At Salon "kryptogal" articulates a woman's mystification by the fact that the great majority of human beings choose to have children since it is questionable whether doing so reliably increases happiness (for the parents involved, that is). The title, "Does having children ruin your life?" suggests the point of view.
The psychology of parenting is intriguing for the same reason that the psychology of religion is: both phenomena must reflect something very basic about human nature, since most people who have ever lived have pursued them. Or should we say have been pursued by them? Are there many choices, except for things like survival or food, that are more determined by unconscious and instinctual factors than the "choice" to believe or to have babies? And then of course there is that galling minority who opt out of one or both (I'm in the minority on religion and in the majority on parenting).
Of course, throughout most of human history having babies may have reflected nothing more profound than sexual instinct plus the absence of good birth control. But the availability of the latter in the developed world for forty-odd years hasn't brought parenting to halt. Yet...reproductive rates have been trending downward for a while in this country, and particularly in Europe. Could it be that an inertial effect of eons-long tradition is beginning to wane? That would suggest that parenting will in fact be more of a conscious, and an idiosyncratic, decision in the future. Or is there something deeply psychological about the parenting path beyond sexual inertia and social tradition?
Biological infertility aside, have studies been done to compare psychological profiles of married folks who choose to have kids and those who choose not to? I mean baseline profiles, not the depressive troughs that parents are well-known to endure during the toddler and teenage years. I would be interested also in long-term studies comparing both the childless and the "childed" over decades in terms of their respective gratitude or regret over their decisions.
I think it may have been the Greek Solon who said "Call no man happy before he is dead." I take that to mean not that death is good, but that happiness is not a momentary feeling, but rather the overall contour of a life. The only answer to a question of whether any ongoing life is a happy one is, therefore, "Time will tell." Am I glad I had kids? I can't say yes or no, only "Ask me in thirty years." But maybe other major life decisions--marriages, careers--are like that too...