How Not To Hate Parenting

Have you seen this article about how becoming parents makes people LESS happy?

It’s pretty fascinating. Go ahead and have a read:

Why Parents Hate Parenting

This article isn’t saying anything new. There have been others like it, all referencing the dozens of studies that have been done over the decades, most of them coming to the same conclusion:

Parenting = a less happy life, overall

What do you make of this research?

As the article points out, it’s a consistent enough finding as to be accepted as gospel by people who study numbers.

“a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.”

Certainly, there have been periods in my mothering career where I was unhappy, depressed even. But it usually had little to do with my kids, and more to do with other things going on in my life. For the most part, being a mom has been a huge source of joy.

I’ve come up with some reasons to explain why so many parents don’t enjoy parenting as much as they’d like to, and as much as their parents and Grandparents did.

mom & daughter soy chai latte
Creative Commons License photo credit: renfield

* Mom and Kid Unfriendly Culture

There are several things that fall under this heading. For one, the social experiment we call the “nuclear family” – an American invention that has shown to be very hard on mothers and children.

In general, ours is a baby and child and mom UNfriendly culture.

For example: women in the media (and on the streets) dress like prostitutes, but breastfeeding in public is taboo.

Women who choose to stay at home and raise their babies are made to feel like they’re wasting their lives, becoming a drain on the family finances, and basically weird.

If you take your well behaved kids to a place of business or entertainment, you deal with funny sideways glances along the lines of the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. I’ve experienced rolling eyes, loaded sighs and unpleasant expressions from fellow coffee drinkers from something as simple as having the nerve to take a well behaved toddler to Starbucks.

Instead of motherhood and babies being celebrated, independence (parenthood, at least during the season of babies and toddlers, have little to do with independence!) and wealth and status and flat bellies are celebrated.

* Increased Economic Pressures

Moms today are expected to contribute to the family income by working for money, instead of learning how to keep money in the home with thrift and craftiness. There is a cruel paradox that seems to exist in our society: homemaking is devalued as invisible, unimportant work that nobody notices unless it’s not done, yet on the opposite side of the spectrum (Martha Stewart), perfection is expected out of a homemaker.

Many parents today also overemphasize things: fancy kid wardrobes, cars and homes that are bigger than are needed (every child needs their own bedroom – right?!), too many toys and electronic gadgets, and too much “going” in the form of extracurricular activities. This is a recipe for exhaustion.

* Increased Expectations

A generation ago, a mother was doing her job if, at the end of the day her child was a) alive, b) fed and clothed, and c) relatively happy and well adjusted. A generation ago, kids were shuffled out the door after breakfast. “Go play, be back for supper”, moms said. Kids weren’t underfoot all the time, and mom wasn’t expected to be the entertainment committee. (That’s what siblings and neighbor kids were for!)

Today’s mothers expect too much of themselves and their kids.

Instead of smothering babies and toddlers with love and kisses, they’re worried about getting into the right preschool and keeping up with baby Jones (meeting “milestones” created by an arbitrary authority figure outside the family, and therefore largely irrelevant). Diets can’t be 3 squares a day, they have to be vegan/organic/gluten-free, raw and juiced (don’t forget locally acquired!).

Kids don’t do as much to help around the house anymore. Moms do far too much picking up, organizing and cleaning up after kids and far less teaching that they better clean up after their own dang self, or else.

Instead of trusting God (and his gift of Mother’s intuition) and Grandma for advice, modern moms read dozens of parenting advice books, all of them with conflicting counsel. All of these choices create more stress.

* Isolation and Depression

Going back to that “culture” thing again. Modern moms are often socially isolated. They go from the stimulation and association of the workplace to comfy but mentally numbing days with a babbling infant.

If you have your first baby in your 20′s as I did, you may find that your friends disappear, despite your attempts to hold on to them. Nobody wants a baby around (unless they have one, and most don’t these days – people are waiting longer and longer to get married and even longer to have babies. A lot of my friends in their mid 30′s are having their first!).

Concert halls, kitschy restaurants, museums, your former haunts – most of these places don’t exactly welcome babies. If you can find a mom’s group, that may be your saving grace, but it still doesn’t come close to matching the intimacy of the “coffee klatch” our mothers enjoyed with their also at-home mom neighbors.

This isolation has to be partially responsible for the increase in postpartum depression among modern moms.

* Micro, Helicopter, and Worried Mothering

Parents these days worry too much. And they often worry about the wrong things.

As a mom of 6 going into my second decade of parenting, I have the benefit of perspective. I often find myself sitting somewhere, eyes fixed on my youngest baby, a silly grin plastered on my face, while she does something… totally normal.

I’m not concerned about whether her environment is “stimulating” enough. I feed my kids a healthy diet, as best as my budget and time constraints allow, and don’t worry about the rest. I homeschool because I think it’s best, but “gaps” in their education? Meh. Those can be filled when needed (and who doesn’t have gaps in their education?). I’m imperfect, but I forgive myself on a regular basis.

I see moms on the playground who stress me out and I’m not even doing anything other than watch my kids play. They’re so busy issuing warnings about the dire consequences of going up the slide (the horror!), picking up wood chips (parasites? no clue what the issue is there), being “careful” and not running, and certainly NO climbing of any kind.

Yikes. I wouldn’t enjoy that life either.

What’s wrong is that people have forgotten how to ENJOY their children. 

We’re taking parenting more seriously than ever – and maybe that’s a good thing. I like to study and research things before making decisions, but once the decision is made I stop worrying.

Maybe people have forgotten how to just sit and enjoy their LIFE. And it’s also perfectly ok and good to ignore your kids a little bit.

Reading while her kids play
Creative Commons License photo credit: Valerie Everett

* Confusing Moment to Moment “Fun” With Joy

Life with kids isn’t always fun. I enjoy mine most of the time, but when they fight about whose mess it is when I tell them to clean their rooms, or push and pinch in the back seat of the van, or ask “why not?” when I say NO… well, that’s just not fun.

But joy doesn’t mean that you will experience fun every second of the time. Even when you go to Disney World, you wait in line. :)

Marriage is also a nice invention, but it certainly isn’t fun all the time! (Even God, who is decidedly pro marriage, says that those who marry will have “tribulation in their flesh”. (1 Cor. 7:28) He’s just bein’ honest!) A lot of things that are worth pursuing are not fun every second of the time. That’s just part of being a grown up.

* Forgetting Ourselves In the Midst of Mothering

I’m not going to go off on a feminist rant here about how housework and childcare are drudgery or oppressive. Certainly, some of those tasks that go with the job are a pain. If you want to volunteer to clean my shower, I won’t feel the least bit guilty! And I won’t feel like a bad mom either.

But seriously, many moms make the mistake of losing themselves and what they love entirely in the process of marriage, babymaking and childcare. If our life revolves around what we should do or have to do, we can easily become discouraged. Even if we chose to do those things.

We have to remember what brings us joy… something that has nothing to do with our roles as wives and mothers.

It could be anything – from baking fancy cupcakes to sell at a local bakery to painting or acting in local theater or volunteer work or quilting. Maybe it’s a part time job outside the home.

For me personally, I find that blogging and earning some income are VERY important to my sense of self and happiness.

Without my business, I don’t feel entirely happy or even good about myself – no matter what’s going on in my marriage or parenting experience. Conversely, when I’m actively writing and promoting my business, that satisfaction spills over into my relationships.

I try to remind myself that parenting is a part time gig. It doesn’t last forever.

I think people who are happy before they have kids will be happy while they have kids, and after their kids are gone? They’ll still be mostly happy. In other words, kids don’t make someone happy any more than marriage or a career makes someone happy.

* Failure to Be The Mom You Are (Trying To Be A Mom You Aren’t)

There are a lot of things I enjoy about my day to day life as a stay at home mom. I actually enjoy hanging cloth diapers on the line. I love breastfeeding my babies. I like to cook dinner. These things are fun for me. And I wouldn’t be able to leave my young baby or even toddler to go off to a job. It would make me miserable. So I figured out how to make money at home. On the other hand, I hate doing crafts with my kids. That’s ok!

We have to figure out who we are and what kind of mothering style suits us. There are so many right ways to raise a child. It’s ok to be happy and be the kind of mom we are, instead of trying to be the mom we see on someone’s mom blog or parenting magazine.

p.s. After I wrote this post but just before I published it, I stumbled onto an excellent article by PhD in Parenting. It refers to the same article I did above. An excellent read for sure: Grin and Bear It: Parenting, Happiness and the Pressure Cooker

Also check out Meagan’s take here: Are Happy Moms (And Dads) Faking It?

What do you think? What explains the consistent research findings that parents are less happy than childless people? 

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6 Responses to How Not To Hate Parenting

  1. When I had our oldest, I parented her the way I was parented (and the way I saw my family parenting the newest to join us) – I nursed, I wrapped her in a blanket, she slept with us (and then in our room), she always had a hat on, etc. These were just natural to me, they were just what I did. She was several months old when I made friends with a woman who followed attachment parenting – which she declared was exactly what I was doing. Except I didn’t find it in a book, I just did it because that’s what my family did.

    Of course I understand that there are people who didn’t like how they were raised (my husband is one) so they look to outside resources like books, so thank goodness they are there to fall back on.

    People are probably less happy because of everything you listed – kids are underfoot 24/7, people don’t feel safe letting their kids just go play, society is a harsh judge, the overscheduling, etc. I’ve worked hard to maintain ME and I know I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t make that a priority.

  2. I’ve raised four children (all girls) as a mostly, stay at home mom. (I tried working here and there but hated it) I breast fed, shared a bed, and then allowed for a healthy transition into independence. I even home schooled for a time.

    I never once regretted my choices, but sadly, I am not sure I would recommend the same to my own children due to the things you listed and the uncertainty of marriage. I tell my daughters to make sure that they go to college, establish their careers, save up money to stay home while their children are young, then get back to work.

    I do try to encourage them to get involved in more flexible careers that they can do from home or run as their own business though. I warn them about what making the same choice I made means for their future. It’s sad. I wish we had a more child and mom friendly society.

    I was judged a lot by various people for my choices when the girls were younger, but I was always very happy. If anything made me unhappy it was how other people treated me for my choices. As if raising future generations is somehow “less than”.

    Now that they’re grown I will likely still keep working from home. I love it. But, I really want to teach (college) and I have had a really hard time finding a job like that. I apply daily, but never receive even one call. I believe that it is due to the 25 years I’ve been a stay at home mom.

    Never mind that I’ve run a successful business, and never mind that I teach people every day, and never mind that I have a very successful college career behind me. Never mind that I’m at an age now where I would be very dependable and good at teaching…. I still will never regret making the choices I have made.

    I have four intelligent, successful and wonderful daughters that give a lot to the world and I believe had I not made the choices I did they would be different. I’m happy with that.

  3. carrie says:

    Stephanie I totally agree with your statement that you may not recommend your own choices to your daughters because of the uncertainty of marriage. I wrote about my strong feelings on this topic on my now closed down business blog:

    No matter what a woman’s personal feelings on divorce are (whether it’s a last resort, against her religious beliefs, etc), she can find herself divorced. I plan on teaching my daughters to always have a source of income, no matter what. It’s just smart. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but just being realistic: it is.

  4. Emily says:

    AWESOME points, Carrie! I totally hated parenting when DS was a toddler – and not every day is a walk in the park these days – but a big part is that I’ve never been a baby/toddler/preschooler person and always knew it would get better as DS gets bigger.

    And he has.

    Another part is that I always have to have at least 5 projects going on at once, and it was a huge adjustment to incorporate caring for a very attention-needy boy into everything I wanted to do.

  5. Chloe Hernandez says:

    I agree with all the comments here. I have always enjoyed parenting. The things that have made me unhappy from time to time is the UN child/mother friendly our society is. I have been made to feel like the odd three eyed toad in the room because I breastfed all 3 of children everywhere in public. My children have all shared the family bed ( two still do ). Boy that one gets my relatives and well meaning friends in a tizzy! And that I homeschool…imagine that! For my husband and I, we have always blurred the line of school and teaching. For us every moment is a moment to teach something. I USED to be hyper-concerned with what others thought about me, or what I thought I “should” be doing as a parent. I am happy to say now with my third child I am more relaxed and less worried that someone is casting a sideways glance at me. To me child rearing was the ultimate job I had been looking forward to for most of my life. I believe these people that make statements about parents being un-happy are usually childless ones. As the saying goes…”You truly cannot know someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes..”

  6. carrie says:

    “To me child rearing was the ultimate job I had been looking forward to for most of my life” – Beautifully put, and I feel the same way!

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