Cinderella and the prince get married, and they live happily ever after. Sigh. Cinderella may not fit into our culture’s modern way of thinking, but she does get one thing right: She gets happiness. Meanwhile, the rest of us swim upstream in our constant pursuit of an ideal that seems fleeting.
Maybe that’s the problem; we’re chasing an ideal that is fleeting, an ideal that’s made for the fairytales. We’ve yet to realize that real life isn’t about happiness but, instead, endurance.
I recently read an article in New York magazine by Jennifer Senior titled “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.” While the very end of the article mentions the idea that having children brings purpose and lasting value to one’s life, the first five pages highlight many of the different reasons parents in numerous studies cite themselves as unhappy. To say the article wasn’t the most uplifting piece I had read during the day would be an understatement, but as I processed through what I read, I couldn’t help but ask, “So what?”
Is the idea that parents are unhappy and that their unhappiness increases with the more children that they have that shocking? Perhaps finding oneself unhappy isn’t necessarily bad but just a phase associated with anything that has value and takes hard work.
When I think of marriage, I think of the idea that Hollywood perpetuates–marriage is about passion and falling in love with that one person who is destined to make the other person happy, and the details as to what happens after the wedding are rarely shown. Then I think about reality–marriage can have passion, but more days are filled with the choice to love, as the in-love feelings can be fleeting. Marriage is hard work, and unfortunately, many marriages end because people state they are no longer happy, no longer in love. And that’s the problem with basing a relationship on a feeling–we’ll find disappointment when the feelings fade as they tend to do.
So when I read that parents with children are unhappy, I wasn’t that surprised. Maybe people look to babies the way they look to finding their soulmate–as a person to add happiness and beautiful feelings to their lives. But in reality, adding a baby adds a lot of hard work, and the feelings of happiness aren’t always there. I was mulling over this idea after my daughter had dumped an entire bottle of sesame seeds on the carpet, and my vacuum proceeded to push them around rather them suck them up. Yes, I knew the feeling of unhappiness that tends to accompany parenthood.
And while my unhappiness at that moment was brought on by a specific event, I could identify with a longer lasting feeling of discontent. I thought about this past year, and I analyzed my own happiness quotient. One year ago, I had my third child in three years, and on numerous occasions I had told my own husband, “I’m just not happy.” Blame it on hormones, adjusting to life with three children all under three feet tall, lack of sleep, infrequent moments of solitude, or a combination of the above, I wrestled daily with my own cloud of depression.
However, at no point did I think that I hated parenting. I knew I was having a tough time, and I had to ride out the wave of unhappiness knowing more peaceful feelings would come. Perhaps one of the reasons this article left a bad taste in my mouth was this underlying theme that unhappiness is unacceptable when unhappiness is just normal.
And yet, while in one breath I could say that unhappiness is normal and not groundbreaking news, in the other I was shocked at the statistics. Why did so many parents find themselves unhappy, especially when they had more children? The article unpacks many reasons, and each could justify another article alone, but two stood out to me.
Parents are tired. The article seems to focus on families with both parents working, and these parents have to deal with the stress of work all day to then run each child to piano practice and baseball only to deal with disrespect when they get home. I couldn’t help but think, for what are the majority of us working?
Are we working solely to meet our bills or because we simply love working, or are we working to give our kids the ‘better’ life, the life of soccer practice and cell phones and college tuition and weddings? Thinking about the cost of raising a child is overwhelming, but perhaps we could give our children more by giving them less. If the harried pace of life is causing more moments of unhappiness with our children than happiness, perhaps the 60+ hour work week for both parents needs to be evaluated.
Do our children really need cell phones and new cars when they turn 16? Do we really need to have our kids in a sport by the time they turn 3? Is it our responsibility to put our children through college? My husband and I are wrestling through these questions ourselves, but I would venture to say that if working to provide for these extra things is robbing a family of joy, then they aren’t necessary. Instead of the parents having to shoulder all of the responsibility for the extras, teach children the value of saving.
And teach children the meaning of family. One of the other reasons cited in this article as to why parents find parenting so disappointing is that after all the time they put into their jobs and their kids, they still have a mound of chores to do–the work is never done. Perhaps the work is never done because we’ve allowed more of the work to be ours than necessary.
My parents are wonderful parents, and they taught me all the things parents should teach their children. They were physically present at every gymnastics meet and school function, and they were emotionally present during every talk we needed to have. However, the one idea that they did not promote was that I was a part of the family unit, and my contributions to the family were necessary.
I was a good kid; I made straight A’s and was a nationally competitive gymnast. I never went through the teenage rebellion that many do, and I had a good group of friends. My mom didn’t want to add more to my plate because I was working hard at school and gymnastics. However, as I have since told my mom, by not requiring me to shoulder more responsibility in the home, I was allowed to remain selfish. I loved my family, but I did not see myself as a contributing member–my parents were there to contribute to me. My parents and I agree now; I should’ve been made to do more as a child.
Now that I am a mother, I see how much work my parents did to provide for my sister and me on top of the daily chores they did around the home. After reading this article, I see that they were not alone, but I have made a decision that my children will not grow up with the selfish mentality that I had. They will contribute to this family in meaningful ways, and my hope is that they will grow into better adults, as a result.
Unhappiness is a part of parenting as much as it is any part of life, but as is the case with anything, we are in control of our emotions. We can choose to allow our feelings to rob us of the joy of parenthood, or we can look at the deeper issues. Children don’t bring unhappiness–we allow ourselves to create it.
While each family is different with its own dynamics, it is the parents’ responsibility to sit down and analyze how the family unit is working. Perhaps the parents need to work less while the children work more. Perhaps, as I discovered during my own fight with unhappiness, the issue is one of needing space. Perhaps the issue is more complicated. One thing is clear–the majority of us can continue to find unhappiness in parenting, or we can make the choice to take control of our lives and emotions and find contentment.
We only get to live this life once. We can wait for a happily ever after that won’t ever come, or we can take control of our family and those choices that are ours to make. After all, we are the adults; let’s show our children how real life works.
19 thoughts on “How Not to Hate Parenting”
I'm struggling with this too. My husband says, "Why are you so unhappy? You WANTED these children so very much! You chose this role!" My response is never a good one. Yes, I wanted these children, I prayed so very hard for them and I did choose to become their Mommy. Yet there are some days that I want to just walk out the door and just keep going to a deserted island and stay for a month. And so, I agree with you, it comes down to space. Sometimes we feel we can't breathe because our kids are suffocating us and invading our oh so precious space. The other issue I struggle with, too, is my role now. I feel that I am no longer just "Rachel." I am only wife and mommy, mostly mommy. I feel that Rachel is lost in there somewhere screaming to get out. And to me, that sounds selfish, but it is true.
I agree with you, we are the adults(as my husband always reminds me) and we have to show our children how real life works, and how to take responsibilty for our choices in life.
Very well said, Jennifer!
You said it, "we are in control of our emotions". This is a wonderfully written article and touches a lot of parents I am sure. Parenting in this day and age is hard, extremely challenging, but you gotta keep persevering or the other side wins. As a mom myself, who primarily works with overwhelmed and stressed out moms, I can see how we end up creating the actual result we are trying to avoid. What happened to birthday parties at home, with a cake, a few friends and some games? That is just one area that has gotten out of control!
Great example, Susan. We all have good intentions, but perhaps we take too much notice of what other parents are doing instead of focusing on what's best for our kids, myself included in that statement.
Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) says it so well:
It’s not what happens to me that matters as much as how I choose to see it. The way I react will determine whether the circumstances makes me better or bitter. I can view everything as an obstacle or an opportunity for growth- a stumbling block or a stepping stone.
Proverbs 4:23 Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.
PS: Jen, you still haven’t cleaned your old bedroom. 🙂
Great quotations, Mom! As far as my old bedroom, I will be happy to dust and vacuum for you when your other daughter removes her 'stuff.' 🙂
I think a lot of people are disappointed with marriage and parenthood because they expect 'happily ever after.' It's why a lot of marriages end in divorce and why a lot of parents hate being parents. You should go into both with the knowledge that the chaos will outweigh the happily ever after. However, just because you're not ecstatically happy, doesn't mean you can't be joyful. Count it all joy my brothers…and sisters, when you are faced with trials….etc 🙂
Yes! You stated exactly one of the main points I was trying to convey. Do you want to rewrite this post for me? 🙂
Awesome post! This is exactly in my line of thinking lately. And you nailed it in the last paragraph we cannot wait for happily ever after–we MUST take control!
Thanks, Amanda! Yes, I've noticed through some of your posts that we have similar trains of thought. Maybe we should warn people that this is what happens when one starts reading to one's kids from the Little House series! 🙂
Love this post. It's exactly what I'm thinking about today. Happily ever after doesn't exist, but happy that life's worthwhile does.
Oooh, I like that! Thanks for sharing!
I read this article last week, so I had to read your blog to find out what you thought about it. As a working mom who has recently had no choice but to go back full time, I can certainly relate to the feelings of stress the researchers cited in the article… I particularly struggle with the feeling that I'm doing nothing fully or well– I constantly feel the need to be in two places at once, or give something more to either work or home. The housework has suffered. The meals have become a bit more haphazard. My boss never knows exactly what hours I'm going to work each week. But never, in all of that, can I say that I've hated parenting. I have more joy in my life now than I ever have, and it's because my life has more meaning and purpose than it ever did. It's not always moment-to-moment happiness (Harry has recently discovered the word, "mine!"), but being his mom has given me perspective on life that I've never had before. He is so terribly important to me that all those tiny details I used to obsess over just don't matter much. It seems insane to say that having a child has made me more accepting and peaceful… but it has. You have to give up a lot of control as a parent, and I think I've actually benefited from being forced to do that.
Thanks again for responding to this article, Jennifer. It's interesting to hear what people think about it.
I'm so glad you commented, Miriam, especially since you have insight from the working-mom perspective. When I briefly had to go back to work, I felt much the same as you do–like I didn't do anything as well as I could. However, you hit the nail on the head; you've had to make choices, and you've chosen to value your time with Harry over a dust-free home. My mom and I were talking today about this article and my response, and we both agree that each individual's situation is unique and has to be evaluated as such. Nevertheless, we are the only one's responsible for how we choose to feel. Life is hard, and we can complain about it, or we can figure out how to live it and love it! Thanks for sharing, Miriam. I'm so glad to read your positive perspective.
I think many parents who are "unhappy" are actually just selfish.
Parenting requires putting the needs of others ahead of your own in such a fundamental way, and many people these days are not prepared to sacrifice their comfort or wants for other people. It makes me sad. 😦
Parenting is not "fun". Though it can lead to levels of authentic happiness. If you see yourself and your role as a parent as the primary educator of your child, you will have a better frame of mind for the parenting challenges that arise.
In addition, as primary educator, you will understand the need to teach responsibility. that comes with limits on excessive "enrichment experiences" as well as chores within the home and family.
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