Parents in Denial When It Comes to Child Costs

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photo: iStockPhoto

New research suggests that people may exaggerate the perks of being parents to rationalize the financial costs of raising children.

Two studies, featured in the journal Psychological Science, measured more than 140 parents' feelings after being presented with information regarding the hefty bill of raising a child. In the Northeast, raising one child to the age of 18 costs nearly $193,000, according to the research.

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In one of the studies, researchers exposed half of parents to the overall costs of raising a child, while the other half received information about the costs as well as information suggesting that children care for and financially support aging parents later in life.

The team discovered that parents who were only exposed to the costs of parenthood (not the benefits) rationalized such costs by reporting a higher intrinsic value of being parents. The other group, which received information regarding the costs and benefits of parenthood, did not show an increase in rationalization.

The other study confirmed these findings and found that those who rationalize parenthood also reported a higher intrinsic value of spending time with their kids.

The authors suggest rationalizing the financial costs of children reduces cognitive dissonance, or the tendency for people to resolve contradictory thoughts.

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These findings by no means suggest that parents do not enjoy parenthood or fail to love their children, but rather emphasize that parents are sometimes faced with conflicting feelings regarding the costs and benefits of having children.

Historically, the researchers point out an interesting trend: as children's economic value decreased, their emotional value to parents increased. Basically, children began to contribute less to the family's income when Children's Labor laws — both statewide and nationally– limited children's ability to work in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The University of Waterloo researchers also provide support that parenthood isn't as dreamy as most make it out to be, citing a lower "emotional well-being" from other research. In addition, they add, parents weren't always as involved with their kids. In fact, doctors once told parents to reduce contact with their babies in order to avoid spoiling the infants.

What do you think? Do the emotional rewards of parenthood overshadow financial burden? Do you know someone who exaggerates the emotional rewards of being a parent?