Several people have alerted me to a NY Magazine article this week entitled “Why Parents Hate Parenting”, which is about whether or not parents are happy (and why). I really don’t have the brain power to analyze the article at length this week, but since it’s so on topic with what we talk about here, I at least wanted to mention it. So I’m going to pull a few of the quotes I found most intriguing:
“A few generations ago, people weren’t stopping to contemplate whether having a child would make them happy. Having children was simply what you did. And we are lucky, today, to have choices about these matters. But the abundance of choices—whether to have kids, when, how many—may be one of the reasons parents are less happy.”
Interesting, and something I’ve thought about quite a lot myself. While I personally value having choices (It’s the American way, right?) I also think that at some point choices make us more frustrated than happy. If we have what seem to be unlimited options, can we ever be really sure we’ve chosen the right ones?
“Even more surprisingly, they found that parents’ dissatisfaction only grew the more money they had, even though they had the purchasing power to buy more child care. “And my hypothesis about why this is, in both cases, is the same,” says Twenge. “They become parents later in life. There’s a loss of freedom, a loss of autonomy. It’s totally different from going from your parents’ house to immediately having a baby. Now you know what you’re giving up.”
Yup. Those of you who’ve read my essay in defense of young motherhood know this is pretty much exactly my hypothesis.
“Of course, this should not be a surprise. If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)—well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve.”
Yes, yes, yes, and this has become one of those things that seems so obvious by now that you really wonder why anyone would argue that paid maternity leave is not a major mental health issue. It’s not about removing women from the workforce (I’m not sure I’d want to take an entire year off from my work, myself) but removing the economic pressures that go along with making a reasonable transition back to work during a time that your hormones are all out of whack and your baby is at her neediest.
“Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy. But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak….Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing.”
Very true. It’s like writing. I love being a writer. I love having written. And sometimes, in moments of flow and creativity, I love writing, too. But just as much of the time, the act of writing is frustrating, tedious…and occasionally heartbreaking. Does that mean I’d be happier if I weren’t a writer? Of course not. Like anything worth doing, writing has its way, way ups, and its way, way downs. You know…like motherhood.
“Seven years ago, the sociologists Kei Nomaguchi and Melissa A. Milkie…found that, yes, 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. And perhaps this is because the study sought to understand not just the moment-to-moment moods of its participants, but more existential matters, like how connected they felt, and how motivated, and how much despair they were in (as opposed to how much stress they were under)” (emphasis mine).
Studies of happiness are inexact, to say the least. I’ve said before that I don’t think you can measure overall happiness by judging your satisfaction levels while doing the dishes or changing a diaper. Those may be the tasks related to parenthood, but they aren’t parenthood itself.
What do you think of the article? Are parents who say they’re happy just kidding themselves? Or is there a deeper, less-quantifiable kind of happiness that comes from having kids…even in spite of all the work, drudgery, and tedium? (You know what I think, right?)