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.

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