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Monday, July 12, 2010

All Joy, No Fun??

Yesterday, in some sort of momentary lapse of sanity, I agreed to go to a minor league baseball game in Toledo, Ohio.  Why would anyone do this?

A.  I don't know.

B.  My husband is a huge baseball fan and always is asking to go and he convinced me the girls would like it.  Oh, and Wubbzy would be there.  And there is  a certain little toddler who loves that cartoon.

So, we drove the 1.5 hours to a minor league ball park when we were offered tickets to the major league game playing in our hometown that same day.  Kids slept in the car, then there was whining and singing and videos.  When we arrived it started to rain, actually downpour.  A certain little toddler was TERRIFIED of her cartoon hero.  It stopped raining.  Then it was hot.  Impossibly hot.  And then the whining really began.  Basically until bedtime.  We stayed at the game for 1 inning.

But that is actually not the point of this post.  I came home thinking about parenting and realize that much of the time it is stressful.  And sometimes unrewarding.  And I thought about how to write about this topic.

Then, alas, I realized that I am not alone.  I stumbled upon this article in New York magazine from last week.  Titled "All Joy, No Fun."  Is that true?

I highly recommend you read the article.  But, I will give my quick synopsis and commentary here.

The point of the article is to debunk the myth that children make people happier.  Apparently, according to studies, the opposite is true.  Well, its not that they make you less happy, it's just that they don't make you more happy.  And that each successive child produces diminishing returns (don't tell my husband this).

They go on to describe that some of this is a new phenomenon, becoming more pervasive with the advent of modern technology and changing family structures.  Middle and upper class parents see children as projects to be perfected.  Part of this unhappiness may be due to the fact that many educated professionals postpone their childbearing in pursuit of a career.  And they see having kids as a loss of freedom. "Now you know what you are giving up", and the longer you wait, the greater the expectations.  These are the same parents who are used to reward and over achievement.  The problem is that child rearing is unlike school or career, and there is no black/white right/wrong distinction.  There are many different ways to achieve the same end result (goal: happy, self confident, self sufficient child) which does not become evident for decades down the road.  There are no promotions, no bonuses for good parenting, and the only measure of how you are doing is comparison to others around you.  We see other moms that may seem as if they have it all together; appear fit, well rested, organized and masters of sleep training, and we feel, well, insecure.  This breeds more unhappiness...and the cycle continues.

Now, onto couples.  Do children make a marriage stronger, better?  According to the experts, couples pay the biggest price.  They say that about 40% of most couples' fights are DIRECTLY about the children, and that does not include those that are from tired, short fused people losing it for no reason.  (I've never experienced this, no, not me.)  The good news is that many relationships improve when kids are a bit older, 6-12 years, only to take a harder hit during the teen years.

My favorite quote in the article is this which pretty much sums up my life: "When you pause to think about what children mean to you, of course they make you feel good...The problem is 95% of the time you're not thinking about what they mean to you.  You're thinking that you have to take them to piano lessons."  Children provide little moment to moment happiness but make the retrospective evaluation of life complete.  However, the trick of memory is that even the previous mundane activities with children seem nostalgic in retrospect, leaving us feeling that parenting is, indeed, rewarding.

So, basically...Loving one's children and loving parenting are two totally different things.  If there are times where you are at a baseball game in the humid heat and rain with a toddler who just lost her hot dog and a preschooler who won't stop whining for cotton candy and you admit that you don't love that moment or every moment of parenting, its ok.  Neither do most parents.  And you can still relish the unrivaled moments of joy that these little creatures provide.  Just realize that is only a small portion of your time.  Parenting, like everything else, is work; just with a greater reward.


Do you find parenting rewarding?  How do you reconcile the everyday frustrations with the overall reward?

What do you do when your children whine for hours?



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