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Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

News Flash: Kids Make You Miserable.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

As Mommy Tracked called out in the uber-time-saving Newsdesk roundup [1], New York Magazine recently published the smart, juicy “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting [2]” that dissects research indicating that kids make Americans unhappy. I started laughing before I read past the title. I am on intimate terms with why parents hate parenting. Although we love our kids deeply and desperately, most adults I know raise our kids according to the Chinese water torture method of parenting. We agonize over how long to breastfeed. We watch every television episode the kids watch, from Barney to Friday Night Lights. By the time they are five, we’ve ironed out our alcohol policy. At six, we’ve gotten them into a preschool track to the Ivy League. We read all their emails and text messages. We worry more about their homework than they do.

 

The most humiliating part: We did this to ourselves. We – not our government, our society, lawyers, our parents or our kids themselves – ruined parenting.

 

And it started before we even had kids. I remember – vividly – crying in jealousy when I saw a pregnant woman on the Manhattan sidewalk when I was “trying.” The desire to have a baby felt like jonesing for heroin: the high of wanting a baby, dreaming about a baby, the primal pull to procreate. Little did I know my longing had absolutely nothing to do with the reality of raising kids.

 

“Parents are deluded,” writes Jennifer Senior in the better-than-therapy New York Magazine article. “In the grip of some false consciousness that’s good for mankind but not for men and women in particular… we humans are pretty sorry predictors of what will make us happy… the yearning for children, the literal mother of all aspirations for so many, is a very good case in point—what children really do…is offer moments of transcendence, not an overall improvement in well-being.”

 

What makes the New York Magazine article so refreshing -- and why I had such a good time talking about it on Michel Martin’s candid, funny NPR show Tell Me More [3] -- finally, information about parenting that actually has to do with parents. Almost all research and everything that's written about parenting focuses exclusively on children. We need information about what it's actually like to be a parent. Not what's the best thing to do for your kids, but what's the better way to parent, because that’s also ultimately what’s best for your kids.

I discovered while writing "Mommy Wars [4]" that American couples, in general, delay having kids longer than we used to, and we also have fewer kids than we used to. As a result we romanticize having kids the way women used to romanticize marriage. And so we have huge expectations for what we fervently believe will be a joyful, profoundly fulfilling journey of raising children. And then we try to parent perfectly and we treat motherhood like a competitive marathon that lasts 18 years. Naturally, like any marathon runners, we’re miserable.

 

Explains Senior:

 

“The broad message is not that children make you less happy; it’s just that children don’t make you more happy.” [However, if you have more than one child…] the studies show a more negative impact. As a rule, most studies show that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy still, that babies and toddlers are the hardest, and that each successive child produces diminishing returns. But some of the studies are grimmer than others. Robin Simon, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, says parents are more depressed than nonparents no matter what their circumstances—whether they’re single or married, whether they have one child or four.”

 

In addition to the shock that parenting involves a tremendous amount of drudgery, frustration, bodily fluids, sleepless nights and eternal vigilance, one of the surprises when you become a mom is that all of a sudden you look up and all moms have been divided into categories. What used to be an ocean of women now becomes women without children, women who work with children, or women who stay home with children. You’re used to looking at women for support and camaraderie and all of a sudden friendships with women become a minefield of hurt, jealousy, and inadequacy that no pregnancy book can prepare you for.

The good news is that the longer you parent, the more tired, jaded, sick-of- it-all you get. You go back to that place where all women are potentially your friends. There is a big sisterhood out there, 80 million moms in America alone. If you can tap into it, it's a lifesaver. But you have to get through this terrible time when parenthood meets none of your expectations, as I recently explained to a young reporter from The Chicago Tribune [5]:

 

"Overnight, you're going to have a completely different job, with no training and it'll be 24-7 for the rest of your life," said Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of the anthology "Mommy Wars." Not to mention that another human being is totally dependent on you, that your working friends suspect you're watching soap operas and painting your nails all day and that you're so exhausted that all you want to do is climb in bed at 6 p.m. "It's crazy. None of us was trained for it," says Steiner, who is home with her three children part time and has made her peace with it. "It's like we got shot into outer space and have to cope there."

 

But here’s the final rub: I absolutely would have the kids again, all three of ‘em, even knowing every tough moment I’ve been through over the past 13 years. Even acknowledging that the real reason I had kids was an intense, biologically-driven maternal desire. In fact, my husband and I think about having another one. Then a voice in my head screams: Don’t do it. You’re crazy. Stop. Stop. If I had 100 kids I'd probably want one more because I'm a woman and I'm a mom and love being both. I love my kids. I love being a mom. As irrational as that may be. Bet you do too.


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