New York Magazine on Why Parents Hate Parenting

I’ve been obsessed this week with the current New York magazine cover story, All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting. The cover line on the front of the mag is actually even more intriguing: “I Love My Children. I Hate My Life.”

New York magazine

As a stay-at-home mom whose life largely centers these days around the act of parenting, I was curious to see what rang true for me.

Turns out, plenty.

The article looks at whether or not parenthood makes us happy, and the short answer, filtered through numerous experts and studies, is no. This isn’t exactly news to parents of young children — your pre-baby life gets blown to bits and replaced with tedious and unrelenting hard work and worry, and we all know it.

Further, says the research — not only are you unhappy and is your relationship horribly stressed (pity the poor couple who had serious troubles before becoming parents), but you become *more* unhappy and stressed with each subsequent child (childless readers contemplating parenthood: let this be a warning to you.)

The piece, by Jennifer Senior, looks deeper, though, questioning what happiness really means. How do we define it? Is it in the day-to-day moments? Is it something we experience or something we think?

Am I happy? In the day-to-day fray, lots of times in the moment, no — honestly, who is really happy wiping bottoms, refereeing arguments, repeating yourself a zillion times, and preparing endless meals and snacks for a thankless lot?

As the article says, “Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing.”

So… What the hell are we all doing? According to Senior, when parents navigate sometimes unpleasant tasks, we’re “undertaking part of a larger project, one that pays off in subtler dividends than simply having fun.”

In between the mundane moments are sweet, satisfying ones — emotion-rich snippets that build on each other and add to the overall joy of life. You know, in a big picture way.

I read a quote once by Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness and an expert quoted in the piece, saying that we don’t have kids to make ourselves happy, we have them to give our lives meaning.

I get it. Again, with the big picture.

But back to the day-to-day. Why is it so hard? Why are moments of happiness sometimes so infrequent?

Jean Twenge, a psychologist quoted in the article, notes many people now “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.”

Hello, Nail. On. The Head.

My days are not my own, and I miss that. In fact, twice this week I’ve had dreams about being back at work, zipping up elevators in Manhattan skyscrapers to full-time day jobs as an editor. A sign? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that it’s so freaking HOT here in New York at the moment and I’m missing the bliss of central A/C in an office setting. We’ll see. I could always go back to work….

But there’s no going back to not being a mom. And although I’m exhausted, and cranky, and, according to researchers all around the world, unhappy — that’s OK. I’m sticking with the big picture.


6 Responses to “New York Magazine on Why Parents Hate Parenting”

  1. 1 Sasha July 9, 2010 at 10:54 am

    So well put! I also thought her points about parents today overcomplicating things make a lot of sense. I do that — micromanage what my kids are doing, apologize when I have other things to do, worry endlessly that I am doing it all “right”…but how to uncomplicate without becoming Betty Draper?

  2. 2 Melisa July 9, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    awww, thanks, Sasha! and too funny about Betty Draper! yeah, better not let go that much. you totally made me laugh. 🙂

  3. 3 Lisa July 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Your reaction to the article sounds a lot like mine. I think the title is shocking for a lot of folks, and of the responses I’ve read many throw up an immediate block to the finer points of the article.

    I do feel the pressure to not only raise a perfect child but to enjoy every moment of it, and if I don’t then I’m somehow flawed. I think both of these premises are essentially flawed and it’s a great piece for inspiring reflection of the meaning of happiness and parenthood.

  4. 4 Melisa July 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I thought so, too, Lisa — a great piece for reflecting on things at large. It’s unrealistic to think we’re going to enjoy every moment of parenting — but I am trying to lighten up a little in the day-to-day and to appreciate the big picture.

    Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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