Deciding whether or not to have children is one of the most significant decisions a person will face. Any parent will tell you that there’s no way to fully prepare yourself for all that comes with parenthood.
But how does having children later in life change the equation? Here are three psychological factors to consider for anyone thinking about entering, or re-entering, parenthood in their forties, fifties, or beyond.
- What Type Of Happiness Are You Looking For?
The scientific literature on happiness tends to split it into two types. There is in-the-moment happiness, which is derived from things that give us immediate gratification — for example, eating a chocolate bar or taking a hot shower on a cold day.
There’s also the related idea of life meaning, fulfillment, or reflective happiness. We experience this type of happiness when we reach a milestone or create something we are proud of. It may not be as state-altering as in-the-moment happiness, but its effects can be just as potent, especially in the long run.
Not surprisingly, research suggests that having kids increases one’s sense of reflective happiness, but does so at the expense of one’s in-the-moment happiness. (Remember, there’s no fun in the 2 a.m. wake-up calls, car spit-ups or constant barrage of dirty diapers—but there’s also no substitute for the pride a parent feels when their child learns something new or achieves something great.)
There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing one form of happiness over the other—it’s a matter of personal preference. Just be sure that your decision to enter, or re-enter, parenthood is congruent with your happiness goals at this stage in your life.
- How Is Your Patience Level?
Raising children takes heaps of patience. It’s important to ask yourself, honestly, if you have the patience to embark on an 18-year (perhaps more) journey of protecting, watching, nurturing, and teaching your child.
Everyone has a different barometer for patience, and patience levels naturally ebb and flow throughout one’s life. You may remember periods of your own life when your patience was particularly high or low, perhaps coinciding with life changes/stressors you were experiencing.
Scientific research can help us gauge our patience levels. According to a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, patience can be broken down into three categories: interpersonal, life hardship, and daily hassles patience. The researchers devised the following 11 agree-disagree statements to assess one’s level of patience:
- My friends would say I’m a very patient friend.
- I am able to wait out tough times.
- Although they’re annoying, I don’t get too upset when stuck in traffic jams.
- I am patient with other people.
- I find it pretty easy to be patient with a difficult life problem or illness.
- In general waiting in lines doesn’t bother me.
- I have trouble being patient with my close friends and family.
- I am patient during life’s hardships.
- When someone is having difficulty learning something new, I will be able to help them without getting frustrated or annoyed.
- I get very annoyed at red lights.
- I find it easy to be patient with people.
- Think about where you fall on the patience continuum and use that information to guide your decision regarding children.
- What Is Your True Motivation For Wanting A Child?
Any decision of consequence should be met with a healthy dose of introspection. Do your best to probe your motivations for wanting a child at this stage of your life (seeking out therapy can help in this process).
While you are the only person who truly knows what’s going on inside your head, science can help you formulate a plan.
Generally speaking, research separates goal-setting and goal-directed behavior into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. An intrinsic goal or motivation can be defined as something you want to do for you while an extrinsic goal might be something others expect you to do or something you feel you should do. Psychologists will tell you that success, however you define it, typically comes more naturally to those who follow the things they are intrinsically motivated to do.
Think deeply about your desire to have children at this stage of your life and ask yourself the following five research-inspired questions, keeping the intrinsic versus extrinsic dichotomy in mind:
- Does somebody else want me to achieve this goal, or will I get something from someone if I do?
- Would I feel ashamed if I didn’t achieve this goal?
- Do I really believe this is an important goal to have?
- Will this goal provide me with fun and enjoyment?
- Does this goal represent who I am and reflect what I value most in life?
No two parenting journeys are ever the same. As long as you’re entering with a plan and for the right reasons, there’s never a wrong time to have children.