Lies We Tell Ourselves

Last week, listening to the radio on my way to work, I heard about a recent study published in Psychological Science. It suggests that parents exaggerate joys of parenthood to justify the big investment.  This got me thinking (you know this means trouble, right?)  If this study is true, then everything I knew about myself is based on, well, a lie.

It all starts with the (self-perceived) fact that I am not good at telling lies, which is why I aim to be truthful.  If this study is right, I’m a master liar and I didn’t even know it.  This single truth changes the whole foundation of my life.  I could be selling vials of water from the fountain of youth to those desperate to halt the aging process.  I could prey on others’ weaknesses and amass great wealth.  But, wait, there’s more…

No, there’s not.  That’s not me at all.  I’ll be honest with you (really, I am a truthful person):  having kids is the most wonderful pain in the neck I’ve ever had.

There are times of love so great that I can’t even put it into words:  when they share their day’s fun with wide-eyed excitement; snuggle into me when they are scared and need comforting; grin with pride when they are praised; or when they fling their arms around me in a tight hug and tell me they love me without any prompting.

Now, for the other side of the coin:  there are times when they tell me I’m mean in a hateful voice; pull away from my hugs; refuse to look at me when they are angry and sass back when I remind them about their chores.  Oh, and then there is their fighting.  Remember, kids aren’t like dogs; you don’t need a second one to keep the first one company.

There are some days when the thought “What. Was. I. THINKING?” runs through my mind like a stock exchange ticker tape.  Then, as if the kids sense that they, too, are hanging from the end of my rope, they will turn on the charm once again.  Yes, they nudge me over the cliff (metaphorically speaking) and then reach their hand out to grasp me before gravity pulls me into a free-fall.

The good and the bad are swirled together like the vanilla and chocolate in a marble cake. There is no way to extract either one of the flavors.  Sure, I get frustrated, but I would never change it.

So, there you have it.  I’m not a liar…I’m a masochist.


44 thoughts on “Lies We Tell Ourselves

  1. SuziCate March 18, 2011 / 5:24 AM

    having kids is the most wonderful pain in the neck I’ve ever had. _love the way you put it! Yes, there might be trying times, but the wonderful moments far outweigh them! For some of us, children balance us and make our lives complete. I think having children is truly the first real aha moment of totally devoting yourseld unselfishly to someone else…the moment you realize you would die to give another life…only another parent understands the depth.

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 10:59 PM

      Thanks, SuziCate! Having children does add texture to life, that’s for sure. I remember being terrified to take my first son home from the hospital – the idea of him being totally dependent on me was unnerving. The kids have to be considered in every decision we make, but I can’t say that I’m completely unselfish. (I wish I could, though :))

  2. J. P. Cabit March 18, 2011 / 5:32 AM

    😀 Excellent post. What do psychologists know anyway?

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:09 PM

      Ha! Sometimes, not much, Seph 🙂

      The human mind is so complex and each person is colored by past experiences, so it’s not easy to study it. I think that’s what fascinates me about psychology (and sociology, for that matter.) Even monitoring pain – you can apply the same pressure to two different people – one may rate the pain as not bad, and the other as the worst pain they have ever felt. It’s difficult to study (and draw conclusions) from something so subjective.

  3. Aligaeta March 18, 2011 / 6:22 AM

    In raising children you will definitely come up with the marble cake. What a terrific metaphor! I believe what the study ultimately shows us is that too many people are caught up in the dollar and sense of life instead of the love.

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:11 PM

      Thanks, Aligaeta! It’s interesting, because we had a financial advisor tell us that the best way to not enough money for retirement was to have children…we did it anyway.

      I do love our marble cake 🙂

  4. Pooja March 18, 2011 / 6:22 AM

    I don’t have them and haven’t been able to come around the idea of having them yet, but I’m sure it is a blessing!

    Lovely post.


    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:12 PM

      It is a big decision, but if/when it is meant to be, you will know 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Pooja. (You’re not BrownEyed anymore!)

  5. Momsomniac March 18, 2011 / 6:30 AM

    Well…let’s see…first we compare something measurable ($) against something immeasurable (joy) and make an assumption – that the parents are exaggerating the joy when thinking about the $. Isn’t it possible that that thinking HARD about the $ makes one think HARD about ALL ASPECTS of parenting?????

    I’ve seen this premise before – that people didn’t always “love their kids” – which is what the last part boils down to. This is so much bunk. It’s one of those things that gets accepted in certain scientific circles – even though it’s EASY to poke holes in if one accepts that personal bias shows up in conclusions for studies in psychology, sociology, and ethology.

    The word “love” is such a weak way to describe what we feel for our children. And there is undeniably so much animal instinct underlying what we feel that we often have to work HARD to hold that in check.

    In an article I read awhile back, zookeepers expressed concern over the behavior of a mother giant panda who had given birth to 2 cubs (pandas apparently, usually have one). She had rolled over in her sleep and crushed one of her two cubs (pups?) and zookeepers had removed the crushed cub because BASED UPON WHAT THEY HAD OBSERVED in the past with pandas, they were worried about how she’d behave when she found it. But then…she would not stop searching for the cub. Obviously, we can’t know what a panda feels or how it might relate to human emotion…but WHATEVER was going on with her was based upon her drive to care for her cubs. When a psychologist asserts that humans were ever LESS invested than that, I wonder if s/he’s a sociopath trying to prove s/he is normal.

    I also take issue with the “kids USED to have economic value” vs. “kids are expensive” permise. First, I have known people from parts of the world where kids have HIGH “economic value” – who risked their lives to remove their children from those situations because….oh, wait yes, they loved them. Besides, kids do not NEED to be “expensive” even in the US, even in my nice neighborhood. That assertion is deeply grounded in middle-class and upper-middle-class values – ones that no one is inherently REQUIRED to live by.

    I have no doubt that study of psychology and sociology has value. But this is bad science. And just like anything else…subjective reasoning puts personal baggage at the forefront when it comes to conclusions. If one is blind to where one is subjective, we get studies like this one.

    In fact, my persoanl bias leads me to make conclusions about the person behind this study. Perhaps s/he is one of those people who is vehemently insistent that his/her life is JUST AS FULFILLING without children. To that, I’d have to say, just as valuable, yes. But just as fulfilling? I doubt it. And how could you possibly know?

    *sigh* Sorry for the novel in your comments, Janna. This set me OFF both as a scientist and as a Mom. I can say HONESTLY that the ONLY thing I miss from before having children is….sleep.

    • nrhatch March 18, 2011 / 9:37 AM

      And how could you know that it is NOT just as fulfilling? 😀

    • nrhatch March 18, 2011 / 9:38 AM

      After all Mother Teresa didn’t have kids . . .

      Was her life “unfulfilling”?

      • Momsomniac March 19, 2011 / 3:08 AM

        Oh, you are quite correct. I can’t know. There is no way to measure my fulfillment vs. yours or my sister’s or anyone else with OR without children. I can only subjectively compare MY current fulfillment to my past.

        But then…I’m not rolling my personal bias into a conclusion for a scientific study. And, at least from what we can read in the article, that’s what may have happened here. I’ve been seeing this quite a bit recently in so-called scientific studies…and it gets me a bit ranty (yes, I am a scientist:).

        Many people would probably be far less happy, less fulfilled, with children – but we can’t really TEST that. I was trying to make a point about how our personal biases affect our reasoning by showing how MY biases led me to make assumptions about the study author. I am sorry if it came across as insulting to anyone without children.

      • nrhatch March 19, 2011 / 6:58 AM

        I agree with you about the study ~ or at least the article describing the study. So. Badly. Written. 😀

        Here’s my thought.

        Some people are MEANT to have kids ~ that desire is locked in their hearts. They would probably feel far less happy and less fulfilled if they did not have children. And that desire is so central to their lives that it’s hard for them to fathom how anyone might not desire kids.

        Others are not meant to have kids. There is no innate desire for offspring screaming to be satisfied. Those people feel happy, complete, and fulfilled without children and it’s hard for them to fathom how others claim that life cannot be fulfilling unless you have kids.

        That’s why we need to use our Internal Compass to decide on issue like getting married and having kids. No one but us knows what we need because life is not one-size-fits-all.

        • Momsomniac March 19, 2011 / 12:04 PM

          I agree – and yet, I am someone who only truly wanted children for about one year of my adult life…and then I got over wanted children…and then I had a child. I am SO HAPPY that happened!

          We can be so wrong about ourselves….you know? But my life is full of wonderful people who are not parents…and I don’t think they’d be any more wonderful if they did have children. : ) It’s really all so personal and a study like this one…well, I don’t think it has much value. One may or may not have children and one may or may not love having them (though like all feelings, what we say we feel is based on what we feel MOST of the most of the time:).

          Here is what I think is the main problem with the study…as it’s described anyway. It ignores something about HOW we think.

          What do you think of the color blue? How about red?

          Okay…now I want you to think about all of the times in your life you have seen the color blue. Think about evening skies, a friend’s eyes. A lake. Now…tell me about red.

          Thinking HARD about anything will lead us to think hard about related things. I am not a neurobiologist – I have no idea why – but it’s pretty human!

          Thank you SO MUCH for engaging with me on Janna’s blog. I love her writing and I have had fun talking to you.

          i best stop ignoring the tired sick little humans leaning on me….now…

        • nrhatch March 19, 2011 / 1:01 PM

          Right back atcha! I’ve enjoyed this civil exchange of viewpoints.

          Such a nice change of pace from people who just scream louder and louder about how “right” they are and the “wrongness” of any and all opposing viewpoints.

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:27 PM

      Nancy and Momsomniac – Bravo on the excellent discussion 🙂

      I didn’t realize this would be a hot topic, or I wouldn’t have scheduled it for when I was on vacation 🙂

      I have to say that I felt fulfilled before I had children (I never felt this nagging feeling that a part of my life was missing.) In fact, I always believed I didn’t want children (perhaps as a result of the many years cleaning up their messes during my waitressing years – I don’t know.) But when I did have children, I felt fulfilled then, too. Overwhelmed at times, but fulfilled.

      I do agree with the point that some people are meant to have children – some even realize it from a young age. I think the dissatisfaction could come when someone who is not suited for children (personality-wise) has children….or has too many children for what their personality is suited for. Example: if a compulsive neat-freak has children, they may not be as satisfied as a more easy-going person would be. Likewise, a person who craves quiet and peace probably shouldn’t have five children.

      Rather than interrupt with my opinion on each of your comments, I figured it would be better to just to interject once. I did enjoy the discussion and am sorry I missed it as it unfolded 🙂

      • nrhatch March 20, 2011 / 7:43 AM

        Thanks for posting this. And for “introducing” me to momsomniac. 😎

        • jannatwrites March 20, 2011 / 2:31 PM

          I’m glad you engaged in the healthy debate – it was lots of fun to read!

        • Momsomniac March 21, 2011 / 10:59 AM

          Good to meet you too! Thanks Janna!

        • jannatwrites March 21, 2011 / 7:37 PM

          I’m glad the post sparked conversation – I really did enjoy the exchange!

  6. dorcas March 18, 2011 / 9:15 AM

    really wonder who starts these studies? Or how on earth can they even think something like this to start with…

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:33 PM

      Although scientific principles are used in psychological studies, it is difficult to interpret the results. This study just struck me as funny, perphaps because of how they discussed it on the radio. I take these ‘study’ results with a grain (or more) of salt 🙂

  7. Hilary Clark March 18, 2011 / 9:16 AM

    I’m sharing this post with my brother and sister-in-law. It’s the perfect post for parents of a 3-year old and a 4-month old. 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:36 PM

      Thanks, Hilary! I was amused by the study, and by the idea that parents basically brainwash themselves into enjoying parenthood. I know, I have an odd sense of humor at times 🙂

  8. nrhatch March 18, 2011 / 9:36 AM

    I expect that many parents do “exaggerate the joys of parenthood” to counterbalance the negatives.

    Humans want to feel that the decisions they reach were the “right” decisions. So, once they have kids, they must convince themselves that any other decision would have been “wrong.”

    I know that my life is complete . . . even without children. 😀

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:40 PM

      The idea that we could be exaggerating the joys without reallizing it is intriguing to me – especially since I routinely acknowledge the good and the bad. (Who knew that I’d missed an opportunity to color myself happier?)

      I agree that children aren’t necessary for a complete life – I felt fulfilled before children and I am fulfilled now, just in different ways.

      Thanks for your comments on this post, Nancy 🙂

  9. Tim Weaver March 18, 2011 / 10:20 AM

    LOL…a study that backs up (sort of) what my wife and I have said to friends for years: parents often tout the “it’s different when they’re your kids” line when childless couples make mention of what a PITA some kids can be (yes, adults can be bigger PITA’s).

    Our thought was that it’s a global underground Ponzi scheme to get more people suckered into having kids, so that those doing the “It’s different” sales pitch won’t feel badly about having been suckered themselves.

    Yes, we’re childless. 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:43 PM

      Too funny, Tim. The Ponzi scheme is an interesting idea (do I smell a short story idea?)

      Some things are different when they are your own kids…but honestly, the diapers are disgusting, regardless 😉

  10. Tori Nelson March 18, 2011 / 12:54 PM

    Haha! I love this post for a number of reasons, the first of which because it IS SO TRUE IT HURTS! You perfectly captured that emotional wave of parenthood, taking everyday as it comes with the good, the bad, and the ugly!

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:46 PM

      Thanks, Tori! Hey, I just wanted to be hones here, so I wouldn’t be accused of not giving up the ugly facts. (I’ve fallen victim to THAT before with labor and delivery ;))

      Enjoy your parenthood ride….and no matter what, don’t forget how much fun you’re having!

  11. Debbie March 18, 2011 / 2:02 PM

    I think parenthood is a lot like life in general — it is what you make it. Some days are wonderful (glorious, even), while others are aggravating; and some are just kind of so-so. I think it’s incumbent on each of us to find the pearl in the oyster. People who don’t know the deep joy that comes from being a parent can’t understand this. To each his/her own!

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2011 / 11:49 PM

      Yes, Debbie – I agree that our state of mind makes all the difference. If we focus on all the bad, it’s not going to be nearly as fulfilling as if we stop and recognize the beautiful moments. Sometimes the good is hiding and has to be rooted out, but it is well worth the effort 🙂

  12. chlost March 18, 2011 / 2:35 PM

    Unfortunately, your comments are based on an assumption which may not be universal. I have seen many, many parents in my life. Some do not love their children. Some children do not have the gift that yours have….that love that you so beautifully describe.

    I don’t think it is fair for anyone to assume that what they see in their life is something which applies to others. This includes parents as well as those who are not.

    My experiences in parenting are similar to yours. I found your description of the marble cake to be creative and beautifully described my experience. But I can’t speak for anyone else.

    • jannatwrites March 20, 2011 / 12:13 AM

      I agree that my experience will not be the same as others, and from what I’ve read on your blog, it seems that you routinely interact with those whose situations aren’t ideal.

      Having children certainly isn’t for everyone, and each person has reasons for whether or not to have children.

      Thanks for your comment, Chlost 🙂

  13. clarbojahn March 18, 2011 / 5:07 PM

    A marble cake, yes. Bitter sweet, yes. But never too expensive. After my late husband died and I worked two jobs to make ends meet, the kids were often the only thing that kept me going. And I told them I couldn’t be their policeman while they fought anymore. Lanna, you may want to take this approach. They learned to solve their problems with each other on their own in their own way, with out me being the umpire.
    Course soon they turned against me as they became rebellious teens. But there were a few quite months there. They were ten and fourteen when their father died.

    • jannatwrites March 20, 2011 / 12:25 AM

      Ah, the rebellious teen years…something to look forward too, indeed!

      Your situation must have been difficult (emotionally and physically) for all of you. I do stay out of their disagreements when I can, but I still hear the yelling 🙂 I intervene when they start beating on each other because I don’t want them to get hurt.

      Just today, I told them if they couldn’t agree on which movie to watch, I’d pick for them. When they didn’t agree, I chose a movie at random – neither one of them liked it. This gave them the incentive to talk it out more and they reached a compromise on their own. Yes, I had to moderate, but they came to the agreement on their own.

      Thanks for your comment/advice, Clar. I look forward to relinquishing my role as umpire 😉

  14. Carol Ann Hoel March 19, 2011 / 8:44 AM

    In the cycle of life, children fit perfectly. We are meant to have them (most of us – some not) and our investment in them is warranted. We don’t have to lie to ourselves to find justifiable reasons to love and support our children. We just do it, don’t we? Blessings to you for loving your children. And I’ve been at the end of that proverbial rope myself, asking that question: What made me think I wanted to give birth to people? Babies are cute. Children are okay. Somewhere along the line they turn into people, unpredictable, opinionated, and stubborn. Yet, we love them still, really love them.

  15. jannatwrites March 20, 2011 / 12:38 AM

    Yes, we do just love and support our children (or at least, we’re supposed to.) I think anyone who has been a parent has caught a glimpse of the rope’s end – or perhaps that’s a lie I tell myself to make me think I’m more normal?

    It is more difficult to parent when they begin asserting their independence, but I try to remember that it’s all part of the process.

    Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts, Carol 🙂

  16. nrhatch August 18, 2011 / 9:35 AM

    This post sparked such interesting conversation. Great pick!

    • jannatwrites August 18, 2011 / 8:31 PM

      I liked the comment exchange better than my post, Nancy. Maybe you guys need to be writing my blog posts?

    • nrhatch August 18, 2011 / 8:38 PM

      Stop that!
      Your posts are a delight to read.
      You are an engaging writer.

      That said, interaction is what makes blogging so much more FUN than reading a magazine. 😉

      • jannatwrites August 18, 2011 / 8:56 PM

        Hey, it was just a fun idea – I didn’t think you or Momsomniac would go for it 🙂

        I would agree that the interaction is one of the best parts about blogging. Thanks for playing along, Nancy.

      • momsomniac August 19, 2011 / 11:20 AM

        This time, I have to concur fully. : )

        • JannatWrites August 19, 2011 / 7:24 PM

          Looks like we have harmony in the blog-o-sphere today. Momsomniac. All is well 🙂

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