I love my kid. I hate my life.
The headline on the front of New York Magazine is a real attention grabber isn’t it? The article entitled: All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting goes on to detail numerous studies that find parenting does not make people happier, in fact quite the opposite.
The author, Jennifer Senior acknowledges that parents experience moments of pure pleasure, but the joy is often overshadowed by anxiety, or just kid pain-in-the-assness. She piles on the studies that show that the moment-to-moment happiness of parents is less than the childless.
I know this is stunning research. Let’s do a comparison of parenting in the summer vs. enjoying life, I mean not having kids in the summer:
- carrying overheated child on hot day because she is too hot to walk vs.. walking down street and stopping into stores with breakable items to cool off
- hanging out at the park and lifting preschooler onto monkey bars 50 times vs. sitting on a patio with friends
- yelling at tween to stop playing video games as internal voice tells you that he is going to become a social reject vs. having pleasant chat at water cooler about the most recent Bachelorette episode
- spending four hours packing items, games, and food for kids for 3-hour car trip, (don’t forget the gravol and barf bag) vs. throwing things in a bag and visiting friends for a weekend
You see where I am going with this. On the surface it would seem that the childless have far more happier moments in a day then your average parent. But the happiness I get from my preschooler grabbing me and smacking a wet one on me or watching my son do a flip is far greater then what I would get with a drink in my hand sitting on a patio.
The article recognizes that we parents hide in the safe cocoon of those happy moments: “Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy. But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak.” I can’t argue with that especially when I know that more frustration, tedium, anxiety and especially heartbreak is coming my way as the years go on.
Luckily, I do not depend on my kids for my happiness, though as Karen Green points out in her blog The Kids Are Alright; our kids foolishly depend on us for theirs and what we get back from them is much more complicated.
It is true that being a parent in the modern age isn’t the most fun you can have on any given day. The quest for creating perfect beings is very stressful and very different from how previous generations parented. My life is filled with more moments of fear and anger then I had thought possible before I had kids. And of course, there is the drudgery: the driving, the bum wiping and lunch making; the nail clipping, laundry and shoe-tying.
I wonder if without the stretches of blah, would I be able to recognize the instances of pure joy? The instances when I have tears running down my face for no reason; the times where I feel like a child has reached down and grabbed my heart?
Do I hate parenting? No, I do loathe the anxiety, the boredom, the aggravation. But I have absolutely no regrets. I have love, and love isn't perfect and I have moments of transcendence and that makes me happy.
So, why do parents nowadays see that as a trade-off? Can we not have moment to moment happiness in our days and the over-arching joy? Christine Carter author of the new book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps to More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, thinks so, she says we need to step back from our hyper-parenting and stop rationalizing. She wrote a response in the Huffington Post:
moment-to-moment happiness is not overrated; it is not something we should forgo in order to look back on our life and think it was meaningful because we raised beautiful, successful children. Because those children may not learn to lead lives they love if we're not modeling for them lives we love.
Obviously a sign that I need to book a babysitter and enjoy some patio time.