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.

Still ambivalent after all these years

Simon and Garfunkel sang that, didn’t they? Before the crazy version, there was being stuck between a rock and a sheer-faced cliff? Thought so.

Since the inception of this blog, I have wrestled publicly with the dilemma that I love my child and rather dislike parenting. Love, love, love the kid. Don’t get me wrong or send angry emails. Love the child. Dislike the job. It’s not a popular riff, and it’s not often said, so I feel like I’m talking to a (rather horrified) brick wall when I explain to people who ask, that I’m experiencing a range of emotions about being a breeder (ooops, there’s my problem right there, because Americans know the correct answers are “Fine” to “How are you?” and “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done” to “How do you like being a Mom?” regardless of how you feel. But I always forget that social rule and actually hear, process, and answer questions as they’re posed. Silly, poorly socialized me.)

So when someone the other day asked if I was excited about the new baby, my initial response was typical for me, caught between the headlights of social expectations and my still unabashed tendency toward truth:

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Don’t make me say the obvious: of courseyes and nosort ofI think soabsolutely…blink blink blink. Here’s the thing, at least for me. The dive into parenthood, at least the first time, is like asking a solitary, heliophilic (lover of sunshine, not bleeder, though that might work, too), claustrophic acrophobe (nasty fear of heights…bear with me) to live the remainder of their life as a bat.

YES, there are beautiful sights to take in while you’re flying. Glorious smells and sounds and vistas unknown to humans. At…uhem…night. In the sky. Kind of high. Admittedly, there is awesome fruit to be had. A thousand times, yes, I love mangoes. Back at home, though, my small, cramped cave is filled with lots of smelly others who insist I hang upside down from the ceiling and avoid the sun. So admitting having mixed feelings seems less revolutionary than honest and, well, mandatory.

The whole foreign country/alien planet thing I’ve heard from other moms about the upending shock of plunging from independence and coherence into the unblinking and rapid-fire world of parenting implies that the surroundings have changed. Nay. Same place. I’m just living upside down. At night. By new rules with new people whom I simply don’t get. Their way is totally right for them, and it makes sense, and it’s quite lovely. But it’s godawful uncomfortable for me.

And the thought of doing it again really, really soon means less shock and more…upside down, claustrophobic, ceiling-clinging, guano-filled days. I know where to find the fun, but I don’t know how to escape when the not-so-fun threatens to overwhelm. Because you know what? (And I risk being a bit overdramatic here, but I defy you to prove me wrong….) there is no escape.

[Maybe that’s why our culture makes such a big deal about bats. It’s not the three out of, like 400 species of otherwise frugivorous bats who drink blood. It’s the fact that we know, deep down, that I’m totally awesome at similies and metaphors, and that a lot of us are living, at once by choice and against our will, in caves filled with other upside down mammals.]

So I’m learning and I’m flying and I’m having copious amounts of fun. But home isn’t home…it’s claustrophobic and smelly. And going outside is different and new and overwhelming. That sense of displacement, of not just where did I go? but where did the world go? is a little disconcerting.

Once or twice. AND twice.

Consider that next time I just stare at you and blink blink. Blink.


Marital hope

According to a fluff piece over at CNN (sorry, Ms. Stinchfield, but it is pretty fluffy), marriage is better before kids and after kids leave.

My takeaway:

“A 2008 study found that marital satisfaction actually improves once children leave home. Female participants reported spending equal amounts of time with their partners both while their children lived at home and after, but they noted that the quality of that together time was better once the kids were out of the picture. “Suddenly the tyranny of the children controlling the household is relieved,” says Dr. Robbins. “You don’t have to have dinner at 6, you don’t have to spend Saturdays at the soccer field, and you don’t have to be so responsible all the time.”

So I’m putting out a call to all landlords, employers, and colleges who will take a 3 year old. Please.