Parents talking to child after bad behavior

(Photo by Ground Picture on Shutterstock)

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The choice to become a parent is not a decision that people should take lightly. Caring for and raising another life isn’t a job that one can simply clock out of at 5 p.m. Surprisingly, however, researchers from Rutgers University actually suggest many Americans are having kids simply out of social envy. Even worse, many report regretting their decision later on.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” has motivated countless people to spend money on extravagant items they don’t need or can’t afford. Similarly, “fear of missing out,” or FOMO, has emerged in recent years as a new term to describe that lingering worry so many feel while staying in on a Saturday night. No one wants to miss out on a memorable experience or great party, after all.

While splurging on a shiny new car or getting off the couch to meet friends are the typical consequences of social envy, this latest report indicates FOMO is also motivating many to become moms and dads.

“Why do you really want to have a child? What are your motivations?” asks Kristina M. Scharp, an associate professor in the Rutgers School of Communication and Information and study co-author, in a university release. “In the context of what it means to be a parent, FOMO could be a valuable consideration.”

Estimates show that about one in every 14 U.S. parents (roughly 7%) admit they wouldn’t have had children if they could turn back the clock. Interestingly, this sentiment is even higher in European nations like Germany (8%) and Poland (13.6%).

Parental regret is largely an oxymoron within the context of society. Social norms explain that parents, especially mothers, are “supposed to love their children unconditionally from conception to eternity,” according to the research team.

parent child
(Photo by Bruno Bueno from Pexels)

So, in an effort to better understand what motivated now-regretful parents to start a family in the first place, study authors searched through and collected narratives posted to Reddit’s /r/childfree subreddit, an online community of roughly 1.5 million child-free individuals. However, the subreddit’s “moderators” also allow regretful parents to post about having children as well. The team cataloged a total of 85 testimonies from 2011 to 2021.

Study authors worked to code the Reddit posts with items like “investment of time” and “relationship sacrifices.” Next, they grouped those codes into themes, like “resource-intensive work,” which helped clarify and illuminate these so-called discourses. Along the way, three discourses from regretful parents kept coming up: parenting as heaven; parenting as hell; and parenting as (the only) choice.

After that, researchers analyzed how those discourses interacted to guide decision-making in reference to having kids. This led to the emergence of a new, previously unconsidered driver: FOMO. Researchers stress this work holds major, broad implications for family planning.

“By better understanding potential motivations for their actions, people might be more inclined to make value-concordant, autonomous reproductive decisions,” the researchers write.

As abortion in the United States continues to become increasingly restricted, the potential for parental regret should be part of reproductive counseling services, the research team notes.

“Because of social norms, anyone who doesn’t subscribe to dominant views on parenting gets marginalized or stigmatized,” Prof. Scharp concludes. “Sometimes social norms are good. We know it’s wrong to steal. But sometimes social norms have unintended consequences and punish people for their choices – including people who want to be child-free.”

The study is published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

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About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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  1. Stumbling Duck says:

    Just like pets.. young people think only of themselves, not the need of the animal/child. Kids are accessories to these kardashian types. Thankfully there’s still good moms and dads that are raising children who realized having a child is about sacrifice.

  2. Statistician A says:

    1) This study has a VERY small sample size; 2) It’s sample is comprised of people who participate in a particular online forum; 3) there is no attempt here to look at cultural factors (or even social media use factors). In short, results apply only to people into discussing their regrets on a particular forum’s messaging platform.

  3. PetetheDog says:

    Having kids is the best choice I’ve made. Period. Seems like more of our US elite wanting the country to end up in top heavy population with not enough young people to take care of older generations, creating extreme civil unrest. There is no value to studies like this. I didn’t want children initially, and so glad I married someone who did want children. Not easy all the time, but best thing that happened to me.

  4. Nwamaka Okobi says:

    This is a very narrow view of children and the concept of having children in a society that doesn’t really care or devoted resources to child rearing. One of the reasons why people may say they have had second thoughts about children is the high cost of child care, the lack of maternity leave and paternity leave. The lack of transportation to after school events. The idea that women are still expected to do most of the parenting things like birthday party planning and cooking and cleaning up after children while being paid less after having children. Really these are things related to society that are not FOMO that can blame children when it’s the United States fault not our children’s fault that we have decided to put parental pressure on individuals. Because when we need future, caregivers and the people who decided not to have children are looking for someone to hire, guess what they’re going to need someone young who was raised in the time that our society decided not to invest in it’s future. This callous attitude towards our own is a major problem with this article and this study. I am ashamed to have gone to Rutgers and graduated.