What do you remember about the hands-on parenting years? (Yes, some of us are still hand’s on!) The drudgery, the diapers, the fevers, the frustration of tiny tots and toddlers? The arguments, the tensions, the policing of tweens and teens? Or have the years smoothed away the rough spots and what you remember the most are “I love you mommy,” the sweet little kisses, reading books, playing games, grammar school plays and sports, sharing adventures, and family traditions?
There’s no doubt that those heavy-lifting years are difficult at times. But enough to make you love your children but hate your life? Apparently so for some young parents as reported by a cover story in New York Magazine a week ago and a segment on “Why Some Parents Hate Parenting” on the Today show last Thursday.
“It’s not that you don’t love your kids; it’s all those other things that come along with the job.” –Today host Meredith Vierra
Both the article and the segment cited several happiness studies that found child-rearing ranked low on a list of activities in terms of overall satisfaction. Napping, cooking and housework all tallied higher than the child-rearing. Who wouldn’t rather nap or cook than change a diaper? In her New York piece, Jennifer Senior wrote:
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.
In both her article and on the Today show, Ms. Senior blamed the unhappiness how “the experience of raising children has fundamentally changed.” Yes it did change…about three decades ago when Baby Boomers professionalized parenting, carrying babies in one arm and a load of baby books in the other. Professional parenting only spurred more books, more studies, more websites (and blogs!) and movies from Baby Boom to Away We Go (in which a young mom refuses to use a stroller because it pushes the baby away from her!)
Some of those studies attempt to measure happiness minute by minute. The reality is that many of us have mixed feelings about almost any experience whether raising kids or work or vacations or going to the gym. Daily life is filled with ambivalence, noted psychiatrist Gail Saltz, who also appeared in the Today segment. As far as happiness, she explained, it varies greatly on whether you’re trying to measure happiness in the present or recall a time in the past or looking to the future.
When a toddler is throwing up it’s hard to be happy. The routines become numbing when you’re doing laundry, shuttling kids to activities, worrying about bills. But there finally does come a time, after 20 or 30 years, when the memories filter out many of those wrenching—and retching—moments. Instead the focus shifts to the magical moments of parenting, both special and everyday. Then our lament becomes not how hard it is but how quickly the time passed. The good news: You get to do it all over again, the “lite” fun version, as a grandparent!