And then, on Sunday, another article came out, talking about what drudgery parenting is, how disappointed you’ll be with your life after kids, and how much you would rather be doing things like oh, shopping or cleaning house than providing child care.
I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
Ostensively, the piece was about how having children would bring you joy but would not make you happy, and to whit, went on to provide many, many examples of the unhappiness parents face – with their looks, with their spouses, with their leisure time, with their financial situation, with their expectations, with their lives. All these things, of course, being made so much the worse by the decision to have children, and the false expectation that all of the above would be – what? magically unchallenged and filled with rainbows simply because you now have the privilege of changing someone’s shitty diapers?
Really? Who ever believed that? No one I know, not one person at all, so why should there be a six page article refuting such a thing?
There are some truths in the article. Yes, parents are usually tired, often overtaxed and would probably agree that the really cool thing about parenthood and having children is that it transcends happiness. They call it joy.
I call it love.
But really, back to the gist of the thing, the thing that got my sensible white cotton panties in a knot (because everybody knows that sexy undies are only for the childless): the idea that our children are supposed to make us happy at all.
Since when? Just as kids are not born with an instruction manual, they are also not born with a resume. The only expectations we should have of our babies is that they will poop a lot, eat a lot, keep us up at night and eventually learn to hold a brush so that they can at least brush my hair, damn it, while I read Barnyard Dance to them for the gazillionth time.
A while ago, in my more energetic days (read: when I only had one child), I wrote a really heated piece in response to that other great disservice to moms and dads, Parenthood Is Boring. The basis of my entire post was, hey fools, what the hell did you expect?
This time, that’s maybe the subtitle of my initial response, but the headline would be: Happiness – It’s Not Just For Parents Anymore.
And what I mean by that is, wade through all the harsh realities of parenting – which (and here I will also agree with a point in the article) only we seem to consider harsh, and every other generation and culture seems not really to consider at all – and where we are left is in a circle.
A family is a circle, where joy, happiness, pride and struggle is learned and shared. If you ask my mother, the only thing you inherit from your children is insanity. The rest you’re supposed to teach to, and share with, each other.
And hey, I’m still getting there. Trust me, in my family there are expectations about happiness – my children seem to think that it is my job to make them happy. It’s true: they shout, dance! and this monkey dances. But then they smile and laugh, so the dance monkey smiles and laughs. See? It’s circular. And a circle is balanced. And it rolls. Find the balance in parenthood, and if it temporarily eludes you, roll with it. It’s not forever, it’s for now, and since you had the kids anyway, think about what you’re going to look back on and regret. Are you going to regret that you couldn’t buy a pair of gladiator sandals because your kid needed glasses, or are you going to regret that you were so preoccupied with feeling overwhelmed and sorry for yourself that you didn’t notice that your child no longer runs into your arms when she needs comforting, because it’s circular, and she can sense your preoccupation and unhappiness.
Instead of bemoaning all the reasons we are unhappier people because we sprung a few kids from our loins, let’s try concentrating on all the very simple ways we make our children happy every day, and all the very simple ways they make us happy – from a reluctant giggle to a heart-bursting joy, every day. Don’t believe it’s possible? Seriously, try stroking your child’s arm, soft as velvet, or laying with them and feeling their sweet breath slow as they fall asleep. It’ll make you happy. It’ll make them happy. Or just teach your kid the ‘cut the pickle’ game. I guarantee you’ll at least crack a smile, and hey, it’s gotta be better than doing housework.
Postscript: Another item in the article that I wouldn’t refute is that Scandinavian parents have less worry than American parents. Sounds true. At the very least, Scandinavians get a year’s maternity leave paid, during which time they can bond with their child, breastfeed for more than a week, get to know their child as a person, and get to know themselves as a parent. If I’m not mistaken, Americans are forced back to work after 6 weeks unpaid leave. Full disclosure: Canadians get the Scandinavian treatment. I stayed home, getting paid more than $400 a week, for at least a year after each of my children was born. I was not forced to go back to work still blurry-eyed and shell-shocked from the birth, unable to ever find my footing or balance as a result. I will completely agree that those circumstances can eff up a parent’s perspective on happiness. Mobilize and fight for change, oh parents of America.