Why Parents Hate Parenting

Oh, boy. There are a big steaming bundle of quotes in this New York Magazine article on the huge pile of crap that is contemporary parenting. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

Did someone say their emotional life is “a high-amplitude, high-frequency sine curve along which we get the privilege of doing hourly surfs”?

Yes, yes she did.

Did somebody remind us of the research that shows “Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so”? Yup. Same article.

Hmm. “As a rule, most studies show that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy still, that babies and toddlers are the hardest, and that each successive child produces diminishing returns,” you say? Tell me more. Despite believing firmly in attachment parenting, in offering a supportive, firm, and respectful environment, despite being on top of the current child development research on how discipline means teaching and therefore must be gentle, this article sings the refrain of how much parenting sucks.

The article mentions that people seem skeptical of this data, seem to pity those “for whom” this is true. Those must be the lying liars on facebook who claim life is always a bowl of cheesy-poofs.

Or, did I mention, they’re lying liars. Before Spouse and I had Peanut, my OB said, “avoid anyone who tells you parenting is bliss, wonderfully rewarding, or a blessing. Parenting is rarely joyful. Children can be delightful. Parenting is a hot steaming bowl of stress thrown on your favorite couch. While you’re on it.”

Some people, as one researcher notes, want children and think they’ll be happy, only to find that offspring “offer moments of transcendence, not an overall improvement in well-being.” The moments of bliss are opiate. And the rest of the day is 23.5 hours of drudgery.

Because, as the article quips, as industrialization led to sheltered childhoods (rather than apprenticeships and farm labor at a young age) children “went from being our staffs to being our bosses.”

I bristle at the suggestion that it’s organizing projects and scheduling children that makes parenting difficult. Luckily, the article clarifies that it’s actively paying attention to children rather than ignoring them that is so freaking exhausting. Soccer and ballet aren’t the problem. Knowing that discipline means teaching gently and consistently, listening and responding empathetically teaches emotional maturity, attachment leads to independence, and subverting your desires to help your children become model citizens is simply way more work than any paid job.

And this parenting job sucks the life out of parents who work at home or who work outside the home. “Today’s married mothers also have less leisure time (5.4 fewer hours per week); 71 percent say they crave more time for themselves (as do 57 percent of married fathers). Yet 85 percent of all parents still—still!—think they don’t spend enough time with their children.”

Not surprisingly, those societies (I’m looking at you, Holland) that value nurturing children, that pay for a parent to stay home with babies for over a year, that support breastfeeding, that pay for good education and health care, and that offer quality childcare to all workers means parents are less exhausted, stressed, and angry. “Countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents.” But we’re buying Baby Einstein crap instead of lobbying for social changes that will actually produce smarter, healthier, more self assured children.

This article makes me want to shake every person pining for a child and show them that: “Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy. But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak.” Parenting is not all buttercups and rainbows. And it’s not just the vomit and the late nights and the filthy carseats. It’s soul DRAINING, emotionally WRENCHING, personally EXHAUSTING bullshit day in and day out that leaves icky stains on life.

And yet we smile for the ten seconds each hour that our children are joyful, those crazy-making little monsters for whom we sacrifice what seems like everything.

22 thoughts on “Why Parents Hate Parenting

  1. It’s so funny–I saw that article and immediately thought of you. I also wanted to tell them they’re late to this…I mean, my friend Nap knew this quite some time ago, didn’t she? And wrote something brilliant about it!

  2. You are absolutely right…There are days when I truly feel my soul leave my body, because if I have to hear one more child complain, or try to reason with a three year old, or break up another fight, or try to be positive and understanding and nuturing while cooking, tidying up, or running errands, or paying bills, I might just crack.

    Thank you for being honest. We have to live for those 30 minutes when they are picture perfect to get through the rest of it…


  3. AMEN.

    I’ve closed the door to my bedroom and turned on the shower so I can’t hear my 1 year old screaming for me outside the door.

    I regularly hand one of the children to my husband and say “you better handle this or I am going to beat this child.” (Note: I have never hit my children…but I want to at least 3 times a week.)

    I promised my daughter she could eat an Astropop for breakfast yesterday.

    There are very few amazing moments. I am always doing something wrong.

    And the newest craze: My 3 1/2 year old and her 19 month old brother think it is HILARIOUS to punch each other for fun…until they both start crying because this actually hurts. I never, ever get a moments peace. I am always on the verge of tears, a nervous breakdown, or both…

    But I love those little weirdos so much my heart aches for them when I am at work every day.

  4. I asked my husband this weekend who I had to submit the paperwork to quit this job. He sighed and said, “I thought we were just babysitting… can’t we go home now?”

    The one thing I can say for them, however, is that my constant twentysomething angsty search for meaning completely evaporated once I had kids. I’ve got more “meaning” than I can handle in the job of raising solid, healthy, well-adjusted human beings in a crazy world.

    That said, can I go back to sleep now???

  5. Truer words have never been stated! I threaten often to hang up my hat and walk out the door. Then I get that big hug and the “mommy I love you” and my heart melts all over again. Lucky for them they know how to woo me;)

  6. This should be in bold because it’s so true: “Knowing that discipline means teaching gently and consistently, listening and responding empathetically teaches emotional maturity, attachment leads to independence, and subverting your desires to help your children become model citizens is simply way more work than any paid job.”
    Also true: that woman in the article spent way too long arguing with her son about the computer. If she wanted it off, she should have said so and, if he didn’t respond, turned it off. If she nags him about it and keeps engaging him in a series of meaningless threats about it, he thinks it’s negotiable–and he’s right.

  7. Did you read the comments after that article? I couldn’t tear myself away, and I think I actually read them all…by the time I was finished, I was a blubbering mess. So much anger against parents emerged…

  8. Ha – this was exactly what I wrote about today after getting back from a weekend away. I feel so strongly about ‘spreading the news’ to pregnant friends. When I was preggo ONE FRIEND pulled me aside and said “first you get hemmorhoids, then you deliver and need to squirt water on your stitched-up-bits to pee, then you sleep in one hour increments for a few months due to nursing, then parenthood gets hard”. One. So I love that this article is out there are people are spreading the news at how beautiful babies can be a delight, but can also be a drain on you and your marriage.
    But I also love how it touches on how if we focus on changing social policy rather than focus on Keeping Up With The Joneses, maybe we can make it a happier process.

  9. So true. Parenting is a lifestyle that we choose, not really realizing what we are getting into at the time. Yet those ten seconds of smiles are priceless and so well deserved.

  10. tried to read this post yesterday but my non-napping joyful toddler was climbing all over me. Finally read it just now while practically in tears after a draining morning of dealing with…. oh who am i kidding? Preaching to the choir here, aren’t I?
    Thanks for sharing, thanks for being a voice of reason, and thanks to Nap and all the readers for validating my frustration.

  11. “You’ll rue the day?… Who talks like that?”

    Gentle blogger,

    Recognize that the writer of your new favorite article missed the mark. What is a sine curve? It is a graphical representation of a wave. And what is a wave? Well, according to the Great Wiki, “In mathematics and science, a wave is a disturbance that travels through space and time, usually by transference of energy.” The writer could have easily taken this and said “energy is just like happiness” and really run with the metaphor. It really could have been a great article. I digress.

    Recognize that there is an unsupported and oft-repeated premise in this piece: “most parents assume that having a child will make them happier.” In response to this, I offer my own bullshit premise to match the author’s bullshit premise: Happiness can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only change forms. (If she won’t run with the metaphor, I will)

    I never thought having kids would make me happier. I knew that having kids would change my life.

    What is happiness to Ms. Senior et al? Preserved figs and an excellent Pinot enjoyed with friends while the sun sets off the Bodega Bay horizon perhaps? And now?: No nanny, no figs. This is not moment-to-moment happiness versus retrospection – If figs with friends is your definition of happiness, you give up happiness when you have kids (assuming you are an attachment parenter, etc…).

    The author says it herself that someone named Twenge says it: having kids means having less autonomy, less freedom. It also means more touching human excrement with your fingers, but that is not mentioned. People have babies later than previous generations and we therefore see more clearly everything we are giving up? OK, I buy it. But are we giving up *happiness* or do we simply need to change the definition; change the form of that notion when we have kids? Is happiness being able to bungee jump off things?

    We hear that choosing not to have kids “enabled them to travel or live abroad for their work; to take physical risks; to, in the case of a novelist, inhabit her fictional characters without being pulled away by the demands of a real one.” I am not a novelist; however, I could write an entire novel tonight before I go to bed called “Feces” about the fictional origins of my daughters’ poops. And I don’t like taking physical risks. And if I live abroad, I can take my family abroad. It’s just not that hard.

    It’s not that I’m happier than my childless friends; it’s that our live are different. Our happinesses, even if they were once similar, are now different.

    So, then, let’s talk about taxes and welfare. We will raise the level of both to get better outcomes? Well, what’s the outcome? All Jennifer gives us is that parents are less stressed. Really? That’s all we get? And let’s talk about the reward/pleasure quadrant then – we get higher taxes so less reward but lower stress and so higher pleasure. So we are paying the government to ensure our pleasure? Everybody wins? WTF? What is the point of this stupid article? What is the GDP of Holland!? What’s their tax rate? How much TV do they watch, I wonder – because I see a different trend in this article. I digress.

    The author is ultimately… and you are too, Nap… existentialist and eudaemonist. “Purpose *is* happiness.” All (either of) you need to do now is realign your form (i.e. your notion, your definition) of happiness to recognize that it is rewarding labor that truly pleases you. Well, rewarding labor and writing. And complaining about rewarding labor. And writing those complaints down.

  12. Ten women agreeing that they love their children and get joy from their existence AND that they loathe the drudgery of motherhood. And one sassy gentleman telling me to get a grip. Hmmmm.

    Here’s the thing, Mr. “You Must Redefine Happiness”: Ms. Senior was noting that decades of sociological research in dozens of countries all confirms that parents are less happy than their childfree counterparts. To call that a pining for fermented beverages and sunsets is condescending and simplistic. What her article points out is that parenting is hard. What my post points out is that parenting is hard.

    And once your daughters are three and a half you will eat your smug shit-eating grin, my friend. And your “purpose is happiness” textbook philosophy crap. When your daughters are 16 you will rue the day you smacked ol’ Naptime with your “life is not less happy, it’s just different” quip. More intense means more intense joy, less happiness, and more poop. Fine. Different happinesses, fine. It’s still quantitatively less happiness in hundreds of studies.

    And the bit about people expecting to be happier with children is not the oft repeated part. The oft-repeated part is the fully documented part: that parents are less happy than non-parents. And that mothers are less happy than fathers. The wave she talks about smashes right up against the cosine that we’re used to. That’s why riding the sine is so foreign, painful, and exhausting: it crashes against us in all the wrong ways.

    Also? You cannot write a novel in one night, but thanks for the hyperbole. You know damned well what being pulled away from a thought, a project, or a client because of your children’s needs is like. Further? Calling maternity leave and child care ‘welfare’ is insulting when you know damned well that helping parents with young children makes for healthier, more productive workers and increased productivity. I’d pay higher taxes if one parent could stay home with young children for a year to give the whole family and the nation’s workplaces a better chance at success.

    You’re just cruisin’ for a bruisin’ tonight, MPB. Just begging. Shut up and go write that fascinating one-night novel about poop. See how far that takes you on your journey to purpose and happiness, ya rotter.

  13. AHAHAHAH! You have a mansplainer! Congrats! *herky* It’s almost like getting a prize from a cracker jack box, but it’s a bummer it doesn’t glow in the dark.

    D00d, spew your shitty blither elsewhere. Bye.

  14. I actually believe the gentleman here that he could, if he wants to, write a novel in one night because when the child wants him, all he needs to do to get back on his project is to yell, LUCY! (or whatever the name of the spouse is). Problem solved.

    I also would LOVE to interview this gentleman commenter’s wife/spouse/mother of his child, provided that she is willing to be 100% honest with herself. Perhaps HE should ask her. On second thought, better not.

    There is another statistics that intrigues at the same time it makes me go, “you NEED a scientific study for that?” Married men are happier and live longer than their single counterparts. Whereas the same does not hold true for married women. Now, if this is not blog fodder, I don’t know what is… Ready, set, blog! ;-)

    p.s. As I have stated before, I refrain from going down this route because I am not sure how I will come out from the other end of this tunnel. You are much braver and I really really love you for this.

  15. Life would be pretty boring without contradictions and kids and the (idiot) experts out there with their manipulated statistics.

  16. So, sometimes it is hard to be a parent, read a blog post and the article it references, take notes, drink three (3!) glasses of wine because you’re all engrossed in the argument and not paying attention, remain coherent and get a point across when the point you are trying to get across also ends-up (albeit poorly) in the original author’s last two paragraphs. That’s part of being a fallible human. Maybe I shouldn’t have hit “submit comment,” but I really do like a civilized debate. I am a fallible human who also happens to be a happy parent and one who honestly does not believe that I will be less happy as my children age. So very, very many things that I have been told I will hate about parenting have been wrong. I am sure this will not change soon.

    This stuff and the civilized debate note is a quick aside for everyone not named Naptime. I love her response to my comment and I think she is wrong on some (OK most) points. You may, if you so wish, reduce me to a mansplainer with a wife named Lucy who I order around and leave the “real” parenting to. This is fair play since I’m clearly OK with reducing Jennifer Senior to a fig-eating simpleton.

    But don’t worry about me. If Nap wants me gone, she’ll turn off my ability to comment. But if I do comment and you don’t like what I say, feel free to keep it to yourself or, if you feel so impassioned that you need to say something to me, say it. My guess is that you will be wrong, but that’s probably because you are a fallible human being.

    This blog is your blog, this blog is my blog. From the Peanut stories to the Gulf stream waters, this blog was made for you and me.

    And, just for the record, my comment was not “get a grip.” My comment was (albeit incoherently) “recognize what makes you truly happy even if it’s not what would have made your parentless self happy.” And Nap and sub, maybe someday we can discuss how using statistics that say the current generation of parents is completely different than previous generations of parents along side statistics about the mortality rates of those previous generations may be, well, let’s say doing so is convenient for your arguments’ sake and leave it at that.

    My novel on poop is completed, by the way. As you may have guessed, it is pure shit.

  17. MPB, I’ll tell ya, I knew from your comment that you were probably exhausted, a few glasses gone, and trying to bait me a bit. Because I know when you argue philosophy it’s more heavily cited and when you argue libertarianism it’s more eloquent than “wtf?”

    I know you love your girls. I know you do more than most fathers and I know you don’t find some of the drudgery…well…drudgy. I also know a small bit of what your glorious, enlightened, intelligent, child-care expert co-parent does on a regular basis. And I know that you probably won’t be less happy with the Twos, the Threes, and the Fours. Maybe you have a better outlook, maybe you compromised different things than I did when you had children. Maybe I’m Eeyore and you’re Christopher Robin.

    And I’ll tell you and my few hundred readers a secret: I think Butter bodes well for my liking this job a lot more than I ever have. You remember the evening last summer at a favorite event involving kazoos where there were three hours of screaming and tantrums and exhausted but patient parenting? I don’t like nights like that, MPB. We have a lot of them. Mornings like that, days like that, nights like that. A lot. But Butter introduces a dynamic that lets the acid in my stomach and the pressure in my arteries and the adrenaline in my bloodstream subside so I can be a better parent to both of them.

    My life is worse for the wear, yes. My life is better for the blessings and the lessons and the new purposes. My frustration level has never been higher— for my career, for my creative side, for my sense of self, for my fears about the future and money and safety and the world as we know it. And yes, I have had moments of unparalleled joy, the heights of which I never would have achieved without children. My options are fewer, my time is nonexistent, my body is ravaged, my mind is flickering, my outlets are few.

    So on a matrix of sociological analysis I would probably rate less happy. And I know full well that frustration and lack of options and pain in the short term will produce interesting results and more options and a rich life in the long term.

    But for now I find solace in the fact that I’m not alone in being frustrated and ravaged and exhausted and scared and angry and sometimes less happy.

    I’m genuinely glad you aren’t in that place. I’m glad you have different obstacles, different needs, different realities. I’m glad you have all the things you have. I’m glad I have Peanut and Butter and Spouse and everything else I have. I’m also sometimes pissed and lonely and want to run away from home.

    Now let’s have some of that debate.

    Why do you think the sociologists are wrong? As Ms. Senior mentions in her article, the mothers-are-less-happy statistic is now taken as a given in most research circles. Why are they wrong?

  18. I hope Butter can keep the hope for a calmer time alive. I had those hopes when my own second boy was born – so calm, so sweet. But as he grew, the more intense first boy worked his disruptive magic and now I have two intense boys.

    I didn’t find the New Mork mag article to be that great, in that it didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know or that I hadn’t heard before. Still, it provides some relief to see it right out there on the cover of a magazine: proof that I’m not crazy or alone in loving and delighting in my children but still chafing intensely at the way I no longer have a life of my own.

    I doubt it will change anyone’s mind about whether or not to go ahead and have kids – I wasn’t under some illusion that parenting would be easy, but nor could I ever have truly imagined the incredible toll it would take on my own individuality, my own wants and needs. Not until the first couple of days lying there in my hospital bed, holding this creature they’d cut out of my belly, did I realize that there was no escape.

    • oh, Kate, I’m so glad for the warning that maybe highly-spirited + super mellow if he gets everything he wants = two out of control lumps of boyness. I was already memorizing and cherishing the current dynamic, but will now burn them in my brain because it’s quite lovely to have the counterbalance.

      I wasn’t a big fan of the article because it made the frustrations of parenting seem as though parenting is an inconvenience from real life rather than addressing the isolation, loss of self, and intense frustration of taking a mewling Id and getting it to adulthood a balance of Superego, Ego, and Id. It didn’t talk about the screaming for an hour if sandwiches are cut incorrectly or the hitting that follows an announcement of bathtime or the meltdowns of intensity unparalleled on this earth that we’re supposed to acknowledge, help them label, help them cope with, and defuse even when they’re ludicrous, inconvenient, and painful. Oh well. It was, as you say, nice to hear we’re not alone.

  19. Amen, sister! I was writing a post about motherhood and balance (or lack thereof) and googled “nap time everything changes” and your blog was at the top of my search results. I needed to read this post today. I’ve been coughing up a lung all week, but am still taking care of my sometimes precious, but mostly obnoxious rugrats 24-7. My husband, who got over the same virus in 2 days, wonders why I’m still sick after 5. Is there a woman alive who really thought it through before getting pregnant that she might not get another “sick day” again for at least a decade?!

    • FunSimple, welcome! Ugh, the lack of sick days makes me ache. So do the daily injuries caused by my “boss.” The search for balance makes me break out in hives…teeter totters are us, I guess. Thanks for stopping by. Hope to hear more from you.

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