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.