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.
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.
Image: NY Mag