In a recent study, participants ranked sex first and alcohol second on a list of things that make them happy.
Meanwhile, childcare came in fifth place, begging the question: Why do people prefer sex and booze to kids?
Of course, there is some bias built into the comparison. We tend to think of child care as a 24/7 activity. I wonder how sex and booze would stack up if they were also a non-stop, no-vacation, activity.
On the other hand, I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t remember the day of their child’s birth or the first time they held their child and felt the amazing little grip of tiny fingers.
And interestingly, this intense bonding releases the same hormone — oxytocin — that stimulates pleasure centers in the brain after orgasm.
But childcare isn’t all love and fun. We also tend to worry about our kids. We anticipate problems and we hold onto regrets. As a result, we associate childcare with stress. Some of my clients have reported feeling tremendous guilt about this.
It’s hardly a surprise that sex tops the list of things that satisfy us. We are biologically motivated to love sex. Otherwise, the species would have died out long ago. Those who don’t enjoy sex may have painful experiences (perhaps child abuse, rape or body shame from an earlier trauma) that is so associated with sex that their minds fill with fear, dread or intense shame, and they are not free to experience sex as pleasurable.
The other two activities in the top five are volunteer activities and meditation. Volunteering is something we choose to do, and we do it as much or as little as we choose. People enjoy volunteering because it makes them feel good often enough and reliably enough to continue choosing to do it.
Meditation is a skill that helps us set aside fear about the future and regret about the past. It helps us focus on the present. Experienced meditators have less trouble with physical pain because they don’t spend as much time anticipating future pain or reliving past pain. They don’t wish away the present for some desired, possible future.
What if we applied a mindfulness meditation philosophy to childcare, reminding ourselves that in each moment with our children — and actually, every moment in our lives — we have a choice? We can choose to be present with our kids or we can choose to worry, complain, dream of happier days or dwell on regrets of the past.
Our brains are designed to heed pain and danger. So, worrying and regret is natural. But meditators have learned to minimize excessive attention to worry and regret. Chances are, even if your child is being a pill at the moment, that pill will be easier to take if you don’t package it with past and future pills. And the loving moments won’t have to compete so much with the loud static of worry, frustration and regret to get our attention.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we never worry or plan. Still, if we spent more time in the present with our children and less time worrying about them and about life in general, more of that warm glow of oxytocin could kick in and change how we feel about parenting.
More family advice from YourTango:
- 7 Signs You Might Need Marriage Counseling
- My Parents Got Divorced; Is My Marriage Doomed? [EXPERT]
- 10 Signs Your Marriage Is In Trouble [EXPERT]
Couple in bed photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Feb 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Experts, Y. (2013). Study: People Prefer Sex & Alcohol Over Parenting. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 11, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/02/09/study-people-prefer-sex-alcohol-over-parenting/