Pre-Review Survey: Is Parenting Easy and Fun?

Bryan Caplan, an economist, blogger, and owner of the world’s ugliest website, has written a new parenting book (Parenting ideas! From an economist!) called Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. The book is available for pre-order on here, and will be released in mid-April.

I plan on getting a copy and doing a full review later, but before doing so, I am curious to see what the gut reaction of BCC’s readers is to the simple statements found in the title: Parenting is a) less work and b) more fun than conventional wisdom indicates. As a father of two children, I struggled all weekend in trying to decide if I agree or disagree with either statement, and am still not sure of myself. If forced to make an unqualified, un-nitpicky decision, I would probably say that a) is false and b) is true in my experience.

If you have children, are these statements true for your experience? What were your expectations of the hardships and enjoyment of parenting before children? Has your perception of these things changed with time? Do you think that your religiosity affects your perception of how easy/enjoyable parenting is?


  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    I’m finding school-aged kids to be very little work and tons of fun. I found baby/toddlers/preschoolers to be a ton of the very worst kind of work and virtually no fun at all.

    I suspect this is a function of my personality.

  2. Less work AND more fun? Than what, an un-anesthitized root canal?

  3. I agree, Julie. Baby/toddlers are quite the handful.

  4. I have two reactions to this. First of all, I’m in the Julie M. Smith camp. Babies/toddlers was all work and no fun. School age kids is lots of fun.
    Secondly, I have noticed that my husband is constantly surprised at how great family life is. I, however, am not. I came from a happy Mormon home. He came from an unhappy, older half-siblings on both sides home (so less of a real sense of family). I expect marriage and raising kids to be hard but very worthwhile. He, however, didn’t expect to love and enjoy his family this much (he does still think it is work though).
    I think that there are probably many American adult who view having kids as just “responsibility” that they have avoided and then are pleasantly surprised when they actually do it that it is something awesome. Mormons like me, though, having been told all our lives that families are great probably are not quite as surprised.

  5. From an outsider’s perspective, since I’m not married, nor do i have children, I anticipate it being a lot of work. However, I also anticipate great reward and personal growth in the whole “family life” thing. From my perspective, I feel sort of dammed in certain kinds of progression and understanding.

    That being said, it seems that the common feeling among others in my position are either a) fanciful fairytale ideas of blissful marriage, or b) terror at the possibility of responsibility mixed with a desire to quell the hormones urging procreation.

  6. I’m with Julie too- but would add that the whole equation changes when you have a child with a disability. There is nothing easy (and very little fun) about parenting a child with autism, and it effects the entire dynamic of the family.

  7. Seriously, though, my kids bring a lot of joy into my life. They just also bring an awful lot of work, and a fair amount of frustration/anger/irritation, as well. Like when I see my beautiful 3-year-old girl come dancing out of her bedroom for the seventh time since we put her to bed an hour ago.

    Would I trade them for anything in the world? Never. That doesn’t mean I always enjoy their demands for attention, or (especially) their behavior that demands some sort of discipline, though.

  8. absolutely less work and more fun. i am mom to five with a seven year span from oldest to youngest. sure, they’re work… but it’s an enjoyable work and far less than i’d expected. we’re a sort of hippy-dippy “crunchy” variety of parents, though, and i think that makes a big difference. we joke now that it’s like having kittens… do you really notice a difference in work between four kittens and five? of course, we haven’t yet had teenagers, so i reserve the right to change my answer.

    they’re far more fun than i’d imagined. and i can’t pick a favorite age or stage because every one holds some sort of magic. it makes me sad to think of the day when i will no longer have a baby.

    religion helps my frame of mind. while my peers tell me i’m missing out, sacrificing too much, and should be miserable, at least the church reminds me of my “noble calling” and tells me it’s okay to eschew big vacations and toys for more mouths to feed.

    i love it. i’d have ten more if i could. mothering a large (for southern california, at least!) family is the second best thing i’ve ever done.

  9. I knew babies/toddlers were going to be an unimaginably huge ton of work, and I was still unprepared for just how much work it was. That is probably a function of (a) having had twins and (b) personality issues as Julie cited in #1. I’m loving having school age kids because I’m more of a life of the mind kind of person and we get to have great fun with that starting around say 4 years old.

    Maybe (a) False, (b) True, although with (b), I did expect it to be pretty fun since I had a very fun childhood.

  10. Um, I guess I am a dud mother, but I find parenting a lot of work and worry.

    I agree with Julie about the babies/schoolkids split, but I find teenagers worrisome.

    I worry all the time about the teenagers getting into a car accident with their National Merit Finalist friends in the passenger seat. And getting date raped on a band trip. And not being able to find a spouse or job when they are done with college.

    And talking to teens is such a minefield. You have to respect their personhood yet still get them to clean the darn toilet.

    But clearly I may be an incompetent parent to not enjoy it like I should.

  11. My wife might disagree with me, but I’ve been regularly and pleasantly surprised by how much fun parenthood is. The only downside to my 18-month-old daughter is she’s too young to accurately throw a snowball. I’m expecting that problem to fix itself over the next few years.

  12. My kids are both still too young for school, and I’m a single mom. I think it’s sort of both more work and less work than expected.

    I have the unique opportunity (code word for trial) of having my children gone every other weekend. It’s great and horrible all at once, but one thing that surprised me is to find out how quickly I can get things done when they’re not around. Shopping, cleaning, yard work, all take less than half the time. I never realized how much of my time was spent on them until they were gone sometimes.

    At the same time, I don’t see it as work so much as it is life. Sure, things take longer, but I don’t really want to live my life worrying about how quickly I get things done. Most of the time I spend on my kids would get spent on less productive things, like reading, ‘net surfing, or idly shopping, anyways.

    Sure, it’s nice to get a break once in awhile, but if I had the choice I’d much rather have my kids with me.

  13. Depends a lot on the disposition of your kids. They say strong-willed children make for more interesting and competent adults, but I constantly wonder if my extraordinarily strong-willed 5-year old will make it that far. I mean, last week, my wife and I had a serious conversation about how many times can you go to the emergency room for random accidents before CPS is obligated to show up to your door. And while I’m sure we’ll have lots of stories when we’re older about his tomfoolery and general lack of self-preservation that seem fun and funny in retrospect, I won’t deny that he currently causes both of us a lot of stress. Much more than I anticipated before having kids. I just never thought that I’d measure a good parenting day by whether the child is still alive at the end of the day.

  14. I’m with Scott — more work and more fun than I expected. I think for me it is more a function of my age than my religiosity. I would have had more energy for these little dudes when I was in my late 20s instead of my early 40s, fer sher.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Kids are more fun than I thought. They’re also more everything than I thought.

  16. Um, depends what day it is. And who your kids are.

    It’s less work on school days. It’s more fun on days when puberty hormones aren’t making anybody mean, and autism isn’t causing anyone to have tantrums and tell me what a bad mother I am.

    It was less work when they were babies and breastfeeding could cure any ill. It’s more fun when they can tell me all the things they think about.

    Is it less work than not having kids? No.

    Is it more fun than not having kids? Definitely.

    Is it a small enough amount of work and a large enough amount of fun to have more than two? No frickin’ way.

  17. Now that I’ve worked up to starting to see the first grandkids, I’ll vote that a) is false, children are more work than you imagine, and b) true, more fun than you imagine.

    Two observations:

    First, two children are twice as many as one child, and three children are twice as many as two children, four are…well you get it.

    Second, you love your children all of the time, you just may not love all of your time with your children.

  18. This has already been answered pretty well, but I’ll chime in with my view — kids are unspeakably hard. I hate the work of having kids and I never thought I would feel this way. Mine are still young, though, so hopefully I won’t feel this way later. But I really hate the work of little kids. Really.

    But they are fun. If it were just weighing the fun against the work with no love in the mix I wouldn’t have kids (like I could go back and choose after the fact), because I don’t think they’re fun enough to balance that. But if you include love, they’re worth it.

    My oldest is a very hard kid and has been since he was 2 weeks old, though, and that might have something to do with my opinions.

    And I’ve got to say that it’s so frustrating to have this kind of opinion be uncomfortable for all the other moms at church. They don’t want to hear it — to them it’s an impossibility not to love (or at least pretend to love) every singe thing about motherhood. It drives me up the wall. I feel bad enough about feeling this way in the first place and then they give the impression that I’m some kind of aberration. Maybe I am, but I doubt it. And saying all of this doesn’t mean I love my kids any less, dang it.

  19. More work and more fun than I imagined. But the “more fun” part only came years into the project of rearing my kids when I let go of some of my expectations of how it would all turn out.

    And it depends a lot on the kids — some kids (among my 7) are just easier to parent than others.

    Of course, I don’t do any of the heavy lifting. I’m just the dad, protecting and providing… ;-)

  20. Oh, and #18 — my wife and you would get along just fine. Some kids are just hard.

  21. Last Lemming says:

    Less Work and More Fun Than You Think

    I thought it would be hard and not a lot of fun. It was harder and less fun than I thought. But that might be because Tracy (#6) is correct times two. (One nonverbal Down syndrome and one OCD/bulemic. And the latter is far harder and less fun than the former).

    I look forward to the review. As an economist, maybe I’ll write a rebuttal book.

  22. Andrea R. says:

    I agree with Julie and Tracy M — kids are a lot harder and more work than I expected, and having a child with a disability increases that load infinitely. I’ve been challenged to my limit in every way possible since I’ve had kids.

    All that being said, the cute and fun factor tips the scales somewhat. Hearing my child declare that today is “silly dance day” and proceed to show me his silly dance is possibly the cutest thing ever.

    Fun? No. Easy? No. Daily struggle with occasional moments of cuteness and grace? Yes.

  23. We found, and I speak for my deceased wife, that parenting was not hard at all. Six in 10 years. At the present they are really nice adults, and if they, as children, were work, it is all compensated. My wife really had fun, she loved the kids. She LOVED particularly the music lessons, the camping, the beach, the boating. The hikes, even the hard ones. She organized her friends and their kids around summer school classes.

    We recognized early that children are the solvents of marriages. If the marriage were to enjoyable survive the children the bond would have to be stronger. We worked on the bond.

    We recognized early that the welfare of the parents was at least as important as the welfare of the children. We tolerated little guff but lots of noise.

    We understood that if a kid acted up it might be a legitimate gripe and we acted on it. A kid will always need attention, make sure the attention is good attention. Do not worry about rewarding bad behavior. Just give the kid good attention.

    Discourage inter-child bad behavior.

    Dad was always there. We devoted lots of time to family activity.

    Most of her pain of her passing, I know, was missing her children and grandchildren and the fun of it. Camping, beach, life.

    We had a family reunion the year before cancer. 23 people in a house and were were the cooks and bottle washers. I can not think of a more pleasant time.

  24. It all depends on what kind of kids you have. I don’t think I knew what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t what I got.

    I don’t think my religiosity factors into my perception of how easy/fun it is (or isn’t). But I’ve never not had religion, so maybe I don’t know what that would be like. I know people who think parenting is easy and fun, but I think it’s because their kids are easy and fun. (Some kids are.)

    I think my kids are fun. But whenever I start thinking one of them is easy, it turns out that I’m actually just ignoring them.

  25. Just a note: I have three of my six kids who have made choices I would not made for them, including one who suffers from depression and anxieties, but even then, I would still say that overall, even with some of the bad stuff, it was and continues to be more fun that I expected, in spite of all the work. We have to capitalize on the good days with the one with depression issues, but there are still times of great fun together. We cherish those moments of grace.

  26. So far, it’s exceeded my expectations.

    I used to be jealous of my single and more unattached co-workers who could take off on fun trips, stay out late every night, etc.

    That would be fun, so I’m not discounting it, but I realized they’re often searching for that “feeling good” sensation that I often get by just going home from work to a little social group that laughs at my jokes, need me emotionally and fill a void for several hours a day, every day, that many are trying to fill with their two weeks of vacation or weekends.

    For me, being a father has not always been fun, but it has been fulfilling and a joy. And, frankly, it has been fun most of the time. It’s just a simple, base type of fun.

  27. Parenting is also a lot easier in retrospect than it is in the present.

  28. #27: EXACTLY right, RJ.

    #18: Conifer, if it’s any consolation, RJ is right, and despite how hard it is now, someday you’ll be able to pen a blissfully breezy and happy-in-retrospect comment, just like #23.

  29. #20: Paul, maybe your wife and I need to form a non-sugar coated alliance.

    #28: Cynthia, I look forward to that day. The idea of it keeps me going. But people keep warning me that I’ll have to get through the teen years before I can arrive at such bliss. Hopefully the fact that I take video of the good and not the bad can help me see it all through rose colored glasses, you know, once the tantrums are over.

  30. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    I didn’t like kids or want kids at all until I was 27. For me a) is false and b) is very true. What confirms to me that b) is true for me is that I got very emotional (tears and groveled speech, actually) for the first time in a while the other night when we watched Toy Story 3. Within the first 5 minutes when I realized the movie was about how Andy was going to college and symbolically putting his toys in the attic, I became totally unglued. My wife was laughing at me. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but the idea of my kids leaving is concept I don’t visit for entertainment right now.

  31. what percentage of the day is said economist home with his children? Are his children all grown and he has selective memory loss? I think it can be more or less work by how we parent and where we live…too many activities , big back yard, friends…

    But some kids are harder than others..and fun? that seems like a good, but shallow word for what it is.

  32. I had 6 children who are currently 20-30 years old. For the last 12 years, I was a single mom after their dad bailed.

    I had loads of fun with them and remember my days as a SAHM with great fondness. Yes, there was a lot of work too, but I started my family so young that I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what to expect. So I can’t really speak to that side of it, but it was world’s easier when I had a supportive spouse vs. being a single mom.

    As for teenagers? Sure, they were great fun too. My son-in-law says our house was like a Disney Musical (specifically, he referred to the scene in Enchantment when Giselle bursts into song and the leading man wonders how everyone else seemed to know the words to the song).

    I think the real question is “what do you consider fun?” If you’d rather go out partying and clubbing, then you probably won’t get much out of spending time with an infant/toddler/preschooler/tween/teen. If you like games and imagination and stories and songs and crafts and make believe, then the more children the better.

    But hands down, grandchildren are the absolute BEST!

  33. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    I’m going to put a plug in for babies. I love babies! Though I am constantly reminded how much easier and faster it is to get things done without my little attachment, and there are times I look at her and think “Ok, we’ve done x, y and z today, now what am I supposed to do with you?” I love, love LOVE this stage where they respond to everything you do. No homework to fight through, no bully issues to worry about, just a sweet little girl who leans in for a kiss and steals my glasses when my guard is down.

  34. “what percentage of the day is said economist home with his children?”

    Thanks so much for asking that, britt k. I had the same thought.

    Because I think I could enjoy being a dad. Reading to them, getting them ready for bed…yeah, I could have fun doing that.

  35. Ditto #33–Babies and toddlers! Incredibly fun. Also, incredibly all-consuming. Now my kids are in school, except for one. They just entertain themselves, still fun, but in a different way. It’s fun to watch toddlers an pre-schoolers soak up everything around them.

  36. My wife and I have no children yet, and I don’t want to be one of those people who thinks he knows everything about child-rearing before he has experienced it, but I just want to comment that, sweet Jebus, Bryan’s website is awful! Why, for the love of all things holy, does that abomination exist???

    Carry on.

  37. For me it was a whole lot harder than I realized. I knew from being an aunt how fun kids are at all ages, and I love kids, I just adore them. I’d rather spend time with kids over grown-ups any day. They’re so bright and clever and surprising in the observations they make and in their thoughts. They’re also mostly guileless (or you can tell when they’re fibbing), and loving.

    But when I got my own son, he was already a teenager, and after the first six months when we got along great, it was extremely difficult. He had a meltdown, I think maybe because he finally knew there was somebody who loved him unconditionally, and he let out all the bad behavior that his whole difficult life had built up inside him. I’m not sure if it was that or if abused kids just have harder adolescences. But his ongoing problems are a disability, and yes that makes it infinitely harder.

    I love him more fiercely and powerfully than I realized was possible. I just didn’t know such love could be, in which one can hurt more vicariously than in the first person. Stronger love than I’ve ever felt for anyone. I want so badly to give him some happy home experiences, to give him a joyful loving home life to serve as a foundation for his life and his connections with people. But his plans are completely different. So we go along as well as we can manage.

    And yes, the difficulty of it took me by surprise. I thought I would be such a great mom, but I found out I had to work hard to become a better person to be the mom I wanted to be. Though I’ve gotten better with practice, I still fall short often, especially because I just run out of energy. Parenting seems to show up all one’s weaknesses, and make it necessary to let them go.

    But the joys are enormous, too. I totally agree there. I think it has to do with addictive brain circuits. The occasional joys are so great that they fuel our behavior throughout the difficult periods. Maybe that’s why humans have that addictive brain potential, because it comes to play in being a good parent. Kaimi, I think, posted an article to that effect a while back and it rings very true to me. All my alcoholic Irish forebears with huge families come to mind, as well. =)

  38. It’s not exactly that parenting is _more_ work than I thought it would be; it’s that the nature of the work is so difficult to imagine until you’re in it. It’s the 24-7 relentless physical and emotional demands, the way everything else (things like showering or brushing one’s teeth) gets squeezed in around the kids or shoved aside entirely, and the intense isolation.

    For me, a phrase I saw in a parenting study a few months ago captures it: parenting is all joy, no fun.

  39. Mark Brown says:

    Yes, Eve said what I’ve been thinking. I have done lots of work that was harder, as work, that raising children. I’ve been paid money to haul 80 lb. bales of hay all day long, carry bricks up a two-story scaffold, and dig post-holes. That is all very hard work, but you always knew that in 45 minutes you were going to get a break, and that at 5 o’clock you could go home, shower, eat, and rest.

    Parenting small children is different because it isn’t back-breaking labor so much as it is just a constant, relentless, need to respond. After a few sleepless nights with a sick child, hauling hay all day in the summer sun didn’t look so bad after all.

  40. I’d like to speak a little to how religiosity affects my perception of parenting. I have had countless times, now that my kids are a little older, when I would have felt like a GREAT parent if it weren’t for my religious beliefs. For the most part, I would say that my kids are well-adjusted, relatively well-behaved kiddos- and I think (hope) that they will someday be productive, happy adults. So in that respect, maybe I’m doing alright.
    However, are they on a path that’s gonna lead to exaltation? I don’t know. Maybe I’m not a good enough example. (My patriarchal blessing tells me to “walk in such a way” that my children can “safely follow me”). Agh! Maybe I have neglected to teach them some critical principle, or maybe they think I’m a hypocrite because I am pretty good with some commandments, and lousy with others (keeping the Sabbath day holy comes to mind). Maybe my whining about various things at church is slowly eroding their testimonies.
    See where I’m going with this?
    Anyhow, I agree that parenting is far more joy than it is fun, although it can be fun. I have a love/hate relationship with parenting, I guess.

  41. #40 meggle, I agree that to the extent we accept that we are responsible for how our kids turn out (and there are lots of LDS parents who believe that), there’s plenty of guilt and shame that complicates our ability to enjoy parenting.

    For LDS parents, especially, the stakes are extraordinarily high (eternal life, after all!), so it’s easy to see why we fret so much.

    Ironically for me, when I realized that how my kids turn out is as much up to them as it is to me, I was able to relax considerably. I still try to do the right thing, but I do not demand outcomes (from them or God). It has allowed me to focus more on showing love and less on regulating behavior, particularly among the young adults in my family.

    As for those little ones — exhausting. I feel like there were entire years that my wife and I did not sleep (especially when we had babies and teens in the same house). On the flip side, those babies had a remarkably humanizing effect on the teens. Nothing quite like seeing my surly teenage son’s demeanor soften when he played with his baby brother or sister.

    (Unfortunately that model is not infinitely sustainable, and now the baby sister and brother are approaching the surly years; we’ll see what comes next…)

  42. However, are they on a path that’s gonna lead to exaltation? I don’t know.

    This is almost an omni-present idea for Mormon parents (I think). I can’t imagine its healthy, or helpful.

  43. it is true parenting is much easier when I do what is right and LET the consequence follow, instead of making it follow.

    We can’t control the consequence. Especially when the consequence is attached to a 3yo and you are discussing pretty dresses and frigid temperatures.

  44. MikeInWeHo says:

    In Mormon cosmology one-third of even Heavenly Father’s children didn’t turn out so well, so you’d think Mormon parents could go a little easier on themselves. Proverbs 22:6 strikes me as one of the most demonstrably untrue assertions in scripture.

  45. Thanks for that reminder, MikeInWeHo.

  46. #15 & #17 – Ditto.

  47. Mike, Amen – although I have a friend who says that the verse in question says nothing about when they are not old. Still not accurate, imo, but I like the disclaimer, nonetheless.

  48. I work from home and am around my kids a lot. I would say that there is just more of everything (except money and time) around a passle of kids. More emotion both good and bad. More playing, fighting, loving, working, reading, shooting nerf guns, arguing. There is lots more food. Mostly kid food. There is lots and lots of joy tempered by lots and lots of work.

  49. More fun and easier than you think? Sounds like a catchphrase designed by the publisher to garner marketing attention for a new book more than a distillation of the real experience of parenting. It’s one of life’s most singular experiences, and my experience having raised four kids is that there is indeed joy and fun. But like life in general, it is also marked by pain, worry, and sorrows that are harrowing at times: Disabilities, disease, discord, addictions, even death, just to name a few. I wouldn’t trade my role as a parent for anything–but trite book titles don’t do it justice, and I have my doubts this new book will either.

  50. I love, love, love babies–perhaps because my babies were always sweet, slept well and loved to be cuddled.
    I don’t like the 2-3 year old stage becuase it is hard work for me. My kids don’t stop moving for a second and tear everything apart.
    My main stress with my older school age children is schoolwork. But otherwise, we’re good.

  51. Yep, the guilt is high, and no, I don’t think it’s healthy. I’m trying to let go. I want kids who above all, feel loved by both their earthly parents and their Heavenly Parents. Interesting discussion going on about this over at fmh right now, too. (Well, not about this exactly, but about parenting, and they’ve both got me thinking). I really appreciate the thought and discussion provided here. Mike, going to look up that scripture in proverbs now. I find you quite wise.

  52. Oh, wait, is it the “raise up a child… and when he’s old, he won’t depart from it” or something? Yeah, that’s just adds a layer of stress. And seems to ignore agency. Let’s chalk it up to not being translated correctly. :P
    Yep, just checked.

  53. I have had a few fun moments. but not as many as I thought there would be and never with a child younger than 3. oh well. life.

  54. Now that my kids are teens I look back and think that the baby/toddler/gradeschool times were unending fun. Then I get flashes of staying up all night rocking a screaming/sick baby and being at the hospital and not being able to communicate with this little being and just being scared to death sometimes. It’s always better in the rearview mirror.

    Also, as a Dad that has often had a working wife, I have to say that I’m very grateful I got to be the full-time parent sometimes while my wife was working. Dads who never have the full responsibility of parenting resting on them on a regular basis because their wives are always around are missing out on something, I think.

    Having said that, anyone who is a stay-home parent has my full respect and admiration. It’s a difficult full-time job.

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