Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Are You Happier Now That You Have Children? Duh.

I have had no less than three friends either email or mention this article from last week’s New York Magazine to me.

The article is about parenting and happiness. Or, really, a purported lack of happiness among parents. My first reaction was: why did they forward this to me? I know I have been sick, so very tired and a little bit angry about it all, but do I really seem that unhappy?

Reading the article got me thinking.

Of the friends who mentioned it to me, none of them experienced infertility, miscarriages or had even the smallest amount of difficulty conceiving their children.

I’ve had to stop myself from blurting out or emailing back that the hardest day parenting is way easier than a day of dealing with infertility or the aftermath of miscarrying a very-much-wanted pregnancy.

Since most of you still reading this blog also dealt with some form of infertility, how do you feel about your role as a parent to young children? Are you happier now than you were before kids?

As a market researcher, I have a lot of issues with the methodology employed in many of the studies and anecdotes cited in this article.

Chief among them are the New York City- and Los Angeles-based examples that nearly all NYC writers use. Authors who cite only examples in two of the most unique markets in America need to get outside of their bubble. I cannot take their articles seriously. Every researcher knows that you have to temper the vibe of such cultures with milder ones. There are many extraneous variables in those markets that can muddy the waters of the parent-happiness-index: (1) lack of easy access to natural spaces (any place where you can still hear traffic, such as Central Park, does not count); (2) extreme costs of living that all but demand dual-income parents; or (3) a parenting culture that encourages overscheduled and micro managed children, to name just a few.

Granted, the author employs Texas-based and Danish-based studies, but, again, every good researcher knows that you can’t draw broad assumptions based on data from just one population, unless you are, say, focused on only Danish parents or Texan mommies.

The article also cites the theory that unhappiness caused by a shortened amount of leisure time that parents have today versus 1975 – a whole 5.74 hours less per week! Which, if you do the math and adjust for 8 hours of sleep per night per week (she hypothesizes optimistically) means that parents today have 4.8% less leisure time than parents in 1975. Are you seriously going to blame rampant unhappiness on less than a 5% loss of leisure time?

I have my own theories about why these parents are unhappy. I am sure you do, too.

Raising babies isn’t easy. But – in my opinion – it is not the chief culprit in why these parents are unhappy with their lives.

When I reconsider of my most unhappy, challenging days as a parent - the days or nights when I was the most frustrated with Missy - it wasn't at all about her. If I was honest with myself, it was always about something else or myself. And she was the most accessible person on whom to lay blame.

With that in mind, I’d trade with these unhappy parents a day during my past IF slog – say, a two-week-wait day or the day after AF arrives - any day.

They might have a little more perspective.


Anonymous said...

Amen sister! I would happily trade the pain of my miscarriages and/or another failed infertility treatment with even my WORST day with Jacob. I love being a mommy and no matter how bad the days with him are I am still eternally grateful to have them.

Life in Eden said...

I think the biggest reason people don't have more pleasure in raising their children is our loss of extended family. With the mobility of our generation, grandparents, cousins etc are typically not close by for support. That lost intimacy can really make parenting taxing. And with our society's competitive, judgmental attitudes about parenting choices, it can be hard to turn to local friends for that support and sounding board that parents really need.

There are MANY days that I struggle with being a SAHM. And I get why many working women say they could never do it. Believe me, I GET IT. Sometimes I wonder why I do it. Sometimes I wish I didn't. But in the end, it is the choice I made and I'm making the most of it.

Hang in there friend! And yeah, I'd rather be a frustrated parent than none at all.

stickybun07 said...

Amen, indeed!

Also, I think the authors gloss over an important point. They mention at one point that people now have choices and therefore know what they're missing. Here's the thing, though: I think there have been a bunch of studies that show that having additional choices makes people less happy. So, the decrease in "happiness," however defined, could have little to do with parenting or trade offs and instead be the manifestation of a decrease in (reported) happiness you ALWAYS see with an increase in choices. (isn't there a whole book called the "Tyranny of Choice" or something?)

Ugh. Is it hard? Of course. Does italy me happy? Of
Course. But, as you note, they don't ask us. :-)

Fiddle1 said...

We just got back from a trip to NYC (sans the kiddo). We were there for 4 days. After 2 days, I honestly could not imagine raising a kid there. But I'm from a rural community, so my perspective is slanted. We couldn't wait to get out of there, and we really know how to enjoy ourselves when we are there. I saw a woman screaming (SCREAMING) at her child in the subway and return to her cell phone conversation cursing in front of everyone. Her daughter was trying so very hard not to cry loudly. It broke my heart and I started crying as we waited for our train. I was so sad for that child and mad at myself for not having the guts to say something to the mom or at least glare at her...and a tiny bit ashamed that I've probably yelled at mine like that back when she wouldn't sleep. At any rate, it is totally clear why some parents raising a child in such a crowded yet lonely place would feel unhappy. I also wonder if parents are unhappy more now (if that is even the case) b/c of the enormous burden of debt the average family has taken on. I am with you...every frustrating and miserable experience I've had relating to Lizzy has really been all about me. But WOW, what a way to grow and learn about oneself! Happiness is so relative. If I'd been asked a year ago if I was happier, it would have been a tough question to answer if I wanted to be honest. But now I can honestly, honestly say that I am. Fully. And because of where I was, I can really appreciate how hard that might be to come by for some and how lucky I am.

Fiddle1 said...

oh, btw, you are the 2nd blogger I read to post about this article.

Thalia said...

yes, I read it when another friend on FB referenced it. I thought it didn't take nearly as strong a line as the references have suggested, but I also agree that it doesn't resonate well with my experience. I love parenting my two. Yes it is hard work, and yes I am exhausted, and yes the balance with work is very challenging, but I am in a different league of happiness now than when we were going through infertility, so I never, ever, ever regret being a parent.

Where the Heart Is said...