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How Much Do Parents Hate Parenting?

By Madeline Holler |

How much? Actually, not that much. But you’d hardly know this if you pay any attention to all the studies that have come out proving that we parents are just miserable. Miserable!

Writing “All Joy and No Fun” for the July 12 New York magazine, Jennifer Senior tries to get at the heart of what’s going on. Why do studies showing parents are less happy than their childless peers seem so wrong? I mean, parenting’s hard, but not that hard. The precious little ones get on our last nerves daily and yet, whatever. Most of us couldn’t imagine — and certainly don’t long for (much) — life without them.

Why? How?

Senior brings up many reasons — we parent differently now than our own parents did. We actually work at it. Shuttling kids, helping with endless homework, listening to their feelings (!) — not that much fun.

Also? Since having kids for most of us was a choice, there’s always that road-not-traveled to consider. Careers left behind, trips not taken, two-piece bathing suits no longer under consideration.

And then there’s the support system — or lack thereof in the U.S. From the day a child is born in this country, parents (women!) are on their own to figure it all out: what to do about work, who to hire, schools, how to pay for it all, etc., etc. This doesn’t stop until the kids are finished with college. It’s miserable, every few years, having to do research, make phone calls, attend open-houses, turn over non-refundable registration fees. And that’s just to get on a waiting list! The comments in Senior’s piece illustrate a special kind of stress parents experience, and that is people sort of hating them for having kids. Or for having kids and then not loving it every day. Or for having kids and then loving it too much.

Parents really can’t win.

But in the end, they just might. Senior offers a study that didn’t make the headlines: some couples were followed for five to seven years, some of them had kids some of them didn’t.

… those couples who became parents did more housework and felt less in control and quarreled more (actually, only the women thought they quarreled more, but anyway). On the other hand, the married women were less depressed after they’d had kids than their childless peers.

… The authors also found that the most depressed people were single fathers, and Milkie speculates that perhaps it’s because they wanted to be involved in their children’s lives but weren’t. Robin Simon finds something similar: The least depressed parents are those whose underage children are in the house, and the most are those whose aren’t.

Why aren’t parents who are spared the task of parenting happier? Perhaps, the authors suggest, “they’re robbed of something that gives purpose and reward.”

Kids are just so needy and in the moment (such as, for me, this very moment during a rather contentious bath time) it’s a real drag. And yet, will I remember this particular contentious moment for the rest of my life? Nah. Will I look back at these times of my life with my kids, so young and weird and fun, and long for all of this? Oh, most certainly. I already do.

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Image: NY Mag

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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33 thoughts on “How Much Do Parents Hate Parenting?

  1. Gretchen Powers says:

    I have one child. “…Careers left behind, trips not taken, two-piece bathing suits no longer under consideration…” Can’t relate to any of these personally…really? Buck up and deal. “It’s miserable, every few years, having to do research, make phone calls, attend open-houses, turn over non-refundable registration fees. And that’s just to get on a waiting list!” Seriously? I don’t know whether to comment that those things are just part of “life”? Or say cut the drama! It’s not THAT bad, whiner. Maybe people “sort of hate” people who have kids because so many of them whine about something that is their own choice (having kids). I have a kid and, hell, from some of these posts and comments *I* hate people who have kids. How about a little gratitude for all the luxuries we have in America compared to the rest of the world? Or the privileged time of high technology we live in versus past times when you had to do all the work by hand and couldn’t kvetch online? I’m glad at least the post ends optimistically. That is good! Kids are a perfect illustration that the greatest things can’t necessarily be quantified or explained.

  2. ann05 says:

    GP, you hate everybody who is not just like you. Still, I agree with you that the list of “problems” presented are rich people’s problems. There are a lot of parents who are more concerned with trying to feed and shelter their kids. I do think that the rising lack of empathy, the notion that having children is a choice (rather than a biological process we have learned to artificially suppress), and the fairly unchild friendly society of the US all lines up to make parenting challenging. Probably no more or less challenging than doing it during WWII or the Great Depression or whatever though.

  3. JZ says:

    Wow GP do you realize how negitive and angry you sound?

    I totally agree with ann…there is a deffinet lack of empathy in this world. Oh your child is screaming, you must be a horrible parent. Oh you didnt breastfeed, you are a horrible parent. Ect. You cant win for loosing. All that extra pressue makes things harder than they need to be. That said, I love being a mom and am very happy.

  4. [...] “All Joy and No Fun” that has people like my friend and fellow writer Madeline Holler talking about it over at But I read this piece (synopsis: Parenting is work! Unless you live in Denmark! Which you [...]

  5. Manjari says:

    I love this post, Madeline. I haven’t read Senior’s article yet, but I will. I do find parenting difficult compared to everything else I’ve done in my life until now. I can definitely relate to thinking about “Careers left behind, trips not taken, two-piece bathing suits no longer under consideration.” On most days, I have some complaints about what my life is like caring for two young children 24/7, but the reality is that I love my life more now than before I became a mom. I don’t feel any of the uncertainty or vague dissatisfaction I used to feel, and I guess that’s because I always knew I wanted children. I really like my kids. I’m glad I get to spend so much time with them, even though I find parenting challenging.

  6. JEssica says:

    I think it is just lack of sleep that makes us parents so grumpy!

  7. Gretchen Powers says:

    *I* sound negative and angry? I’m the one who’s being positive, taking control of my life (career not suffering, trips still being take, body not too gross for a bikini) and saying parenting is not all that hard and is tired of all the lack of gratitude and whining. Having children *is* a choice and, frankly, if you are going to have more than one or two in today’s climate of overstretched resources, I have little sympathy for your complaints. All this “Oh your child is screaming, you must be a horrible parent. Oh you didn’t breastfeed, you are a horrible parent.” Has little to do with anything in reality and mostly to do with mothers’ neuroses. Nobody cares! I don’t “hate everbody who is not just like” me, I am just critiquing points of the post. I don’t hate anybody, I was riffing on Holler’s sentence for effect, for those who could not tell. I *do* hate the martyrdom and the whining. Try raising a kid in Afghanistan or some African hellhole or something, then get back to me.

  8. jenny tries too hard says:

    Gah. First of all, GP, you do realize that the parents quoted were answering questions, not just randomly whining all day, right? If you ask me to talk about parenting, I’m going to mention the fact that, oh my heck, those kids cause more laundry than I could’ve ever imagined…but I’m not going around whining about it, and in fact I wouldn’t have even given that particular unpleasant thing much thought aside from when I’m actually doing it or being asked about it.

    Second, I never have understood why parents aren’t allowed to whine (a little) about this stuff because having kids was our own choice. People moan about their chosen professions all.the.time. There’s even a support group for people who want to complain about their jobs…it’s called everyone and they meet at the bar. If parenting is a job, then, hell, we get to bitch about it from time to time, too.

    Honestly, I really liked the quote that “kids are a great source of joy. But they turn every other source of joy to shit.” That’s sort of true, but I would’ve tacked a “for a few years” onto that. It’s true that having kids made the years 2002-2008 considerably less enjoyable in terms of music, school, social life, religion, etc. for me because I was busy all the time…but now, the kids really do enhance all those things, or at least are freeing me up to enjoy them again…what I missed in going to concerts at all for a few years (and I know I’ll still go pretty rarely for the next few years, yet) I think is more than made up in seeing my kids discover music, for example.

  9. Gretchen Powers says:

    Good points, JTTH, about answering survey questions, true. There still seems to be alot of complaining about things that could be controlled by people themselves, if they so chose. Complaining I guess for some is a fun hobby. That’s cool. I get it. I’d just rather enjoy my life and my kid and try to look on the bright side of things.

  10. bob says:

    For the record, here’s a short list of some other things we have learned to artificially suppress, creating lifestyle choices that were not present at earlier periods of human culture:
    Life-threatening cold temperatures in northern latitudes.
    Body hair, body odor, lice.
    Spending the majority of our awake time acquiring the bare necessities of survival.
    Infectious disease, cancer, tooth decay, death from traumatic injury.

    It’s kind of hard to object to birth control on artificiality grounds but not address all the other ways that most of us choose to not live like other animals.

  11. mommyK says:

    Comments re the bikini. I have come to realize that once you hit a certain age, no one wants to see you in a bikini anyway. I decided I would rather be the 60 year old mom in a one piece than a 60 year old non-mom in a one piece.

  12. JZ says:

    Huh? Just cause I use the kid screaming comment to make my point means I’m whinng? And I do control my kid when he has a fit…that dont mean it doesnt happen and I dont get tired of it. GP/annon we get it…your better than everyone.

  13. Laure68 says:

    I think a big problem is trying to quantify something (happiness) that is inherently not quantifiable. By asking the right questions, you can prove that one side is happier. If a surveys asks questions around getting enough rest, having free time, etc., of course parents are going to seem less happy, but these are not the only sources of happiness.

  14. JEssica says:

    I didn’t wear a bikini before so why would I wear one after.

  15. Gretchen Powers says:

    JZ, why do you think this is about you? And why the assumption that anyone is “better”? Holy inferiority complex. I’m saying I am grateful, things are not so bad being a parent, and why dwell on all the negative. In the end, it seems parents agree on that, the blogger, here, the article, that kids enrich our lives, anyway, right?

  16. Amy says:

    I have never been an adult without being a parent. I love being a mom. Perhaps ignorance IS bliss!

  17. JZ says:

    Of course children enrich our lives…You do this all the time on this site. You say harsh, thoughtless things that offend people and when someone speaks up you dont like it. You can dish it but cant take it. (And I am sure I am not the only person that thinks this who frequents this site regularly enough to read your posts.) Period. End of story. I’m not going to go back and forth about it.

  18. Gretchen Powers says:

    I didn’t say anything harsh and thoughtless, but I’m about to, and I can “take” any comment you might make because I don’t care! Grow TF up. Bye! I am using a real name and purposely not saying anything horrible anymore because I want to be real and honest about my thoughts, but if you can’t even handle what I’ve posted here, I just don’t get it? What are you, three years old?

  19. jenny tries too hard says:

    Oh for fuck’s sake…GP, you might try working on self-awareness if you don’t think calling people “whiners” when they answer questions honestly, implying that other women’s bodies are gross, calling women who feel judged “neurotic” and accusing someone who responds to you quoting her of having an inferiority complex is harsh or careless.

    Also, “I’m not negative and angry!”? Methinks the lady doth protest too much…

  20. jenny tries too hard says:

    Also, I don’t get this…

    kvetching online about certain challenges of raising a child in the US or Canada vs. “some African hellhole” is bad, weak, whiny….but somehow kvetching online about how much everyone else is kvetching online (as opposed to just not visiting the website) is better?

  21. JZ says:

    Thank you Jenny!

  22. Gretchen Powers says:

    I did not imply other women’s bodies were gross. I personally think anyone who WANTS to wear a 2-piece should wear it if it makes them feel free and comfortable. I wore one when I was pregnant and I wore one when I was 25 lbs overweight and I don’t care. It felt good. Don’t complain, though about not being able to wear a 2-piece, because if you wanted to, you would. And by “YOU” I don’t mean “YOU” personally, jenny (that seems to be a big issue here, everyone thinking I am talking about THEM, when I am reacting to the POST)…and you’re right about the kvetching vs kvetching. I just have a morbid interest in contemporary culture and this website is the most relevant in terms of what’s big in my life right now…parenting…and so here I am. I don’t think I said anything particularly harsh and yes, most women who feel judged are neurotic…oh wait! Is that judgy?

  23. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Oh man, another name change? Too bad the ‘tude isn’t as easy a switch.
    I for one, am over the “what? parents aren’t perpetually thrilled” spate of articles. It smacks of navel-gazing… which I’m probably just jealous because I can’t even see my navel anymore. Hey PL… have the baby yet?

  24. ann05 says:

    Bob, I wasn’t saying that birth control isn’t a good thing, or that our lives aren’t different in many “unnatural” ways. But birth control eliminates the child, it does not eliminate the natural desire to have children. And, although I recognize there are people who truly think it would be better if nobody had a child, replenishing the population is generally in a society’s best interest. Not having a child is the choice, for most people (you take the pill), having the child is generally the biological default. We seem to have lost sight of that as a society.

  25. Gretchen Powers says:

    anno5—”A” child! not tons of them!

  26. Gretchen Powers says:

    OK…I just read it all and found the following things interesting:

    When they talked about the survey of “909 working Texas women and found that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities. (Among the endeavors they preferred: preparing food, watching TV, exercising, talking on the phone, napping, shopping, housework.)” I guess it’s different for SAHMS or work-at-home moms because I do all those things WHILE I am doing “child care” except for the little bursts of time that I am sitting there playing, or at a playground or pool. There’s not a big separation of tasks when you’re a SAHM, in my opinion, it’s all just the mish mash of life.

    Also, this part: “Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work.” This to me doesn’t feel like work. It feels like engaging with someone who I love dearly and who’s my little friend. It does feel like work when I have to do it with other children I encounter, and I don’t mind it in short bursts, as is socially appropriate (which is a boundary often overstepped by these other children whose parents apparently do not teach them not to harangue other adults…but I digress…)

    Finally, the article notes: “Studies have found that parents’ dissatisfaction only grew the more money they had, even though they could buy more child care.” That one seems to speak volumes all by itself!

  27. [...] How Much do Parents Hate Parenting? [...]

  28. adhocmom says:

    Really? Now we need to start a war about this too? Can’t we just accept that it’s different? My husband and I can’t imagine not being parents, but we certainly don’t think we’d be miserable had we chosen to remain childless.

  29. [...] has made being a single lady look hot the past few days. First New York Magazine announced that parents really hate parenting. Next Salon tipped us off that marriage kind of sucks [...]

  30. [...] Love My Children. I Hate My Life.”  SD blogger Madeline Holler thinks that Jennifer Senior has got it all wrong, as does Brett Berk, aka The Gay Uncle, over at Vanity Fair.  (For the record, Helaine and KJ [...]

  31. Comstock says:

    I’m a happily married dad with two kids. But I liked the NY Mag story. I agree with the point that parents would be happier if we put more effort and public money into creating and helping fund family-friendly services (childcare, healthcare, education, edlercare, etc.). And I’m not bothered by the data showing ON AVERAGE, parents are often unhappy. I guess I’m not part of that average in many ways. People who complain about the article because of some anecdote (“hey, I’m happy, so the science has to be wrong”) is like me complaining that the average male height can’t be 5’10″ because I’m 6’5″, or American’s can’t be bizarrely religious because I’m an American and an atheist, etc. etc. Population data, like averages, are what these studies express. They indicate many or most people might answer questions a certain way, not everyone. Population characteristics don’t apply to every individual.

  32. JIM HILL says:

    parenting is the most sacred of the cows and when someone has the balls to demystify it, I applaud them. There is nothing spiritual about having a 3 yr. old sneak in your bed and pee on your leg while you sleep. Make for a good story? Yes. Funny in a blog? Maybe. Let’s be honest here folks, parenting can be intolerable and it is less of a choice than most people think it is. Biological urges, societel pressures and unchallenged notions are the leading causes of child birth. It’s not love or god’s command or anything like that. I say these things not because I am arrogant and believe my subjectivity to be flawless. I say this I have found that accepting parenthood as the thankless, expensive and sometimes torturous duty that it is has led me to be a better parent. That doesn’t mean I take it out on my kids. In fact, I think there better off that I am not in a constant state of denial and that I love them regarless of all the baggage that they come along with. I hope they do the same for me.

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