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David Hamilton

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On Parenthood, and "Opting Out"

A strange topic to place side by side, no? Well, maybe not... In numerous psychological studies, it has been shown that marriage, and parenthood, both dramatically reduce the chances that a human being will take their own life. Wait, is this about suicide? No, not entirely.

This is about a phrase, uttered worldwide by parents, which they refuse to elaborate on "When you have a child, you'll understand"... "There is no way I can explain it to you, it just makes you a different human being, when you have a baby"... Recently Joe Rogan even reminded me "America will never vote for someone who doesn't have children. People who have children, would never put someone who didn't have children, in charge of their military... It's a weird thing... We don't trust you".

What do you really mean? Well I have an answer. Once you have a child, you have made the conscious choice, to create life in your current environment. Thus, you are no longer allowed, to "opt out". This applies not just to suicide however, it applies to revolution, and homesteading.

In the mind of every young person, but man especially, there is a desire to feel free from the constraints of society. A desire to run with the wolves and park yourself under a tree near a river. Or, a desire to fundamentally change, and re organize the society you live in. Finally, in your darkest moments, as Ralph Steadman said of Hunter Thompson "he would feel real trapped if he didn't know that he could commit suicide at any moment. I don't know if that is brave or stupid or what, but it was inevitable."

Once you have a child, you are no longer allowed to think like this, and you must re organize your life accordingly. You cannot leave the society that you brought someone else into. You brought a person into this society, and now it's hungry... Stop wasting your time thinking nonsense.

I would like to suggest, that this is the reorganization, chemical and cognitive, which occurs during parenthood.

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    Sep 5 2012: If your Mom and Dad are around ask them.
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      Sep 6 2012: Good and concerned response... I am lucky enough to have very supportive parents, and have had this conversation with them and a few other friends of mine who have had children. So far, the universal response is "Wow... that's a really dark way to put it... but I think you have a point there. Ya you just stop thinking along those lines".

      I wouldn't have broached this subject so publicly if I didn't have at least experiential evidence backing up my claim. I think being a bit more honest, and scientific about explaining phenomena like this, might really help some confused, and frustrated young teenagers, if their parent has the strength to be honest.
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        Sep 6 2012: I must say David it is not altogether clear to me. Are you discussing the option of suicide for people who find parenting unbearable?
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          Sep 6 2012: No, I'm talking about how once you have a child, the options suicide, revolution, and "go live in the wilderness"... simply fall off the table intellectually.

          When you're a teenager, or young adult, occasionally you will entertain these ideas. Personally, I still consider wandering off the beaten path on a "Walden" like retreat for a few months because I'm not a fan of my society. If I make the decision to have a child, I will no longer allow myself to think like that.

          I think the brain actually reorganizes itself naturally when you have children, in order to discourage these thoughts, whether you like it or not... After it does so, it becomes very difficult to expain to people without children, what exactly has happened.
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        Sep 6 2012: Oh, wow! Good thing I asked. I was way off in left field and it's dark out there. I agree the responsibilities of parenthood are accompanied by changes in one's life view. Speaking for myself the big three in my life thus far are all Becomings: 1) Born Again. 2) A husband. 3) A Father. I appreciate the way Paul Stookey put it in his Wedding Song: "Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.
        And there is Love,
        there is Love."
  • Sep 24 2012: its just some people need to think more before they have sex...
  • Sep 5 2012: "I would like to suggest, that this is the reorganization, chemical and cognitive, which occurs during parenthood."

    IMO, you have found just one part of the reorganization. Fritzie stated another part, parental love. Another part is the reorganization of your desires and priorities, how you want to spend your time. There is the whole nesting phenomena, suddenly the idea of owning your own home seems like a good idea, and for reasons you cannot fully verbalize, it is important. Security becomes a necessity. You no longer take the risks that were an everyday part of your life. One parent is always sober.

    It can even affect your memories. I met a young couple once who said that they literally could not remember how they used to spend their time before their baby was born. Literally.

    "There is no way I can explain it to you, it just makes you a different human being, when you have a baby".

    This quote is literally true. Most parents cannot explain it. I have been a parent for 37 years, and have given this question some thought throughout those years, and I am sure I will miss aspects of this reorganization.

    Most parents will entertain thoughts of opting out, but for the vast majority this is just a stress reliever. Some parents opt out temporarily, but this is just taking a break. Actually opting out, permanently, is not a real option.
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      Sep 6 2012: "Actually opting out, permanently, is not a real option."... anymore. I just meant to point out, that that is one, of as you suggested, many, fundamental, entire restructurings of the way your brain function, which make objective, logical sense, and can be explained relatively simply. One of the problems is that, as you suggest "I met a young couple once who said that they literally could not remember how they used to spend their time before their baby was born"

      I just wanted to be honest about this aspect publicly, and see the response of other parents, because I think this is an aspect which is difficult, but important to explain, especially to a young depressed teenager for example. Honesty in this realm however is a bit difficult, especially once you've crossed the threshold and no longer think the same way.
    • Sep 6 2012: On your sobriety comment I have to say that it is very challenging to take care of a baby when you are hungover.
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    Sep 5 2012: What about parental negligence of their kids? Wouldn't you say there are also a lot of people who don't care about their kids?
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      Sep 5 2012: Interesting questions, I'll link some studies in the comments section... In short, I would suggest that parental negligence, and abuse, tend to stem from unhappy people, with no intention of having children... having children. In this scenario, the abusive, or neglectful parents actually resent this teather to the community, or their partner.

      I think happy people, who actually wanted to have children, and still have romantic feelings towards one another, rarely beat their children, or neglect them. In both men and women, seratonin levels increase after parenthood, and for the men, their is almost no physical component which would explain why. In women, so much happens with their bodies during the experience, physical changes only make sense. Physically for men, it's the same as any other climax.

      I think the seratonin production, is a conscious act. I think when you see your child, your brain re adjusts, and when you start to have an "opt out" type of thought, it kicks up your seratonin and says "snap out of it". This would make a lot of evolutionairy sense to me, and explain why it is so difficult to explain.
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        Sep 5 2012: Hmm, scientifically speaking, this does make a whole lot of sense actually...

        I can see why living organisms would need to have a mechanism where a living organism becomes more committed to the offsprings... It would definitely guarantee that the next generation survives.
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    Sep 5 2012: I doubt that what you put forward is what most people have in mind when they say, "When you have a child, you will understand."

    I think for many or most people it is, rather, the never-before-imagined hugeness of love they feel from the time they first hold that baby and that lasts forever.
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      Sep 5 2012: If you were to try to explain that from a cognitive and evolutionairy perspective, doesn't it make sense that, that love would kick in, especially, and at its most powerful, when you are going through times of stress. Being a creator, you have to value your creation, even over yourself, because you are the reason it is here.

      Thus in times of great struggle, depression, frustration with society, poverty, etc... Rather than thinking, "I need to get out of here", your brain has been re organized to think "What about Child A?". In taking the focus of your life off of yourself, you lose the "opt out" desires and thoughts. Not entirely, but enough to dramatically lower suicide rates, and revolutionairy activity, lol.

      I am basically arguing that the input, of the experience, causes a reorganization of your brain, rather than the other way around. I don't think your brain starts spitting out seratonin automatically at random... I think you lose your ego, and begin to think of your offspring, rather than yourself in times of great struggle... This makes thoughts of love kick in during strife, rather than thoughts of opting out. That changes your chemical composition... rather than the other way around.

      I am also suggesting the part we "really can't understand"... Is how much that love, changes the way you think about other things. In both a good way and a bad. Everything is less important, outside of your family, because most people, are the most important thing in their life, parents, are number to, so in their eyes, where do a third parties problems fall?
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        Sep 5 2012: My experience is not that love "kicks in" most in times of stress. Also, anyone with kids will tell you that love is not a zero sum game. For example, people don't first love their first child and then when the second comes along, divide that love between two. The capacity to love is a bottomless pit.

        You don't love others less because you are a parent.

        Parents do tend, I think, to focus their activusm on issues that affect the future of children (including education or the environment) but not necessarily only of their own children.
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          Sep 5 2012: You could argue that love is a zero sum game in the sense that we are all constrained by time and time is always scarce, and therefore we must manage our time in a zero-sum fashion.

          I mean if you have one kid to love, that kid gets 100% of your attention. But if you have 10 kids to love, then you can't spend as much time and attention to each kid the same as you did the first kid.

          However, I guess more specifically it's not "Love" that's zero sum, it's the amount of time spent to give attention to or communicate to each kid that's zero sum.
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          Sep 5 2012: Fair enough... Time is not a bottomless pit however... and ask anyone with 5 children... They don't have time for your problems : p

          Jinx!
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        Sep 7 2012: You might be surprised at how many people's problems a parent can find time for.

        Teachers and school counselors as well.

        You guys, James and David, are probably too young to know Mary Poppins, but she had a carpet bag out of which she kept pulling more and more- much more than it appeared could possibly fit in the carpet bag.

        It depends in part on the age of the kids.

        I think parents are less likely to risk their own physical safety once they have kids, but I don't think something like activism is limited by having children.
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          Sep 7 2012: Why can't 100 million of you pull competent governance out of your bag of tricks?
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    Oct 2 2012: I think:
    Our instincts (Ancestors’ successful experiences) determine strictly the consecutive process of life:
    Being parented ===> Growing up ===> Loving sexually ===> Parenting.

    No step can go wrong without problems.

    The chemical and cognitive reorganization are the intermediate products of the instinct information processing.
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    Sep 13 2012: What a great way to frame a question David. I think you are onto something here.

    It is no mystery that the chemistry of our brain as well as billions of its connections, can change as a result of our conscious decision to focus on different priorities.

    On one hand, memories are usually recorded more vividly and can be recalled easier, when they are encoded in parallel with strong emotions (such as the joy of enjoying a good time with your offspring or the disproportionately strong reaction we parents tend to have when our offspring does mundane things they should not be doing and that would not bother us coming from a stranger).

    On the other hand, the areas of the brain that are active in storing and recalling memory, are the same areas of the brain involved in long term planning.

    It is no wonder then that as soon as one spends even the first few seconds with a child of our own, we get hooked into this cycle of stronger-longer-lasting memories, and the preference of these memories in our planning for the future over other, weaker memories

    Interesting field for research, it seems!

    cheers
  • Sep 6 2012: Being a parent is about responsibility as you have clearly stated. Even though there are irresponsible parents. But we do not admire or applaud irresponsibility. Just like we do not admire or applaud people who have good reasons for their failures. No; we admire those who succeed against all odds.

    Likewise, good parents would have challenges, but they do recognise their contribution in bringing another life into the world, and they would try their best to meet essential needs.
    Good planning and focus will be on successful parenting; with no thought of opting out(failure).

    Progress in life and for humanity comes in form of opportunities for greater responsibilities and hardwork; but only a few do realise it .
  • Sep 5 2012: I have two children and I constantly think of opting out, so does my wife. This happens normally in between 3am and 5am after waking up several times due to "teeth coming out" fevers. It also happens when I cannot watch the US Open or college Football because Jake and the Neverland Pirates have Peter Pan guest starring... or when I hear Fisher Price's Little People songs over and over and over... and over... and over... and over...

    Anyway, what none of you childless cowards understand is this... parents, responsible ones, hide a secret, the see themselves in their kids. This extension of self is what you want to protect more than anything else, at least when they are young (once they grow... I don't know, ask me in 15 years). Don't get me wrong, we understand it is not us and that it is a different person. It is just that deep down there is some weird pride when you see a piece of your own flesh and blood... it's miraculous... that is until you hear Yo Ho! from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, at that time it is hell on earth...
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      Sep 5 2012: I'll take the label "childless coward", if you'll take the label "narcissistic monster" : )
      • Sep 6 2012: He we are talking about people not "checking out" because they have kids and a biological reaction "makes them stay" and you call me a monster with emoticon, please... I hate emoticons! You need to understand irony or "check out" already...

        Once you have a child it's precisely when the desire to change society kicks into high gear. There is no motivation greater than that. You want yourself to be better for your kids, you want them to live better, to think better, to be better than you ever were... and so on. But it is not a biological reaction, it is a choice.

        You are either too young or too naive to see that, so in the word of Sir Paul "live a little, be a gypsie, get around, get your feet up off the ground, live a little, get around..."
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          Sep 7 2012: "Anyway, what none of you childless cowards understand is this... parents, responsible ones, hide a secret, the see themselves in their kids. This extension of self is what you want to protect more than anything else,"

          If you don't see how, "I had children because I'm awesome and there needs to be more of me even though the world is dramatically over populated..." Is a bit narcissistic, cruel, and funny, from my perspective, I can't help you there, it just is, I have a dark sense of humor, but I didn't want you to think I meant it literally.

          I don't see any evidence that parents want anything to do with society here in America... Their children are likely to grow up poor enough to have no option but military service, to pay off the public loans their parents told them to take, for a college degree, in their passion... some fine art. Their military is used as a tool for profiteers.

          I'm sure they'll start working hard to solve those problems after "Keeping up with the Kardashians" is over. I'm sure you are a devoted parent, who also has a social conscious, and you may even be active, but most parents don't have time for that. The fact that Obama, OR Romney, could possibly be chosen to represent this country in 2012, is proof that "parents" in America, do not care at all about their children.

          To be fair, they are too busy spending time with their children, and dealing with the nightmare that is raising them, to focus on the people trying to enslave them. I do not blame them, but they are certainly less active than they need to be if they wish to have competent leadership.

          I've been many places, and quite a few have much better family values than America, but all seem to have the similar value of not thinking about revolution, suicide, or going off into the wilderness as often, after having children, even when their society is in desperate need of reform... Just a simple observation.

          Personally, I don't think I'll have a child though, unless I adopt
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      Sep 5 2012: Thank you Mr. Chrome! I remember those days. For my crew it was Barney the Purple Dinosaur. To this day it hurts my stomach to hear that laugh...
      • Sep 6 2012: Oh he's very much alive in Netflix... I had my share but not as much as you probably did. There is a thing they make in Canada called Calliou that takes the cake...
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    Sep 5 2012: "Once you have a child, you are no longer allowed to think like this." Oh bullsh*t. After several months of not enough sleep. After fishing toys out of the toilet bowl - used toilet bowl. After you have to clean up the puke during the flu season. After the third time that day the kid says "I HATE YOU!" After the principle calls - again. After you have to call in to work because your daughter totaled the car. After any call that starts out "Mom I don't know what to do..."

    We all get that desire to feel free from the constraints of society. A tree near the river. The gym or spa. The bar. A foreign country.

    And some of us do.

    That whole baby stuff wears off real fast. But it's a nice idea. Chemical and cognitive reorganization could excuse a lot of behavior...
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      Sep 5 2012: I guess what I'm trying to say, is that most single people, without children, can't even imagine tolerating all that crap, because they are way too self interested. So something does change a bit, and I'm trying to explore what. I think you less often tends towards suicide, fleeing, and revolution when you're busy taking care of a little screaming ball of whine : p
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        Sep 5 2012: You are absolutely correct. You do not think about suicide when taking care of a little screaming ball of whine. I had one of those. It is homicide. Homicide is what you think about in that situation.

        Who does not matter. Spouse, neighbor, the lady taking so long to check you out of the grocery store. The kid. The driver in front of you that won't move. Murder. Murder would be good right about then.

        The true miracle is that parents do not run around in a psychotic rage killing people. Oh wait, some of them do. My bad.

        Just saying the self interest sometimes turns into just surviving. And still loving your kids.
        • Sep 6 2012: "Just saying the self interest sometimes turns into just surviving. And still loving your kids."

          This touches my heart and soul. So true.
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          Sep 6 2012: Wow... I would never have even thought that... but if you think abut that incredibly funny, and well constructed rant... in the context of political activism. People with children, do have a tendency, in my experience, to be more afraid of "bad people", and "terrorists", and less concerned with what happens to them... Activists tend to be young and single.

          So, parents are much less likely to opt out... but far more likely to actively pursue "anyone who messes with my family".... very interesting, really funny too : )
        • Sep 6 2012: You just made my day