Thursday, July 29, 2010

Do Parents Really Hate Parenting?

Ask just about any parent you know, and they'll tell you that they're happy that they have kids.  If it's a casual acquaintance, they will probably smile and tell you all about the adorable qualities their offspring possess.  If it's someone you know a little better, they might share some colorful anecdotes about their more "challenging" parenting moments. 

Neither one, however, is very likely to tell you that sometimes parenting makes them very unhappy, even though chances are pretty good that it does.

But with the explosion of blogging in the past few years has come a new breed of parents who are willing to open up and share some of the uglier truths of their lives with their children.  Heather Armstrong of Dooce has built an entire brand around her willingness to talk openly and honestly about some of the harsher realities of her life as a mom.  Many other mom and dad bloggers have followed her lead, and you can now find all sorts of complaints and rants all over the internet bemoaning just how hard parenthood can be.

I think this is a good thing.  Because parenting is hard, and it isn't always going to make you happy.  If we don't talk about the difficuties and the dark moments and share our experiences, we can be left feeling like we're the only ones, and that things would be easier if only we could get our act together and be more like everyone else.  That doesn't do anyone any good. 

So I'm a big fan of the brave parents and bloggers who are willing to talk about the unhappy moments that their children bring to their lives.

And they are brave.  Because when these men and particularly women write about feeling depressed or dare to complain about the difficulties they face, the public backlash can be brutal.   When writer and mom Jennifer Senior wrote a piece entitled All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting, over 600 comments flooded into New York Magazine in response.

Many were less than sympathetic to the plight of the modern parent, saying things like:   

"Why do some parents insist on making parenting harder
than it really is? Get some help and get some therapy, fast"

"don't have them and don't regret it"

"The immaturity and selfishiness of today's mothers is deeply disturbing"

Yeah, lots of support for parents over there (insert eye roll here).

In fact, the article goes a lot deeper than it's title implies.  Senior explores the nature of what truly constitutes happiness, and questions what it is that compels parents to find joy in parenthood, even when they feel like they're struggling through on a daily basis.  She finds that in general, parents seem to be less happy overall than non-parents, but also that parents experience moments of greater joy. 

And most importantly, that despite their diminished happiness, most parents still wouldn't change their decision to have kids.  Senior writes:  

"Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy.  But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety and heartbreak . . .  Loving one's children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing."

Which I think sums up parenthood beautifully and accurately. 

We can proclaim our love for our children and complain about how hard it is to raise them in the same breath.  We can love certain aspects of parenthood and loathe other ones.  We don't always have to be happy, and we don't have to listen to the haters who claim that we made our bed and now have to lie in it.

I don't think that most parents hate parenting.  I know that I certainly would have made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom if the act of parenting my children was something I didn't enjoy at least most of the time.

But I do think that it's perfectly legitimate to dislike, or even sometimes hate, certain aspects of parenting.  It doesn't make you a bad parent, or mean that you love your children any less.

"Loving one's children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing."

Thank you, Jennifer Senior.  I'm taping this to my refrigerator.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be repeating this phrase to myself many, many times a day. 

1 comment:

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

The quote from Jennifer Senior is spot on - there are an astonishing number of moments every week that I find myself thinking "what in the world am I *doing*?!" (staying home instead of working outside the home) But the love for my child overcomes the occasional pain of parenting ;)