Saturday, September 25, 2010

Its Not Just a Title

There was quite a bit of buzz this summer about the NY Magazine article "All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting". When I first read the title, I empathized. What parent, myself included, hasn't wondered at some point, "Why is this not fun?" I've been there. I was there by myself this weekend when my husband was away for a "boys weekend". There being those moments that you want to be anywhere but here with your fighting, whining, crying kids. But then I read the article and I got annoyed. I wasn't annoyed completely by the author, there are a lot of valid points about the evolution of parenting, but I was annoyed by the complaints about the grunt work of parenting. The article mentions research showing "parents are not happier than their childless peers". But, is childbearing supposed to automatically make us happy? I mean, is it really advertised as fun? The article says, "Most people assume that having children will make them happier." I certainly did not assume that. I don't remember anyone ever telling me that parenting was going to be easy, let alone fun.

Being a parent definitely has its rewarding moments and there are times that I do feel a blissful happiness staring into those little faces. But, I'll be honest, there have been stretches of time where its rough. There's different stages with kids and each stage brings new positives and negatives; you kind of have to just roll with it. Unfortunately, in our progressive, self-help, self-improving society, we have trouble with things not always being dreamy. We've become so accustomed to being pro-active problem solvers that we're no longer willing to accept anything less than perfect. We've managed to take the role of parenting, which has been around literally forever, and created an unrealistic unattainable expectation for today's parents. Becoming parents is no longer just human nature keeping the species alive. It can now be viewed as a choice, not a necessity; and if you chose to do something, shouldn't you expect it to make you happy? It then becomes upsetting and I guess disappointing when its not perfect. The idea of parenting has evolved and the expectations of parenting have changed.

If you've read the article, you know it touches on several different points about why parents are feeling unhappy today. One brilliant surveyor found that women ranked "childcare" very low on a list of pleasurable things to do; choices that included, among others, exercising, napping, and shopping. Is it really odd that a tired mother when asked might rank a nap higher than childcare? Is that not an expected answer? Besides changing what we expect to feel like as parents, we've also changed how we parent and one directly correlates to the other. Our generation spends an exhausting amount of our time on our kids, fundamentally changing how parents raise children. We spend all of our time shaping our children into perfectly well-rounded individuals, grooming them for their future, that we leave very little time for ourselves. And then we feel guilty for wanting to take a nap. Where did this expectation come from that we as parents shouldn't want to do anything for ourselves? Do our increased sacrifices for our children make us better parents, or just tired unhappy people?

Regardless of how parenting has evolved, one thing remains the same: its not just a title. Its a responsibility, its a job, and it always has been and always will be work. There is joy and there is happiness, but as with any job, it can't be expected to be fun all the time. Maybe instead of complaining about the unhappy daily work of parenting, this is a time to power up that activism. Take the onus of parental happiness off of our children and do something for ourselves. Our own impossible expectations are what is making us unhappy. Its okay to find parenting challenging and it is definitely okay to carve out some time for yourself. That title "parent", entitles you to a break sometimes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mr. September

So we're back here again, this time of year again. And no, I don't mean back to school. Towards the end of the summer, the Phillies started doing what they now seem to do towards the end of every summer; they started playing well, really well. After one of those wins, my husband turned to me and said, "You know what this means, right? You can count me out for September". Right. So we're back here again. Here, where almost every night is game night and my husband belongs to Mr. September, not to me. Where he has way more time for his team than for me. Where he hears every word the announcers say, and zero of what I say. I get it, but it seems like we just left here in June when we said good-bye to Lord Stanley's Cup.

Don't get me wrong, I am a Phillies Phan. And I truly am a Philadelphia fan. I would never dream of rooting for another city's team, even when I lived there for years and while they made it to the World Series - sorry Giants. But really, I have to ask, does my husband really think he has any impact on the team by watching every second of every game? Does he really think the Phillies won the World Series because he watched the same TV, from the same spot, on the same couch, wearing the same shirt for each win? I already know the answer to this, and that is the root of my complaint. Just like I'm certain none of the Philadelphia franchise teams can hear him cheering or swearing at them through the TV, they also don't even know he's watching. So really, I don't think they'd mind if he took his eyes off the game for one minute to actually listen to something I have to say.

But, I know how this goes. Its September and the Phillies are ahead. I also know how this story should go, and unfortunately for me, my husband should have added, "You can also count me out for October". And then I'm sure we'll see where the Eagles are.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Island Time

School started back up this week for both of my kids. Friends asked me if I was sad to put my 6 year old on the bus and drop my 4 year old off for his last year of preschool. Yes I was sad, but not because they are a year older. I had that minor break-down last fall when my first baby started Kindergarten and I'm sure I'll have another slightly bigger break-down next year when my last baby gets on the bus. This year my sadness came from nothing more than summer ending. My kids were excited to go back to school, I was not. I was pleading with summer to last just a little longer.

I experimented this summer vacation with just hanging out with my kids and not putting them in any camps. And while I'll be honest, not every day was a picnic, it was a vacation. I was relaxed. What I realized this week is that with the start of school, there is the return of that nervous feeling. I feel nervous when my kids aren't with me. I'm not nervous that something bad is going to happen to them at school, but I feel like something is missing. My kids are missing from my side, my sight. And I have a constant feeling that I need to check my phone in case the school is trying to reach me. Added to that is all of the information I need to keep in my head again for my two kids regarding their schools, activities, and generally very busy lives. I feel the weight of being a responsible adult; an adult responsible for other people.

I spent most of the month of August at the beach with my kids within eyesight. My phone spent most of August alone plugged into a wall. It was nice. I didn't need to worry about someone being able to reach me because everyone who needed me was within my view. It was nice to be able to just be with my kids and not have to answer to anyone except us. There was no bus schedule, no car line, and no morning school bell. It was just me and my kids on our own schedule, making our own rules. I didn't even need my phone for my calendar, my calendar was clear. I guess being on an island long enough actually does convert you to island time.

But my stress is back now; morning alarms are set, lunches are packed the night before, and my phone is always within reach. Its sad to be back to reality, but summers always come to an end. And every year I get reacquainted with sending my kids out into the world without me. When I got both kids to school on the first day, I took myself directly to the nail salon for a pedicure and then the coffee shop to catch up with a friend. I was no longer on island time, I had to watch the time for preschool pick-up, but it was a little therapy for my sadness and also a reminder to myself that back-to-school can't be all bad.