I’ll be honest. Based on my own experience as a child, the thought that parents get a natural high off of parenting makes me laugh out loud a little. Between my dad’s high blood pressure and my mom’s chronic eye twitching every time I opened my mouth, I’m pretty sure no “cuddle hormone” was coursing through their veins during my teen years.
But this weekend, Slate made a case for parenting as a drug—a chemically induced lust for a high. Writes author Shankar Vedantam:
The unexpected, kind, and loving things that children do produce chemical surges in their parents’ brains like the rush of the pipe or the needle. Like addicts, parents will sacrifice anything for the glimpses of heaven that their offspring periodically provide.
But an addiction? We’re on the fence. Vedantam explains his theory like this:
Children regularly give parents the kind of highs that only narcotics can rival. The unpredictability of those moments of bliss is an important factor in their addictiveness. If you give animals a predictable reward—say, a shot of sugar every time they press a lever—you can get them to press that lever quite regularly.
But if you want irrational and addictive behavior, you make the reward unpredictable. Pressing the lever produces sugar, but only once every 10 tries. Sometimes, the animal might have to go 20 or 30 tries without a reward. Sometimes it gets a big jolt of sugar three tries in a row. If you train an animal to work for an unexpected reward, you can get it to work harder and longer than if you train it to work for a predictable reward.
Though he admits that there’s no empirical evidence for this, we can see where he’s going with this. After what I put my parents through—all of which will remain unnamed here—it had to have been more than just sheer duty that carried them through.
Then again, I’m not speaking as a parent.
People who don’t have kids think studies that prove kids are stressful are about as interesting as studies that show falling off tall buildings produces injuries. “Duh,” they say. If you’ve been on a red-eye flight where a bawling baby kept the whole cabin awake through the night, you’ve seen deplaning passengers muttering about how they can’t wait for the day when infanticide is legal.
So I’ll defer to you, readers. Why and how do parents do what they do? And have any of you gotten really high off your kids?