Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The New Yorker (part 1)

Last week the New Yorker magazine ran a feature ad (on the cover, even) called "I love my children. I hate my life." It is a fascinating read. I mean, is that even possible? What do you think? The gist of the article was that parenting, while promising satisfaction and fulfillment, according to academic research, leaves mothers and fathers feeling less happy than their childless counterparts. It stirred up all kinds of heated discussions on all kinds of websites. Some readers were shocked and angered at the brazen concept, while others shouted their agreement.
I, as I more often find myself doing at this stage in life, tilted my head, squinted my eyes and said "Hmmm. Interesting." While the title itself put me off, I am neither appalled by nor in support of the concept. You see, I think being a parent is COMPLICATED. Day to day it can be a mixed bag of euphoria and despair. Heck, that can change by the hour. The subtitle of the article said "More joy, less fun." That is a little less caustic, no? Because unless you live in a world I am unaware of, parenting is really a lot of work. The daily grind of the minutia and the endless chores (he's out of clean underwear again, she spilled a large glass of something sticky all over the floor again, the sink is full of dishes again, none of their clothes fit again, your fingernails need to be cut again, I have to buy snacks for class again, we can't find your shoes AGAIN, you broke my one pair of sunglasses again, we're out of the-only-thing-you'll-eat-for-breakfast-Eggos again) is anything but fun.
But I do bristle a bit at the title of this article, maybe because we don't use the word "hate" in our house. Maybe because I've been pouring over adoption literature that has made me extra-sensitive to language that is used around children and how that might affect their self-esteem and self-image. Fact: my main job right now is to be a stay-at-home-mom. Fact: one of my primary identities right now is Mommy. For me to say that I HATE my life sends an awfully strong message that I don't want to send to my kids. The attempt at softening the blow by saying "But I do love them" didn't really work for me.
I'm not saying I can't relate to the research. (Especially a few mentions of parents in the midst of little/big battles of the will and wishing for adult conversations.) There have been many moments of parenting that I STRONGLY disliked. I find the entire role to be exhausting much of the time. I am overwhelmed to the point of tears frequently. Sometimes I feel SO LONELY and yet I am never ALONE. Yes, I'll admit. It does not make me HAPPY to change a poopy blow-out, move and install a bulky carseat, break up a sibling fight or wake up for the umpteenth time with a child for no good reason but that they'd rather scream than sleep. I agree and relate with the quote that "Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing. "
But what I cannot relate to? Is dissatisfaction with my life! I cannot relate to regret over having my children. My job is harder, my days are longer, my freetime is less, my correspondence is weaker, my clothes/body/hair are dirtier, my arrival is later, my butt is bigger, my privacy is non-existent. But my life?
Even more? I am better.
Because I am a mother, I am a better person.
My love is bigger, my loyalty is deeper, my marriage is stronger, my faith is greater, and my joy--my JOY is beyond anything I thought possible before they came into my life.
So, you know what? Research be damned. (Sorry for the "d" word, mom.)


Pascale said...

So true, Jen. parenting IS unbelievably complicated, rewarding, frustrating, inspiring, exhausting, funny...I could go on and on. It never ceases to amaze me that these little people that I love so much can make me so furiously angry one minute and then make me laugh the next. I am their mummy, have put the selfish ME on hold, and have gained so much instead. Would I want to go back to my life before these kids? Never. (But could I maybe borrow a half hour of my pre-kids sleeping in time?)

Jo B. said...

Jen, you said so much and said it so honestly. You've made me think (always a good but sometimes unsettling thing). I see my parenting from a different perspective: Looking back. It was all worth it, especially when I think of the relationship I have with you and Mike. I love you.

woosterweester said...

I didn't read the article (yet), but I already know I like yours better.:) Parenting is difficult, true, doesn't matter what personality you are, what background you have, or what your social status. And there are just some stages of it that are beyond difficult! But I stand by the fact that the joy of the Lord is our strength and He gave us children as a reward and a blessing. Our selfish, sinful natures always struggle with "dying to self", and central to the role of parenting is putting someone else's needs first. The world looks at that as a loss of self, the death of dreams, and ultimately they encourage us to follow whatever makes our hearts happy--the whole "find what fulfills you" search. Hogwash. Having Christ doesn't mean easy road, but it sure means JOY, purpose, contentment, and finding beauty in the things the world would call "foolishness". He is our fulfillment. You are a great writer Jen, and I wholeheartedly AMEN to your post. Here's to moms and dads everywhere doing the hardest job on the planet!

Becky said...

The whole deal with that article is that people have expectations that are perfect but life is not perfect. So their expectation and reality conflict, which makes them less happy. The majority of people don't live in the present and cannot be happy, truly happy today. That is sad. Today is hwhat we have to work with.

I agree with you. Research can be mostly accurate (at best) but only to the population they studied. So take it with a grain of salt, and use it as a discussion starter like you did. If parents identify with the unhappy side, reassess your expectations, and choose to see the positive of everyday.
We are blessed to be physically able to have children. That alone makes me praise God for this day. We have healthy bodies, again, I could stop there and be happy all day. I totally find myself feeling stressed or upset when gross diapers happen or naptime is screamfest...but I am thankful to have a beautiful boy and a wonderful husband.
Do I miss the pre-baby days of doing whatever I wanted with tons of extra money? Yeah, but those days will be back (it's called retirement). So I choose to cherish this day-- not yesterday or tomorrow -- because this is the day that the Lord has made...

Lisa P said...

I love that you wrestled with this. Sometimes I'm so tired, overwhelmed, in a bubble, that when I see things like this article, I find I don't have the emotional stamina to stay in the game to process it and wrestle with it. Especially this past year. But I so appreciate your prospective and words of wisdom. And your willingness to challenge the status quo.

Steph said...

Yeah! I love me some bigger butt! (that's mine I'm talking about, and I actually don't love it, I just love the boogers that gave it to me). :) Great post, Jen.

PS I secretly long for the day when we can eat a meal that doesn't involve the broom and/or dustbuster at the end of it. Sigh.

Kristen Ann said...

Agreed.. love it. Every word.

eets said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eets said...

Without having read the article I think you hit the nail on the head by touching on the difference between joy and so called happiness. The world focuses on selfish pursuit of the latter which often precludes them from finding the former. "whoever seeks to find his/her life will lose it, but whoever gives his/her life for my sake will find it". I can't even describe the joy I feel when I look at or think about my children. I find myself looking for moments of quiet but that is only to recharge, not to get away from my life. I also agree with Becky's discussion of expectations. Our society is raised to expect we'll get what we want in the moment and is often missing out on the joy of sacrifice.
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