On Kids and Happiness

Kids are great! The boys of the Woodpecker clan on a autumn hike to Kloster Andechs.

Kids are great!
The boys of the Woodpecker clan on an autumn hike to Kloster Andechs near Munich.

A question you are likely to come across in your younger years is:

Should I have kids?

And if I write “should I have kids”, I do NOT refer to a moral or social responsibility, I refer to YOUR wellbeing plus the wellbeing of the potential kid.
Not more.

In fact I HATE todays tendency to see kids as objects or as economic factors.
Like “society” telling you: “Yes, you should have kids, as someone has to pay our rents later”.
Or ecologists telling you: “No, you should not have kids as the world is overcrowded already”.
Or your parents telling you to have kids, because actually THEY want grand-children.

So first of all, forget about everybody who sees

(a) kids as an object.

(b) wants to influence you out of own interests.

Kids are no objects, they have no “purpose” except the purpose they choose for themselves when they get older!

Now, let’s see what the impact of kids on YOUR life is likely to be.

And no, you will not see any stupid argument like: “I need to have someone to care for me later”.
This would fall under (a) above. Not valid. It might come as a nice add-on, but you must not count on it, otherwise your relationship to your kids will be in great danger from the beginning.

Let’s start with the least rational argument. However, as chance wants it, this was (and is) also the most important argument for Woodpecker:

1. Kids are great, because they provide meaning of life.

And meaning of life is in scarce supply these days. With religion on the retreat, science and rational world-view taking over, the question for meaning in life is not that easy to answer anymore. But then, it probably never was…

Anyway, while I don’t say there are no other answers available (there are), at least one meaning of life is for sure: The biological meaning of life. And this is to preserve your genes, and your heritage, to not break the line that connects you over thousands of generations to your ancestors. And that hopefully carries on over thousands of generations to your off-springs. This meaning clearly is provided by kids, and by kids alone.

It sounds a bit strange at first glance, but if you think about it, it is a strong argument. At least for me.

2. Kids are great because THEY can be extremely happy

What is Woodpecker talking about now?!?!

I mean:

Kids have a unique and totally unspoilt connection to the ultimate origin of happiness.

A connection that unfortunately gets partly lost when you grow older. You can work towards reestablishing that connection, but it will never again be as pure as in a kid.

Whoever has kids knows that they can be 100% happy down right to the last fiber of their body and the last cell in their little brains. They can be so happy and so totally focussed on the beauty of a moment, that this is outright radiating from them to everybody around.

And this is a great thing for you as well:
Because happiness is contagious. If you allow it you will catch fire too in these precious moments.

Your job as a parent is to set the scene that your kids can enjoy as many of this happy moments as possible – and you with them.

And this has nothing to do with presents or money.
Although presents do work, they are overrated. Take time and do things with your kids. Go out and explore the world together, go travelling, sleep in a tent, build a campfire or a snowman. Do something “forbidden” or crazy. All of this will work just as well (and much cheaper) as the highly worshiped christmas evening. Same glowing in the eyes of your kids and all.
Only prerequisite: You must not be stressed. Take your time. The bird of happiness is allergic against stress, in kids even more than in adults.

3. Happiness Research: Effect of kids on happiness unclear

This is interesting.

Overall, statistics show that the impact of kids on happiness is small to nil.

There is a measurable boost in happiness for the first year after a kid’s birth, but after that happiness recedes to the prior level. During 2nd-3rd year and during 13-15th year, actually, happiness of parents is a bit lower than of people without kids. During age 3-12 it is a bit higher in return.
And unfortunately I found no data on comparing happiness of parents whose kids left home compared to older people without kids.

But why is it that parents are not more happy than other people given the wonderful time kids can provide?
And would I subscribe to it from personal experience?

Well, yes and no.

One thing is clear:

Kids can be very stressful from time to time. Especially the 2-3 year age can be challenging from my experience. Very little sleep for the parents, kid is no cute baby anymore but can develop a fairly strong will and stubbornness in this age, yet he/she is too young to fully take advantage of the big fun you can have together from age 3 1/2 years on. Still, nappies and the mess during lunch and diners can be annoying and time for your partnership is scarce as a small kid is not yet fully fit for uncomplicated baby-sitting by third parties.

On the other side, no, I don’t understand why the negative things should balance out the many great moments you have with kids.

I think the difference between a happiness-boosting parenthood and a happiness-neutral parenthood comes (again) from the setup of the parent’s life:

You need three things for a great parenthood / childhood to happen:

1) time

2) time

3) time

You really need time!

The reason is clear:
As true as kids are connected to the pure source of happiness, they are equally detached from any feeling of scarceness of time.

Imagine yourself being a three year old kid for the moment:

For a kid the time after standing up and before breakfast is an eternity, never-ending. No thought of anything else or any “later” during the play with some toys in the wonderful morning atmosphere.

Breakfast itself is an eternity too. Why hurry? The “next thing to do” as we adults know it, doesn’t even exist in a kids head while munching his Muesli and trying to catapult a raisin on his brother with the spoon.

Walking as slowly as possible to kindergarten: An eternity! No clock, no hurry, no need to get there anytime soon. No thought about it in the first place while strolling around and looking for some bugs in the fence.

And so on.

Obviously as a parent you have schedules in mind, dates, appointments etc.
No big deal, this is how the world operates.

But it becomes clear here: If you have a stressful life, then your stress is likely to decrease the great common experience with your kids. The above mentioned “magical moments” become fewer, or your kids will have to enjoy them without you, at their kindergarten or wherever.

Note that I don’t say it necessarily is a problem for the kid to have fun without you, but it definitely is a problem FOR YOU, because you will miss out on so much while sitting in your office! And you will still have the busy moments with your kids, without getting compensated by the chill-out moments.

Long story cut short:

Downshifting is a good choice to maximize the happiness your kids will provide and will make you more immune against occasional stress produced by your kids.

On the other side, a very stressful work next to your kids is (in my humble opinion) likely to increase the likelihood of lower happiness due to the additional stress that kids inevitably will add to your load.

4. Costs of kids

As a downshifter your income stream probably will not be maxed out to the full theoretical maximum.

On the other side, you will be very efficient in the use of money and very immune against the temptations of stupid consumption.

So what do kids add to the budget?

Difficult to say, as the range can be enormous.

Direct Costs

Direct costs can be high if you go for luxury cloths, loads of brand-new toys, overpriced brand-new high-end equipment and so on.

But you can also squeeze them down heavily if you go for used cloths, toys, gear (as kids are becoming fewer and fewer, but all the stuff is still there, more and more used cloths, toys, bikes, skiers, etc. will find the way toward YOUR kid virtually for free if you ask around).

Grandparents and others will flood you with presents in todays consumption world. As chances are limited to stop them, you can at least channel their eagerness to buy something useful:
You need a bike for your boy/girl? Grannie might love to hand it over.
Kids want to go to a fully overpriced amusement park? Why not let them spend their day there with grandpa as a present from him? And so on.

A huge cost in the early years will be nappies and baby food, can’t avoid that.

Later on food will still be an issue, although a minor one for some years to come if you do a lot of cooking and follow the general guidelines of frugal living.

Example:
Total budget food / nappies&drugstore / cloths / gear / “services” for both Woodpecker boys per month together: 250 EUR.

Probably in the years to come a load of other costs will come up, but I don’t want to think about them yet. Let’s kill one beast at a time. 😉

Indirect Costs

Indirect Costs are much higher.

Basically they consist out of

a) higher rent or higher costs as bigger flat/house is needed

b) loss of income due to less working

c) childcare

Whereas (b) is probably the biggest issue for the career-driven, as a downshifter you can consider yourself happy: Working a lot isn’t much of a priority anyway. 😉
Thus you can skip (b). More than that, kids even give you a great excuse to cut down working hours. Probably on the expense of your career chances, but ok, that’s the way it is.

So you are stuck with (a), a larger home. Add +10% to your rent expenses per kid and that’s about it.
At Woodpecker’s, the boys share a room of 20sqm, at 12 EUR/sqm and month, i.e. 240 EUR per month.

And with (c). This one is difficult. The more you and your partner downshift, the less of this you will need. Plus there are some good state subsidies in place at least in Germany. And often the employer or municipality takes over some of the costs, so this is very individual and can range from zero to 1.000 EUR per month and kid.
For Woodpecker’s two boys it is a total net after refund and subsidies of 250 EUR per month altogether (plain but very well run state childcare; no fancy crap with massages, pick-up service and chinese lessons for the three-year old, as others have it in Munich). Quite ok I’d say.

Healthcare is provided by the state in Germany.

Schools and University are for free and of good quality.

Benefits

But then you get some money from the state as well. In Germany this is 200 EUR p.month and kid, plus some tax deductions.
And you get 65% of your last pay for 14 months when leaving your job for staying at home with kids (“Elternzeit” / Parental leave, the best invention of this decade!).
And Mrs Woodpecker even gets a little bit of bonus salary from her employer for having kids! Chapeau!

Summary

All people are different, I can only speak for myself, but my personal opinion is short and crisp:

If you are in doubt, go for kids!

Set the scene right, and you will enjoy it!

And don’t wait too long for the “right moment”. The perfectly “right moment” will never be there…

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Advertisements

7 comments on “On Kids and Happiness

  1. Nice post. I think this is one of those questions you can definitely overthink (I know I did). You can find the best stuff about having kids in other ways. You can also manage the downsides (by downshifting, etc). One of those ones where you should go with your gut and know that, either way, you have no real cause for regret.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this. I’m a true believer in downshifting to spend more time with your children. I know of some women who went back to work full time with a long commute to London when their babies were just 6 months old. Surely it’s better to work less, have less, and spend time with the little ones.

    • mrwoodpecker says:

      Couldn’t agree more!
      Strange how so many people (often without being in need) think life&family should be fit around work, where actually it should be the other way round.

  3. Pribi says:

    Good article. Last sentence is important one, not only for this topic.
    And yes, you need more time. I stopped to work on Fridays (thanks to employer who has understanding into situation) to get more time for family.

  4. Nice post. I would only take issue with the following: “A huge cost in the early years will be nappies and baby food, can’t avoid that.”

    Even disposable nappies don’t have to be expensive (and there is always the re-usable option). We started off using a mix of expensive (Pampers etc) ones and cheaper (Lidl etc) brands, and after a while just switched to the cheap ones having realised that it didn’t make much difference. We have averaged about £13 per month on nappies over the life of our 11 month old, so hardly breaking the bank so far, I imagine that in Germany it would be possible to do that even more cheaply.

    As for food, you don’t need to buy baby food!! We’ e noticed that for some reason Germany seems to lag a bit on this topic compared to some of its neighbours. The current WHO recommendations are to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months, and after that as you start to ween them on to solids you don’t need to buy “baby food”. You presumably don’t eat processed food yourself, so why feed it to your baby? Cook for them yourself!! It’s frugal and healthy, you know exactly what they are eating and you can make things much more exotic and varied to get them used to different textures and flavours.

    • Pribi says:

      I agree with Andrew about food. When mine kids started with food, we immediately offered them cooked food and they ate it. As a matter of fact, they refuse baby food which we tried to give them couple times as quick solution.

      • mrwoodpecker says:

        You both are probably right. Mrs Woodpecker did breast-feeding until 6 months or so, but afterwards we used quite a few of the ready-made glasses (mainly fruit), that could have been replaced by home-cooking. The thing was, that the kids prefered the stuff from the store, maybe you must not offer it in the first place.

        Cheers,
        Woodpecker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s