June 28, 2014

There's an "ideology of modern parenting," "a dogged insistence that the adoration you feel for your child makes all the sacrifices worthwhile"...

... and that's why were cling to the hormonal explanation of "postpartum depression," but "many women and men experience significant psychological distress in response to becoming a parent and that much of this distress isn’t caused by a hormonal epiphenomenon of the birth process," writes professor of psychology and of management and organizations Eli J. Finkel in the NYT.

Ironically, Finkel himself seems to need a comforting, shame-avoiding, politically appealing explanation: economics.
[The distress] is driven instead in large measure by the objectively bleak circumstances new parents often face. That you love your child is not always sufficient to counteract this reality....

[T]he circumstances parents face are often demonstrably miserable. The fact that postpartum depression rates are much higher among the poor than among the wealthy, who can purchase peace of mind through hired child care, supports the idea that the phenomenon is, in most cases, more circumstantial than biological.
Finkel leaves in place the ideology of unquestioned, unquestionable love for the child. And that article of faith — that thing we believe and want to believe — is there to exploit to leverage more social welfare.

I imagine that Finkel would like us to think: Free childcare! That's what we need to alleviate real human suffering, the suffering of parents, and it will benefit the children, too, because they're not really having such a great time left in the home with parents who don't really love them are distressed psychologically for economic reasons.


Unknown said...

A lot going on there.

Gahrie said...

What the hell...let's just start opening orphanages again.

(Semi seriously...it would be one way to try and break the cycle of poor parents and the transmission of the culture of failure.)

dustbunny said...

This should be paired with the blog uon Amish economics, or maybe it is.

Oso Negro said...

A few thoughts here:

1) Who among the parents here cannot remember what my friend Jack Turlington recalled, on describing bringing home his newborn first daughter, as the feeling of "What now? My God, what now?"

By the time my youngest daughter moves along to college in January, I will have have nearly 29 unbroken years of minor children, for whom I have been responsible, living in my home. You know what I am thinking? "What now? My God, what now?"

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Through it all, I have been like Boxer in Animal Farm. No matter what happens, I pledge to work harder and carry more stones for the windmill. We all know how it turned out for Boxer.

2) The glorification and promotion of the joy of parenting possibly exceeds that of 'true love'. I suppose it is a meta-phenomenon that helps encourage generation after generation to keep it all going. They don't emphasize that you will be shit on, spit on, cussed, ignored, tormented, used and abused. And then there are the really bad days - the emergency room, the detention hall, juvenile court, and the months of deployment to whatever shithole the Marines are sent to next. I'm bought in like Don Corleone - a man can't be a real man if he doesn't have children.

3) Not all women are nurturing. Damn. Said it.

4) The cost of it? You talk to me about the cost of it? You start thinking like that, best keep those pants zipped kids! And yet we don't! Those hormones that drive our reproductive urges sure are the shit, no?

5) Fuck Finkel and his free fucking childcare notion. I want my kids to get it good and hard when their turn comes around.

tim maguire said...

Or the government could put a stop to the mobile society and force people to live near their extended families. Enough with the subsidized daycare, all we really need is a return to the feudal society.

PB Reader said...

Having a nanny is a basic human right!

Gahrie said...

One thing that would be interesting to study is how parenting changed as infant mortality dropped and the rate of mothers dying during birth dropped. It would be interesting to see if there was a coorelation to the modern invention of childhood. Until about the last 200 hundred years, most children began their adult work lives as soon as they were physically able.

Bob said...

OMG, postpartum depression is caused by ... Republicans!

MathMom said...

I wondered if he wasn't thinking about Really Late-Term Abortion, like if maybe you find yourself shocked that someone new in the world requires sacrifices of your time and attention, and blimey! even your circle of friends, that perhaps you can have a do-over...just snuff the little boat anchor and go back to being happy?

Heyooyeh said...

I didn't see any mention of free child care in the Finkel article. Althouse is making an assumption she has no reason to assume. For someone who can be kind of assholish about readers making assumptions about her thinking, I find this interesting, since it's part of a pattern of her constantly making assumptions about other peoples thoughts (see the internal monologue about Hillary Clinton's assumed reaction to the ISIL revolt during her book rollout week (which some commenters here were dumb enough to believe were _really Hillary Clinton's thoughts_)).

Anyways, Althouse--if you don't like assumptions about your thinking, please stop making assumptions about the thoughts of others.

Sebastian said...

For the poor, childcare is already mostly free -- food, health care, housing, education (after age 4 or so): much of it paid for by other people. A slightly more rigorous economic analyst than the author of this piece might argue that government incentives already encourage people to have children who otherwise wouldn't.

Your reaction here is similar to your critique of travel: people buy into a BS ideology, so they have the wrong preferences; people don't realize they are buying into a BS ideology, so they lack self-knowledge; without self-knowledge they cannot make rational decisions, so they are bound to be unhappy (or at least less happy than they would be on the Althouse path to enlightenment).

SBG said...

C'mon, give me a break. It's not that hard. Especially if you are an ignorant 20's early 30's parent. As I was. I have seven. I didn't know any better. It all works out. It's our job. Our job is to do our job well.

harrogate said...

"I imagine that Finkel would like us to think: Free childcare! That's what we need to alleviate real human suffering, the suffering of parents, and it will benefit the children, too, because they're not really having such a great time left in the home with parents who [don't really love them] are distressed psychologically for economic reasons."

That's quite an imagination you have there, to be sure.But of course you are right. Economic circumstances couldnt possibly factor in to what he is taking about.

He writes this:

"As a recent parent myself, I urge you to consider this the next time someone you know greets the transition to parenthood with hopelessness or even despair. Pursue kindness over ideology. For a person whose suffering has been met with judgment, a sympathetic ear can make all the difference."

Larry J said...

"They don't emphasize that you will be shit on, spit on, cussed, ignored, tormented, used and abused. "

And most of that's before they're out of diapers. What infants do literally but innocently, teenagers do figuratively but with malice.

Martha said...

Obama channeling "poor" Hillary on Tuesday in Minnesota in attempt to relate/comfort economically challenged woman:

“When I see you, I’m reminded of when Michelle and I were starting off early on, and Michelle calling me in tears because we had just lost the nanny and we had no idea whether we were going to be able to replace her with somebody,” he said.

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2014/06/27/obama-feels-your-pain-because-he-and-michelle-once-lost-their-nanny/#ixzz35wIHMZct

traditionalguy said...

War On Breeders. Why do women ever have children anyway, when employers can ship them in by train from Central America.

When modern atheists are depressed, then everybody must be depressed.

Hope, faith and love that welcome having a family enjoying raising children are silly Christian experiences, and must be bravely forbidden.

Michael K said...

"What the hell...let's just start opening orphanages again.

(Semi seriously...it would be one way to try and break the cycle of poor parents and the transmission of the culture of failure.)"

When I was at Dartmouth, one of the students in my masters degree class had been raised in foster care. She told me she would rather have been raised in an orphanage.

She was obviously functioning well but she was very unhappy with foster care.

iowan2 said...

Parenting is not 'the hardest thing you'ss ever do'.

If you look at rearing a family as a chore, thats what you get. If thats the way you feel please dont reproduce.

Raising children is no different from training a dog. Consistancy in all things.

Come on they are human. Smarter than dogs.

This constant navel gazing about parenting is a sign of a society that is rich beyond imagination. Throw away your parenting self help books and ask your grandmother. Dont have that? Go mix with grandparents. Church is a good place.

Imagine that. Help that doesn't cost anything. Church.

And if you dont want poor parents having kids, the govt should quit paying them to have kids. You get more of what you pay for.

David said...

Lead Paragraph:

"EVERYONE knows that being the parent of an infant is hard. There’s the sleeplessness, the screaming fits to tend to, the loss of autonomy, the social isolation and the sheer monotony of it."

Monotony? Social isolation? Many parents find their infants endlessly fascinating. This fascination provides them a common experience with other parents in the same state in life, resulting in friendship.

If you start with the premise that the effects of children are as he describes, you are probably going to be unhappy. Perhaps he should rank the depressed parents on a narcissism scale, and see what kind of correlation there is.

wildswan said...

Marriage has sharply declined among the those with lowest incomes. So the "parents" who face the largest challenges are most likely to be a single woman and her live-in boyfriend. If the women goes on welfare, she can look after the child, ie. if she enters poverty and stays home day and night, she can handle the situation. That's a pretty overwhelming demand. It is not the demand that used to exist when a woman was supported by a husband, an extended family and a helpful community.

In the African-American community family collapse has gone so far that normal child raising has become fantastically difficult for a huge percentage of the group. For this reason the birthrate has fallen below replacement level and the group is on its way to dying out. This is an unmitigated social catastrophe. Liberals and Democrats should be working to strengthen the family but their attention is elsewhere. That's bad because, as the good professor says, the natural love parents feel for their children cannot be left to stand on its own in a society otherwise indifferent or even hostile to mothers, fathers, babies and family values. The consequence is the slow death of the group. This is exemplified as in the case of the African-Americans, the Democratic party's most loyal voters, who are being wiped out by Planned Parenthood amid great applause led by the first African-American President. Only the Republicans stand in the way.

lemondog said...

What was postpartum depression like among the frontier women?

David said...

Is Finkel really referring to the poor? I do not think so. There's no evidence that the studies he references are anything other than cross sections of the general population.

In fact he might want to take a closer look at poor people. The parenting strategies of the successful poor are very effective, even though more difficult to pull off than those of the average or affluent.

Heyooyeh said...

Paul Solman explored the high cost of childcare for families of different incomes, both poor and middle class, in his Making Sense series for NewsHour. Here's a link:


It provides more context beyond Althouse's facile thoughts on the issue.

Ann Althouse said...

"What was postpartum depression like among the frontier women?"

What was the incidence of infanticide in those parts?

Was it ever noticed or did parents get away with it about 100% of the time?

What is it today, btw? Not counting abortion as infanticide, what percent of infant murderers do you think go undetected or unprosecuted? I'm going to guess 95%.

William said...

Puppies, particularly those of the Lab persuasion, are much cuter than babies. And it's not irrelevant to note that they're easier to housebreak, cheaper to feed, and far more affectionate. People need to consider their options.

Fernandinande said...

"Evolutionary approaches to parental care suggest that parents will not automatically invest in all offspring, and they should reduce or eliminate investment in their children if the costs outweigh the benefits. Lack of paternal or social support will increase the costs born by mothers, whereas infant health problems will reduce the evolutionary benefits to be gained. Numerous studies support the correlation between postpartum depression (PPD) and lack of social support or indicators of possible infant health and development problems. PPD may be an adaptation that informs mothers that they are suffering or have suffered a fitness cost, which motivates them to reduce or eliminate investment in offspring under certain circumstances, and that may help them negotiate greater levels of investment from others. PPD also appears to be a good model for depression in general.
© 1999 Elsevier Science Inc."

Edward Lunny said...

" I'm going to guess 95%." Really ? That prevalent ? Why do you suppose that ?
It's certainly not 0, but, I'm thinking maybe 10-15%. I'd think that there would be some indication in the writings, histories from the times. I'd think that if it were that prevalent there'd be some record of it.
Today, I think much less. Too many witnesses. Too many people to notice the disappearance of a child or infant.
But, what do I know, it isn't something that I could contemplate.

Edward Lunny said...

Uh, yea. Let's see....It's not a freaking dog or a new car. You can't open the back door and let it out to shit in the grass. Washing, waxing, and changing the oil periodically isn't going to work either. They are not some damn disease or condition.
Your child is a new life, needs feeding, caring, nurturing, guidance. Oh, yea, you know what else...it's biggest goddamned responsibility you will ever have! And, you volunteered for it ! If you don't want kids, keep your damn pants on.
No, free childcare isn't a solution or helpful. You idiots have already dehumanized children to the point where exterminating them for being inconvenient is a perfectly acceptable behavior. Geez, what a bunch of useless airwasting shits you are. They're children, your children, your future, your investment in the belief that humanity should continue.
Stop with all of the psychobabble bullshit. Love your kids, hug them, enjoy them, take pride in their achievements, offer sympathy and guidance when they falter. Do that, do that and you and they will be better for it.
2 decades down the road and children are still, by far, the most amazing, and coolest thing that I have ever been involved in.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Re: "free childcare": I remain amazed how eager some people are to transform work done for love into work done for money. Especially when (as in this case) it's work done for love by parents into work done for money by a stranger.

Either (charitably) a lot of people haven't thought this through; or else (more realistically) a lot of people have thought it through, and like the looks of the new topography.

Ann Althouse said...

"" I'm going to guess 95%." Really ? That prevalent ? Why do you suppose that ?"

Because a lot of babies die, under the sole care of a parent, and I think it's easy to make look like an accident: crib death, drowning, etc.

And I think, as the article indicates, many parents become emotionally debilitated and the focus of their woes is that baby they are alone with.

Paco Wové said...

"the next time someone you know greets the transition to parenthood with hopelessness or even despair [...] Pursue kindness over ideology"

I guess the NYT style guide precludes just writing "Don't be a dick."

Joe said...

"EVERYONE knows that being the parent of an infant is hard. There’s the sleeplessness, the screaming fits to tend to, the loss of autonomy, the social isolation and the sheer monotony of it."


It CAN be hard at times, but at other times it is the source of immense joy. If there is any bullshit with modern parenting, it's not willing to sacrifice for your child, it's making yourself into a victim where the word sacrifice even comes up. Being a parent isn't that fucking hard (until they hit puberty....)

I'm a grandpa now and my five-year-old granddaughter can (note the can) get on my nerves after a few hours, but words cannot fully describe the love I feel for her and the joy I get when she comes over.

(By the way, that so-called study which showed having children reduces satisfaction in marriage sounds like complete bullshit. Among other things it uses "observed and self-reported" behavior and doesn't control for several factors. In short, it's yet more crap social "science".)

n.n said...

The parent-child relationship is an article of faith which was normalized for self-evident reasons. It is in the interest of society and humanity to promote the mutual love of parents and their children.

n.n said...

The normalization of welfare, entitlements, abortion, etc. has gone a long way to sabotage the parent-child relationship.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

[Blogger ate my comment; reconstructing from memory.]

Ann, if a toddler drowns, it's most often in a carelessly-secured pool. It's a stupid accident, a foreseeable accident, but it could actually be ... an accident. If a baby drowns, it's almost always in a bathtub, and you just don't leave a baby alone in a bathtub unless you want to see it dead. I imagine such cases are investigated very thoroughly, and that few mothers (we are talking mothers here, right?) escape the obvious inference.

Crib death/SIDS/whatever is a little more complicated, mainly because we still don't know exactly what causes it. But there, too, there's going to be serious scrutiny.

I think your 95% is way, way too high, in other words.

Ann Althouse said...

@ Michelle

You're simply displaying the belief in what you want to believe and the reality of the difficulty of proof.

In Wisconsin, we continually hear about babies who die while sleeping in the same bed as a parent. Everyone sees these cases not being prosecuted. Why does it keep happening?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...


Now there, you might have a point. The idea is that the baby is smothered when a parent rolls over in his/her sleep. It's possible, and pretty well insensible of proof, one way or the other (though, once again, I'd expect some considerable investigation before it was officially labeled accidental death).

But why was your first thought "drowning," and your second "crib death"?

n.n said...

Government the surrogate father.
Government the surrogate grandparents.
Government the surrogate neighbor.
Government the surrogate friend.
Government the surrogate community.

People have forgotten how to live with each other. They need government to be their guardian angel/devil.