There was a fascinating article in New York magazine last summer, entitled “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.” The piece was laced with child-wrangling horror stories, plus references to studies deflating the notion that having children makes people happy.
I’m not sure I buy writer Jennifer Senior’s premise that people have kids to bring themselves happiness — I think biological urges (and not just you-know-what) have something to do with it. Still, her story was thoughtful and well written; it made me think.
Here’s what I pondered. If today’s parents enjoy parenting less than in previous generations, as one study suggested, why might that be?
Senior proposed several reasons, chiefly that parents now feel more pressure to turn out perfect kids. Maybe. I see other factors. One is that parenting is a more isolated and unsupported pursuit than in the past. The other — in my mind, central and unacknowledged — reason may be that parents are often too busy to wring full benefit from the periodic wonderful moments that child-rearing offers.
Much of parenting is work — often frustrating or simply mundane things, such as spooning in puréed peas or schlepping your child in and out of the car. You do these tasks not for fun and fulfilment, but because they need to be done to keep your child safe, fed, rested, healthy and clean.
Sublime parent-child moments happen — not always when we want them to or think they should, and often in the midst of routine tasks, such as bathing or bedtime. But these moments are the accents and highlights, rather than the core of our parenting experience.
To benefit from — even experience — those little bursts of joy, you have to do the mundane work, tune in to your kids, and not be too harried to recognize or enjoy these moments when they come.
Families’ lives have become so busy that parents can easily find themselves lurching from one task to the next: Get up, get everybody dressed and fed and out of the house, work, pick up the kids, get dinner on, clean up, shop, take kids to lessons, go to school council meetings. If you’re totally caught up with striking things off the to-do list, it’s hard to pause and take in the good moments when they happen.
Those fleeting moments of parenting bliss, or even just getting a bang out of the cute or funny things your kids do, are like a little parent happiness bank account. Those banked good memories and feelings about your kids sustain you through the hard work and, I’m convinced, help you be a better parent.
If you feel like you’re not enjoying child-rearing as much as you’d like to, think about how you can free up more of your time — let your house be a little less clean, give up a volunteer commitment, reduce your kids’ scheduled activities, hire a teenager to do some housework, take a look at the way you and your partner share the parenting load (and fun!), even reduce or alter your working hours. These are your intense parenting years. Immersing yourself in them does not mean you’re a zombie, as people so often imply about parents who spend a lot of time with their kids.
Find time to revel in your kids. It’s time well spent, and it’s good parenting, even if you don’t get all of your have-to-do’s done every day.