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Sherry Young: While having kids might affect IQ, parenting has a quotient all its own

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9 2013 4:40 p.m. MDT

Raising children is not for the fainthearted. It brings out the good, the bad and the ugly, but that is the beauty of it. Parents learn so much about others and themselves that the experience goes well beyond simple IQ tests.

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Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute studied IQs of a number of parents before and after their children were born. Out of the 173 couples who were tested, both fathers and mothers scored 12 to 20 points less six months after their babies' births. The study, instead of alarming me, made me chuckle at the proof that having children really does make you brain dead.

I emailed the study to some friends, and my very bright and accomplished friend Linda took umbrage. She wrote back, “I’m having trouble with this one. I took the GMAT when I was childless and 23 and again after I had two children and was 34. I did better on it the second time. (I did study for the second one perhaps more than for the first one, since our culture had convinced me that being a stay-at-home mom for 10 years by then had probably caused my brain to shrivel.)

"After the second test result, I felt quite comfortable applying to Columbia Business School and while there I found that I competed quite well with the younger, childless types. I think we have to find another excuse for brain malfunction.”

Well, she is right, of course, and I should have sent some smiley faces along with the study to show I was chuckling at these serious scientists. The information was correct, but face it — the parents were sleep-deprived, no doubt about it, and likely panicked at first-time parenthood.

Raising children is not for the fainthearted. It brings out the good, the bad and the ugly, but that is the beauty of it. Parents learn so much about others and themselves that goes well beyond IQ tests.

For one thing, to be successful, parents must learn unselfishness, as well as the big lesson that children's affection cannot be bought; it is earned. Kids may be small, but they can quickly see through adults.

Giving birth does not make a parent any more than owning a violin makes one a violinist. It takes trial and error, patience, negotiating skills, love, mastery of the art of discipline, and on and on.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis advised, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” Here was a woman many watched carefully, and her nobility and devotion as a mother was a model for all.

Parenting in the 21st century is a tricky business. With so much information available, reading everything can scare a mom or dad to death.

Safety issues alone can do it. Kids can't just “go out and play,” for example. Seat belts must be buckled, helmets and nonstop watchful protection provided. Children must be driven to everything. For very good reasons, they cannot play or sleep over at a friend's house until that home has been thoroughly vetted for issues like Internet access, TV viewing habits and availability of peanut butter.

On the plus side, so many of the childhood illnesses that plagued other generations, from smallpox to asthma, now can be controlled or prevented. Many congenital birth problems can be operated on and corrected right in the womb.

Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

So parents have to prevent serious problems to protect their hearts. Guilt, though, can strike a perfectly good heart at any time. For my part, I try not to look back and judge myself because no one ever makes good decisions all the time.

"High-investment parenting" pays off. In “The Straggler: Dads and Cads,” author John Derbyshire said, “Societies that practice high-investment parenting are those in which people go to a lot of trouble over raising their children." “People” in that sentence mostly means males, who have much more choice about how much they will invest.

In the most extreme cases of the opposite scenario, men impregnate women at random, then wander off in search of other women. Anthropologists informally refer to these parents as "cads."

I am happy to say the men in my family are “dads,” rather than “cads.” I have watched my four pampered sons and one daughter adjust to current societal mores where everyone helps with parenting and chores.

At first I thought my daughter and daughter-in-laws were a bit bossy, but now as I have watched the men diaper, clean and totally participate in parenting, I see these women as most wise. This practice is a generational plus.

Having and raising children may change our sleep habits and even affect our brain cells for a time — and we could likely buy a yacht with what it costs to raise kids.

But are they worth it? Most of the time, yes.

Email: sasy273@gmail.com

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