I recently reflected upon this quotation after a former coworker on her blog (she has no idea I read nor will she) posted her response to an article she saw published in the New York Magazine on July 4, 2010. It was entitled “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting“. I would love to post her response to the article, but I can’t risk having her link it back to me (plus she’s a very good Christian whose head might exploded if she ever saw my blog). But, let me summarize the article itself briefly:
Parents are not happier compared to their childless counterparts according to a bunch of studies by various academics. In fact, some studies show that children have a negative impact to happiness overall – and can have an impact negatively to marriages as well. Single dads have a higher incident of depression. It should also be noted that most parents, when faced with these studies deny it. The article goes on to examine why.
I’ll be honest, a lot of this article to me was a big old “duh”. I knew having kids was going to have ups and downs. I knew there would be moments where the marriage would be tested. I knew there were going to be fights about homework, chores, and such. I knew having kids had the potential of being a fairy tale, but it was going to have a lot of twists and turns along the way that could derail it. Life as we knew it was going to change forever. And I knew it would be “the toughest job, I’d ever love” to steal a phrase.
But I think the most important thing – the thing that I feel is flawed with these studies – I don’t look to my kids to make me happy as they are not responsible for my happiness. I am responsible for that. I love my kids. I find joy in having them. They add a dimension to my life that I cannot imagine not having – but they are not the sole source of my happiness. I may be happy for them as they accomplish things in life whether it be learning to ride their bike or getting an award for being a good taekwondo student. But those are their moments. My happiness comes from getting to be there for them. To see their hard work pay off. If they failed, I wouldn’t be unhappy. I would be there helping pick up the pieces and helping them learn from what went wrong. That is my role in all of this.
While I love the laughing and joking around and all, I also know I have to teach them too. My job is to make sure they get the tools they need for success. But, I am also fully aware that just because they have the tools does not mean they will use them. And that may drive me nuts, but part of growing up is to start giving them the rope. I will stop them before they hang themselves with it it, and I will try to get them to see where they went wrong. But at the end of the day, I have to trust I raised them right. That I picked the right balance between protecting them and letting them learn from their mistakes by setting consequences.
And that’s why parenting cannot be the be-all, end-all for all happiness for parents. That assumption by those entering this job is flawed. The assumption that having more money will make parenting easier is flawed just like giving your kid everything is not the solution or over-scheduling their lives. Those things create more problems for parents than reward because they are, of and itself hard. We do it out of a desire to give our kids more than what we had. We want them to have a head start. Toss in the parental guilt of the working parents – that we aren’t spending enough time with our kids- and this parenting job just gets mired down even further with worry and stress.
The great irony in the article is a finding three sociologists discovered. That parents spend more time with their kids today than parents did in 1975. Yes, you read that correctly, they found that we spend MORE time with our kids than our parent did 35 years ago. They also found that mothers have less time to themselves today than they did 35 years ago – 5.4hrs less per week – an interesting finding for all of those working moms out there. And despite all of this, parents still feel we do not spend enough time with our kids – 85% of us still do.
The job of parenting has gotten lost in modernization. Today, we have research that shows us positive impact if we do music lessons when they are babies or how giving a 5 year old homework will make them a better student when they enter high school. All things I never had, yet I still was successful. We have Baby Einstein shows, electronics to jump start reading, twenty zillion soccer camps to make your kid into the next Beckham, and more options for extra activities than we can shake a stick at. And if you aren’t doing it, I’m sure there is a study to make you feel like you are denying your kid their chance for success as an adult.
Toss in good ole parental competition (which I DO believe exists) and the pressure keeps mounting. And parenting becomes that one job – we all have that one in our past where we ultimately quit because it was too stressful with not enough reward. But unlike that job, we can’t quit the stress of this parenting one.
When Garbanzo and I talked about this article, we both shook our head. We have our moments as parents, but we tend to let certain things roll off our backs. Kids will be kids. Hell the opening scene of that article as she described it had me shaking my head. If my kids hadn’t broken something I spent time assembling, I’d probably check them for a fever. Kids are kids. They need to be kids. And I think that is the test in our house. We don’t over schedule because I find it more important for DJ to be climbing the tree in the yard or trying to catch the moment the chicken lays her egg, then spending hours in the car going to and from ballet lessons followed by taekwondo. We don’t spend hours fighting about homework with Indigo because I know it won’t stunt her development at seven. Plus, I’d rather she spend the time reading – an activity she will do. In the end, we weigh things not against what society thinks, or the latest study or other parents, but what is good for our kids (individually) and our family. And that simple test, make ALL of us happy.