for one particular one, more than 10 years ago.

I think the biochemical effect that makes us think our own babies are cute and interesting is probably quite useful in general for the continuation of the species.

All this is to say that you don't have to think all babies are cute and wonderful to have a very happy experience with one of your own.

I turned out not to be quite as extreme as my FSP friend. Once my daughter was born, I didn't think all other babies/kids were weird and gross. At whatever age my daughter has been, the other kids her age have been kind of interesting to me. It's fascinating to watch them growing and learning new things. A different, older FSP once told me that every age (of her daughter) has been her favorite. That has definitely been true for me as well.

When I had anxieties about parenthood, it was important for me to be able to talk to these other FSPs. I had been reluctant to talk about my worries with most other people, except a few of my closest friends (who mostly expressed shock that I was going to be a mother; this was not entirely helpful). I worried that my lack of maternal instincts (or at least my belief that I lacked them) would be seen as monstrous in the specific context of being about to have a baby. I felt comfortable talking to these other FSPs, however, perhaps because we shared an atypical experience as women -- that of being FSPs.

(At the time, I only knew well 1 MSP who had been actively involved in raising his kids and had a wife with a career. We often chatted about family-career issues and that was great, but mostly we talked about practical things.)

Now that I am an older FSP, I am perfectly happy to talk about what it was like for me to do my professor job while pregnant (and very ill) or while taking care of an infant (and changing universities) -- perhaps this information can be useful or comforting to others -- but I must say that I loathe it when people assume that I will want to hear their graphic pregnancy/childbirth stories just because I am (1) female, and (2) a mother.

Perhaps that is hypocritical because I once sought out FSPs specifically to talk about baby-related issues, but I think that there is a difference between the type of conversation I had with some FSPs and conversations in which someone (male or female) revels in the intimate details of pregnancy and childbirth: for me, the former is mentoring, the latter is TMI.


barbara said...

I was in precisely the same position b.C. (before Child). Now I tend to like all children, and I'm not bothered by birth stories, however gruesome.
And it is true, every age so far has been my favorite.
OTOH, a childless FSP colleague of mine has responded to her postdoc's announcement of (the postdoc's) pregnancy by "Well, if you choose to screw up your career you're free to do so".

physicow said...

Guess I'm weird; I think babies are cute. Especially ours. Though he's very demanding, it seems.

Anonymous said...

I don't like babies...really. I tend to like people more and more as they grow up :)

Anonymous said...

I got exactly the same advice when I was a postdoc contemplating getting pregnant, and I also found it incredibly reassuring.

The other comforting advice I received and would pass on: Once you have your own, other people's kids don't seem so loud and obnoxious anymore. Especially true on planes.

Rachel said...

ha ha, this makes me feel better because although i want to have kids eventually (WAY in the future) i also am not a "baby person." i just don't understand people who think most babies are cute. i can see how it'd be different if it was yours, though.

El Charro said...

Maybe I am misunderstanding, but I am surprised you didn't have a clue that you will like your baby even though all are ugly. I don't think having a baby is the first time when people can realize that what they like isn't necessarily accepted as cute across the board. If that were the case, many of us scientists would not ever get married. After all, who doesn't think we are scary and gross? hehe

I have a kid, less than a year old as of now, and I haven't thought it is as bad as people seem to think. Sure, I sleep less and in general have less time to do work related things, but I also think I became much more efficient given that now I have less time to "waste".

When I read this:

but I must say that I loathe it when people assume that I will want to hear their graphic pregnancy/childbirth stories just because I am (1) female, and (2) a mother.

all I could think of was a student telling the professor: "I must say that I loathe it when profs assume that I will want to hear their stories about how cool science is just because I am (1) a student, and (2) required to take this class to graduate.

EliRabett said...

A story told by my dad is that when I was born, he was looking at me through the window at the hospital nursery and saying what an ugly kid (I was, I've seen pictures). His mom, who was also standing there, whacked him saying, "It's my grandchild and he is beautiful".

Anonymous said...

"Once you have your own, other people's kids don't seem so loud and obnoxious anymore. Especially true on planes."

this is probably why there are so many loud and obnoxious babies especially on planes - people feel that everyone else enjoys their baby just as much as they do. How arrogant.

Anonymous said...

>At whatever age my daughter has been, the other kids her age have been kind of interesting to me.<

This made me laugh, as I am exactly the same way with my own kids. Fortunately for my students, my son is now college-age, so I am finding undergraduates much more fascinating than I used to.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very helpful post. I feel exactly the way you did before having a child, but pretty much all the other women I know like babies and think they're cute.

luisa said...

my son is now 16 months old. about 24 months ago, i was in Full Major OMG Freakout Mode. i stumbled upon this blog and several others (sciencewomen, isis, etc.) and i gotta tell you that i have no idea what i would have done before the blogosphere. really a lifesaver!

a physicist said...

Ahead of time, it is easy to get a picture of how tough having a newborn infant will be: changing diapers, changing outfits every few hours, getting almost no sleep, etc. It's easy to convey these things. It is very hard to convey how much fun it is to have a baby around. How wonderful your kid will be even when you've had no sleep. You can talk about these things but you can't really convey them to someone without kids.

Another thing: before I had kids, I always felt helpless when a baby was crying. When it's your kid, I feel a lot less helpless: I can usually guess what is wrong and have some sense of what to try to do to fix it. It's not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

Regarding babies on planes: Trust me, no matter how much the crying baby bugs you, it bugs the parent even more. On top of the embarassment, you think they're happy their child is crying? On the other hand... now that I've had a kid, I hope I sit next to that crying baby on the plane, just so I can reassure the parent that it doesn't bother me.

ps: hey, I finally got a blogger account so that I'm a tiny bit less anonymous!

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous at 10:17

I think that women have babies on planes b/c they need to transport their babies.

Anonymous said...

"this is probably why there are so many loud and obnoxious babies especially on planes - people feel that everyone else enjoys their baby just as much as they do. How arrogant."

Babies are loud, but not obnoxious, what a silly statement! You cannot make a baby not cry as easy as you think, and she's definitely not crying on purpose just to annoy you.

Kim said...

I thought that I disliked babies until my younger sister had one. (I held and he didn't cry. It was nice.) That was the point when I realized that I might not be a terrible parent.

I haven't found my kid 100% adorable all the time, though. Especially during that time when he wouldn't sleep for more than an hour.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Anon@10:15 re babies on planes. Of course babies don't cry on purpose. but that does not change the fact that there's nothing more annoying than someone's else's baby screaming its lungs out on a plane and the parents just closing their ears and ignoring it as if it's not even happening. Maybe they have become used to the sound of their kid screaching bloody murder or are too tired to do anything about it, but to expect the entire planeful of strangers to similarly tolerate your baby screaming its lungs out at top volume into their ears and not be the least bit concerned, is just plain selfish.

Alex said...

I'm a childless MSP, and I've always loved babies. For my wife and I, the highlight of our month will be when we go see our little nephews next weekend. I actually like it when my colleagues bring little kids to the office on occasion. The reasons we don't have kids are complicated and highly personal, but suffice it to say that dislike of babies is NOT a factor, nor is career.

(And it isn't infertility either. Everybody asks that. No, it's far more complicated than that. When I say that the automatic response is "But they're doing such wonderful things with fertility treatments!" Yes, but that's not our issue. No, really, it isn't. Honestly. Please stop explaining how wonderful the fertility treatments are. We know. But that isn't our issue.)

Cloud said...

Believe me people, if my baby is crying anywhere, but particularly in a confined space like an airplane, I am the person who is most bothered by it. Hearing my baby cry is the worst thing on the planet and I'll do anything in my power to make my baby stop crying.

However, on an airplane, many of the things that would help are not available to me- like singing loudly in her ear, or bouncing/swaying/spinning her.

And sorry- I used to travel A LOT for work. There IS something more annoying than someone else's baby crying next to me. It is self-centered, arrogant business travelers taking up all the overhead space with their roller bags and having loud conversations with their colleagues who are seated near, but not right next to, them. I'd rather listen to a crying baby any day.

Now, on the main topic of the post- thank you for writing this, FSP. I think the thing I'd tell someone contemplating having a baby is that it is OK if you don't really like the newborn phase that much. It is a lot of work. I love my daughters. I loved them from the moment I saw them. But each time, the newborn phase has been hard, and really, not that much fun. It gets more fun later, in my opinion.

EliRabett said...

Babies crying on planes is distracting but not annoying. What is annoying is screaming 2-5 year olds acting bratlike when they don't get their way

Anonymous said...

Actually, I find babies crying on planes awful to listen to - it amkes me feel really stressed- and I wish I could be anywhere else when it happens. I think its my maternal gene that makes every wail seem treble the decibel level it really is. However, definitely worse for the parents if they are unable to comfort the baby.

Mother of 3

Helen Huntingdon said...

I find nearly all babies gross and repulsive, but my infant nieces were mysteriously non-repulsive to me. I could see they weren't any less ugly than other babies, but some magic of connection was working.

I spent several days holding one of them after her birth, curled up around her to regulate her body temperature. By the end of it, I was in the beginning stirrings of dopey parental affection. The concept that caring for an infant creates attachment was clearly starting to work on me.

I'm still glad I don't have my own though.

Anonymous said...

FSP's experience was remarkably like my own.
As for the airplane, babies are not culpable. They are about as trainable as a one-week-old puppy. A bratty 3-year-old is a completely different matter.
For the non-confrontational among us, I suggest investing in noise-reduction headphones.

Karina said...

This part made me laugh: "... A few years later, looking at her baby pictures, I realized that she was as hideous as every other baby."

I totally agree that most babies are really funny looking! Poor babies! I, of course, was adorable and should've been featured in a Gerber ad or something. It's funny though, I only decided a few years ago that babies were weird looking. As a kid I just thought they were cute.

I'm looking forward to having my own babies sometime, cute or not.

mathgirl said...

Wow, this post totally hits home!

I went and am going through exactly the same feelings.

Anonymous said...

@ 10:17 and 2:52:

There is a reason mothers of babies do not stop them from crying on airplanes. It is because smothing babies is frowned upon. No other plan will usually console the babies in question. The mothers know this, as they are frantically trying every other thing they can think of to do. In my personal experience, my babies were crying ebcause they were not at home int heir own beds, sleeping nicely. Just can't fix it, unless you define "waiting to travel for five years" as fixing it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! When I was expecting my son I heard the same thing from a lot of mothers - that you don't have to love babies (or even like them) to love your own. What was worrying for me was instead that I didn't feel this instant love and connection when the baby was born. I still thought he was weird-looking and unpleasant to be around (always crying, not letting me sleep...)

However I'd like to reassure any new (or future) parents that it's ok not to find your baby beautiful and fascinating in the beginning - for the first six months or so I seriously wondered if I'd made a mistake. But it does happen - now I can say with absolute certainty that my son is the most adorable, clever, fun, interesting person on the planet, and becomes more so every day.

Anonymous said...

"There is a reason mothers of babies do not stop them from crying on airplanes. It is because smothing babies is frowned upon."

I disagree that it is inevitable and thus acceptable to be inconsiderate of others.

This is basically saying that when you are a parent of a baby you have the god-given right to ruin a roomful of strangers' peace and mental well being, because apparently your own needs/desires are above everyone else's (you chose to have a baby after all, and you chose to travel while you had a baby and you chose to bring the baby along). I thus echo the above Anon's that this attitude is extremely inconsiderate and narcissistic. There are ways to (a) avoid traveling while you have a baby (b) if you absolutely MUST travel during that period, to make alternate arrangements for the care of your baby like with relatives or spouse (I can already hear the indignant gasps - what, I should have to inconvenience myself or postpone travel plans or seek alternate arrangements rather than inconveniencing everyone else? that's not fair!) (c) if you absolutely have to bring your baby on a plane, especially a looong flight, to try to "do something" when the baby cries so as to at least make some attempt to not ruin the plane ride for everyone around you. Realize that unlike a restaurant or other public place where people also bring babies, on a plane everyone around you is trapped and thus cannot get away from your baby and this makes the imposition far worse. At least apologize to people around you for ruining their peace (again I can hear the gasps of indignation - what, I have nothing to apologize for, just because I have a complete disregard for everyone else's right to not be imposed on against their will).

I am a parent of two, by the way.

RSB said...

I would be very happy to read of your experiences running a lab and having a baby; I am about to start a TT science-prof position with a 4 yr old and baby in the making. Luckily due in the summer, and married to supportive partner, however; any stories relevant to maintaining sanity would be much appreciated. (Mostly, dealing with getting things done on time, worries about what other faculty with think and perceive about having children rather early compared to other TT faculty...etc).

Anonymous said...

@ 3:27

I do agree that parents should do everything within their power to control their babies' crying. I think that ignoring it with no effort is not appropriate. However, I also think that a civic recommendation towards this effort should also be tempered by the fact that babies are not always calmable. When I mothered babies, I went out of my way to do everything I could to ensure good flights; everything I could was often not enough.

As a side note, approximately 1 in 10 people do not get sleepy when they take Benydryl. I am one of them, and my sons inherited this trait from me. Everything I could do did involve trying to drug them. Unfortunately, it didn't work. They simply were going to cry, despite all my efforts.

I agree that there is a certain amount of self-servingness involved, but I also think the pain is transitory, expectable, and something people can plan ahead to avoid. They can bring earplugs. Matter of fact, I have brought disposable earplugs to share with others. No one actually wanted any, but people did laugh, and felt that I was trying to make a bad situation better.

Pointing out that I can just stay home is a bit unkind. I think this concern is even more important in the context of children of those in academia. If I chose not to fly with my children until they were of an age to behave well in public (I'd guess about 2 or so) then they would not have been able to spend time with their grandparents. An academic job has me living 2000 miles from my place of birth. Is it a stronger negative for 80 people on a plane to have a distressing 30 minutes as my son cries himself to sleep, or for my son to not be connected to my family and place?


Anonymous said...

@03:27:00 PM

You are a parent of two and never took your child on a plane? Okay, but you have to understand this is extremely odd and this society IS actually comfortable with the freedom of parents to transport their children even if it does cause a small amount of irritation to many people.

There are plenty of times when many people are inconvenienced by the needs of one person. For example, we are often stopped in traffic because someone lost control of their vehicle and crashed. Or, we end up waiting twice as long in line at the DMV because one person brought the wrong form so they have to fill out a new one. Or, someone drives very slowly in a narrow road because they are trying to find an address.

These are all examples of preventable situations where one person irritates many others. But do we think these people are inconsiderate, selfish, and rude? No, rather we are 1) relieved it was not us and 2) understand it's part of life and, despite our irritation, we move on.

Anonymous said...

Even though I don't want children of my own, my nieces and nephew are cute in a way that no one else's kids are. I imagine that's how parents feel about their own kids, only magnified. :)

Rebeca said...

As a childless 31-year-old woman feeling the social pressure to get pregnant, but unable to see the point in it, I would love to know what you all think of this article published in in April 2009:
'Think having children will make you happy? Think again'
As you can't return your baby to the shop if you aren't satisfied by your purchase, I'm terrified to have a baby and regret it afterwards...

Anonymous said...

@Rebeca 11/18/2009 08:10:00AM:

As you've observed, having kids is very much of 20-year committment (give or take a couple of years), and this set of goods is generally non-returnable.

Ultimately it's *your* life and thus *your* judgement and values that should govern your choices. I know parents who are happy to have had children, and I know non-parents who are happy not to have children. Ultimately it's *you* (and your partner, if you have one) who need to decide whether parenting is something you want to make a big part of your life. Don't let anyone else push you around on this (in either direction) -- you really don't want to have unwanted kids, or miss out on wanted ones, just to satisfy someone else's agenda. (And I'm very explicitly including other members of your own family here -- just because they're family members doesn't give them the right to push you into or out of something this big against your will.)

Finding information (both + and -) about what it's like to be a parent is fairly easy, but information/advocacy on non-parenting is a bit harder to come by. One good starting point might be an old book by Jean Veevers (a U of Toronto psychologist) called
"Childless by Choice". It's long out of print (it dates from the 1970s), but a good library should be able to find you a copy, and amazon seems to have used copies. It's based on her interviews with 100 or long-term-married couples who were childless. In the US there's also a
National Alliance for Optional Parenthood.

Rebeca said...

I'm impressed. I had expected a lot of teasing and instead I got this mature, informative response. Thank you very much, Anonymous, I will read that book and visit the site. And congratulations to the FSP, you seem to have an A+ readership!

Rebeca said...

Now that I think of it, it would be fantastic if someone made a survey and found evidence-based figures of the probability for a type I error (i.e. having kids and regret it afterwards) versus the probability for a type II error (i.e. not having kids and regret it afterwards). But I guess that the human factor would bias the results here: some people would never admit to themselves, let alone to others, that if they could go back in time, they wouldn't have had their children. So far I have only met three people who admitted feeling this way (out of dozens asked). Whether the rest were genuinely convinced that they had made the right choice, or they were fooling themselves, I will never know.

Jonathan Thornburg said...


[[I was the Anonymous at 11/18/2009 09:15:00PM -- no deep reason to be anonymous, just neglected to enter my name...]]

Thanks for your kind words. As well as the Wikipedia article I mentioned earlier, there's also another article there, Childfree, with more general info & some further references.

Referring to your survey idea...
Alas, even if a survey could get perfectly truthful & reliable answers, I don't think it would help much with your decision-making. The problem is that this is clearly a situation where "one size *doesn't* fit all", i.e., where your *individual* personality, values, life situation, etc. (and those of your partner, if any) are crucial in determining your happiness with any given outcome.

So even a perfect server would essentially only tell you that
* A mostly-self-selected group #1 of other people (parents) who may or may not resemble you in personality, values, life situation, etc, are A% satisfied with their parenting decisions, while
* A mostly-self-selected group #2 of other people (non-parents) who may or may not resemble you in personality, values, life situation, etc, are B% satisfied with their parenting decisions.

Unless you have some a priori way of knowing that one of these groups is quite similar to you in personality, values, life situation, etc, I don't think this gives any useful information at all about whether or not *you* would be satisfied with any given parenting decision.

[[Actually, it would be better to divide into four groups: parents who wanted to be parents, parents who didn't want to be parents (e.g., unwanted pregnancies), non-parents who wanted to be parents (e.g., infertility problems), and non-parents who didn't want to be parents. But let's put that distinction aside for the moment...]]

-- Jonathan

Rebeca said...

@ Jonathan Thornburg,

Thank you for your reply! I've been giving a little thinking to what you wrote.

Of course I agree that humans don't behave by the book and the fact that you could calculate a probability of failure doesn't mean that your particular case can't deviate from the mean. Also, it's true that the closer the chosen sample ressembles your personal situation, the higher are the chances that your personal outcome is similar to that of the group (please excuse my English, I don't know how to translate this).

But I guess that Statistics can take care of all these details and if the sample is big enough, you can get a grasp of the general tendencies that affect human beings (when they become parents).

Probably the survey I mentioned above is based on this assumption too, otherwise how could you possibly make statements about the general levels of happiness of people becoming parents?

Regarding your suggestion of dividing the sample into four groups (parents-happy, parents-regretful, childless-happy, childless-regretful), I thought of that at first, but then I thought of simplifying the problem. If my question is "What is the wisest choice, to have kids or not to have them, given the following probabilities of success and failure?", I think (please correct me if I'm mistaken) that the probability of (parent-happy) plus the probability of (parent-regretful) both add to 1, hence in theory I could ignore one of them and concentrate on the other...

Isn't this topic fascinating? If you don't think so, sorry about the babble!

craklyn said...

Your baby comments resemble an interweb comic:

Of course, if they are your kids, those pictures are awesome.

Anonymous said...

@Rebeca: that link you had posted on whether parenthood brings happiness says, and I agree, that there's this widespread and generally taken-for-granted cultural belief that Children Bring Happiness. Period. But I don't think that this is actually true for many people, it's just that this propaganda is perpetuated in every facet of society and therefore many people accept it blindly and unquestioningly. Or if they don't, their spouses do and then they have to go along with what their spouses want.

Then if people become parents but find they are not happy after all (which is entirely possible since not everyone is hardwired the same way to enjoy the same lifestyles) they find ways to convince themselves that they are happy because the cultural belief that Children Bring Happiness makes it unacceptable to admit that you regret parenthood. To admit such, implies that you're abnormal or a bad/evil person or a failure. So no parent will admit they regretted it. Then most of them adapt to their new lives at their new (lower) happiness level and forget what it was like to have been happier (which I suppose is not a bad thing). And besides, once you are a parent and are responsible for another living thing, duty and obligation comes before personal happiness anyway. So they adapt to this new permanent situation and when asked, they repeat the propaganda that Children Bring Happiness.

I have a few friends who had kids due to societal pressure and have been unhappy and troubled ever since. Not just being tired and stressed but deeply, existentially unhappy, for many years afterward. and add to that the guilt of being unhappy because the cultural belief that Children Bring Happiness implies that if you regret being a parent then you're abnormal or a bad person.

I do know people whose marriages fell apart due to the stresses of combining parenthood with career or other life goals. Parenthood and the required domesticity for raising stable children are not for everyone yet society insists it is (in fact people who choose to remain childless are often judged harshly as being 'selfish' or abnormal), hence the social pressure.

Rebeca said...

Dear Anonymous,
I couldn't have summarized the article with better words :-)
But I like the twist that you have given to it by adding that The Reason why some parents won't admit to themselves that they regret having children is, precisely, this super-replicating belief that Children Bring Happiness and if you don't agree then there's something wrong with you.
Oh my, to think that mankind could come to an end if somebody managed to spread the word :-)
What a good plot for another end-of-the-world film.

Anonymous said...

hi Rebeca - i'm the Anon @1:16.

People who attack those who support childlessness, use as their argument "but if everyone thought the way you did, the world would come to an end because humankind would die out!"

Not so. The point is that not everyone will "think the way we do." Just as right now not everyone thinks the way THEY do (i.e. believing that Children Bring Happiness is a universal truth for everyone.)

There will always be people who ARE hardwired to absolutely love having families and raising children and being domestic and all that. (or who have spouses who are like that and thus have no choice but to go along.) There ARE people for whom raising children, being around children, being completely focused on being nurturing, and being domestic and family-oriented is their calling in life. My point is that if it is truly "you", if that is your true authentic self, then go for it and embrace it.

but not everyone is like that. Yet society does not allow for deviation from this norm and thus people who don't fit this mold are pressured into being who they are not, or staying true to themselves but being constantly judged harshly.

I just oppose the social norm that the choice to procreate is or should be for everyone or that anyone who does not conform to this is deviant and selfish and a whole host of other judgments. The "selfish" accusation, in particular, is amusing because as your article pointed out, most people who do procreate do so out of selfish reasons - not because they have a future person in mind but because they desire to experience joy in child-raising for themselves. (A friend of mine even took it a step further by saying that people who want children but only biological children and not adopted children, are selfish because they simply want to see their own DNA walking around...that's the ultimate ego stroke, it's like saying you are so great that the world needs to have another you...*expect backlash for saying this*!)

I do think that if more people remained childless because they honestly didn't want to be parents and were not pressured by society into doing so, I really don't think the world will come to an end. With the world being so overpopulated already, I don't think we have to worry about that...and besides there will be enough people for whom having children IS their true unquestioned calling in life so they can provide the next generation of humans. Maybe they will pass on their domestic-oriented genes and thus future generations will consist primarily of people are domestic-minded and know for a fact, without any doubt, that they love having children and thus in future there would no longer be people who would prefer to remain childless then this will all be a moot point! (and world overpopulation will be even worse than now...)

Jonathan Thornburg said...

Sorry for the delay in responding.

Alas, I don't think statistics "takes care of all these details". The problem is that statistics lets us infer that a well-done survey accurately reflects the opinions of the whole survey population... but what I'm questioning is whether the opinions of the whole survey population are a useful predictor of *your* opinions.

That is, a survey of parents may let you get a grasp of the general tendencies that affect people who (many of them) choose to be parents, while a survey of non-parents may let you get a graps of the general tendencies that affect people who (many of them) choose not to be parents. But that doesn't say which group *you* (that is, *your* personality) would fit more naturally into.

Here's an analogy which I've found useful in thinking about this: Suppose you're interested in taking up some sort of aerobic exercise, and you're trying to decide whether that should be cross-country skiing or swimming. I claim that surveys comparing the satisfaction experienced by cross-country skiiers vs swimmers don't really tell me anything about which activity you would enjoy more... without knowing (for example) whether you {like,dislike} being outdoors in cold temperatures. That is, if (say) you know that you intensely dislike being outdoors in cold temperatures, then you probably won't like cross-country skiing, and that holds true regardless of what the survey may say about how cross-country skiiers love it.

Returning to parenting... my point is that you need additional information about your own personality (do you like being outside in cold weather?) before you can use the survey ("A% of cross-country skiiers love their exercise vs B% of swimmers") to make an inference about how much you will enjoy or not enjoy each activity. And once you have that additional information ("I hate cold weather!"), then that "additional information" is far, far, more useful for making your decision than anything the survey may say about other people's opinions.

So for parenting decisions, I think this is ultimately a personal choice that only you can make, based on your best assessment of your own personality, life situation, etc.

Jonathan Thornburg said...


Sorry, looking back I didn't write very clearly about splitting the sample into 4 parts. What I was trying to get at is that the satisfaction of people who are non-parents who wanted to be parents but were unable to parent (eg due to lack of a suitable partner or infertility issues) is likely to be quite different from those of people who are non-parents by choice. So lumping those two categories of people together into a single composite "non-parent" category for a survey is throwing away some information. [And the same applies for parents-by-choice versus involuntary-parent (eg parent-by-contraception-failure).]

So, a survey should ideally break the population up into the 4 subgroups parents-by-choice, involuntary-parents, non-parents-by-choice, involuntary-non-parents. In this classification, I don't think any two groups necessarily sum to 100%.