This is probably the most talked about, blogged about article I’ve seen in a long time: http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/
The title of the article is “All joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.” I think the title is incendiary precisely because you’re meant to gasp – “how could they? who are those horrible people?” And then as you read the article and nod along vigorously, respond: “oh my god, I totally relate.”
I’m not going to give a detailed summary. Because you should read it.
But suffice it say that although no one regrets having children and children offer moments of transcendence, parents also experience less moment-to-moment happiness after kids come along and more challenges in their primary relationship.
The reasons behind these studies documenting that parents are less happy than non-parents run the gamut: from the fact that the tasks of parenting are tiring (and boring – wiping butts, wiping mouths, disciplining); the experience of parenting has fundamentally changed (overcommercialization, pressure to be perfect parents and make the perfect kid); and that more of us are parenting later in life, so we know what we’re missing (as opposed to parents of an earlier generation who went straight to parenting without years in-between of couple vacations, adult dinner parties, career successes).
Did I relate to this article? Yes and no.
I don’t feel guilty for acknowledging that much of the day-to-day happiness I experienced with Tasha and our life diminished with the arrival of Hugh. That is, the backyard cookouts with friends, the long day-into-night trips on the boat, the vacations in Vegas, the endless Sunday mornings of New York Times and coffee in bed, the long conversations over two hour dinners, the early morning run or late afternoon yoga classes.
Now, we have cookouts where one of us chases a sweaty toddler around and can’t talk with friends. The boat trips are infrequent unless we hire a babysitter. New York Times on Sunday – forget it, read it online at work. Dinners, again, hire a babysitter. Exercise, pretty much out the door unless I want to get up at 5:30am or have someone to watch Hugh after work.
But the joy, oh my. The chubby baby thighs, the miraculous new words that come out of his mouth, the little cry of “Mama” as he reaches up for me. Irreplaceable.
I also realize that Tasha and I have it good as parents. My sister lives with us and helps immensely with Hugh. We haven’t done a load of laundry in a year and a half. Our teenager plays with Hugh and entertains him while we cook or visit with friends. We have a ratio of 4 adults to 1 baby, and that’s remarkable.
Tasha and I leave this Friday for four days in Key West. Sans Hugh, who will stay with my sister and parents. We also go out to dinner at least once a week (date night, courtesy of Aunt Sissy). We take turns getting up with him in the morning so one of us can sleep in. In short, we have a balanced, adult-time filled life and a baby.
This is the path we’ve chosen, one that doesn’t include a second baby (which I have moments of doubt about), but I also know that this path, in our case, maximizes the moments of transcedent joy while allowing us the most day to day happiness.
I’m going to quote my amazing partner right now, and her reaction to reading the article:
“If the two of us can agree to lower our standards (who cares what’s in this particular carton of milk) and ignore our kids (just give him that passie and walk away), it will give us a lot less to argue or mediate over, it will reduce our stress levels, allow for a fuller appreciation of the golden moments, and in that, we’ll be better spouses to one another and better parents to our kids. No one needs to remind us or force us into reading with our kids, or talking to them or taking them to a park. What we need to remind ourselves is that ignoring the petty demands of our children and the perceived ‘better’ ways in which others are parenting will set us free to really be the kind of parents we want to be.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. I love my partner, my baby, our teenager, my sister, and our perfectly imperfect parenting lives.