In response to my parenting is hard post, a friend forwarded this article. I found it fascinating, and irritating. I recommend highly reading it. The author sets out to understand why a wide variety of research, from disparate disciplines, has repeatedly found that parents are not happier than their childless counterparts, and in many cases are less so. It’s a distressing thought, especially to those newly parented among us. The author- Jennifer Senior- explores two equally interesting theories (1) the act of parenting has fundamentally changed (as has the timing, which seems equally significant) and (2) our definition of happiness will have significant influence over our level of satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, with being a parent.
This second point seems immensely important. The trouble with having kids, many research suggests, is that while children might bring moments of transcendence, pure bliss, the day-to-day slog of parenting (fighting over the TV [which gets back to point number one], transporting them to piano, and soccer, and …) typically means that we are denied the moment-to-moment happiness that we once felt (before children, that is). The trouble is, Jennifer points out (and I completely agree), that for many people purpose is happiness, especially when the experience of moment-to-moment happiness is somewhat elusive to begin with. Martin Seligman, a positive-psychologist who is not known for his optimism, “takes the view that happiness is best defined in the ancient Greek sense: leading a productive, purposeful life. And the way we take stock of that life, in the end, isn’t by how much fun we’ve had, but what we did with it.” (This man had seven children.) This left me wondering, are we so conditioned to getting, needing, immediate gratification that we cannot see the larger purpose, and beauty, of parenthood? And, given the fact that on balance parents today are older than the generation before, are we so used to having things our way, to being in control- complete control- that we cannot give ourselves up to something greater?
In the end, I just want to make one thing abundantly clear. I love being a parent. Yes, it is hard and I don’t always know what I’m doing and I wonder if I’m doing the best for Little E, and for Tim, and for myself. Sure I worry about raising a daughter with a healthy self-image who feels empowered to be herself in today’s society. Yes, I miss my daily runs, and regular yoga practice, which I alwayshad time for in my childless days. And yes, there are times that I am exacerbated over Little E’s need (“Mom up. Mom. Mom. Up. UP”) to be held while I’m trying to prepare dinner and there are three very hot pans on the stove top, the handles of which she is reaching for in an attempt to stir the contents inside. But when, in moments like that, I can remind myself to slow down, step back, and really look at what’s happening, I realize that what she is asking for from me is to help -to be near me- partaking in the excitement of cooking. And that is an immensely rewarding thought. She will not want this from me for much longer (I’m prepared for the fact that when she’s 13 she’ll likely want no part in dinner preparations), so for now I’m doing my best to soak it up.