Both. Yes, both. Parenthood, this miraculous and maddening job into which I've immersed myself over the past 3.5 years, can be both miserable and magical.
There. I said it.
Before I go any further here, let me assure you of two things. Two simple and profound things. I love my girls. To itty-bitty pieces. These little creatures have brought more joy and meaning into my life than anything else. I love Husband. I love him even more deeply now that we have kids, now that I can glimpse his paternal prowess in its endearing and unending manifestations, now that we have a common and compelling purpose: to raise good children into good people.
There is a but. There always is. And here it is quite major. The but is that parenting, however you slice it, is hard. It is hard and harrowing job that entails endless hours, constant worry, and periodic and sharp frustrations. And so. It could be that while our children are pure magic, parenting them is often pure misery.
Many of you might be familiar with a recent article in New York magazine called All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting? Well, I encourage you all to check out this fascinating, if unnerving, piece. It is this article that prompted my words today. The magazine showed up in the mail one day and I saw its cover with a sad looking mother clutching her child. The headline was something along the lines of: I Love My Children. I Hate My Life. Of course, I had to read this cover story. Right away. And I did, lapping up its embedded words and theories and studies, nodding at times, vehemently disagreeing at others. A good eye-opening read that I cannot begin to boil down neatly in a brief blog post.
The most basic thrust of the article (I think) was this: Having children does not make us happier. Note that this can mean one of two things: (1) Having children makes us more depressed; or (2) Having children does not add to our well-being. But, and ultimately the author acknowledges this, this theory (well-substantiated in many studies) depends on how we define happiness. If we are most concerned with "moment-to-moment happiness," then the theory seems sound. Parenting - with its concomitant responsibilities and worries and frustrations - detracts from our total moments of pure pleasure, of hedonistic bliss.
Yes, there is another but. And this one is encouraging (for me at least). If we are interested in something more along the lines of transcendent happiness, that kind of happiness that is experienced when we take a step back and look at existence and detect purpose and meaning, then children absolutely enhance happiness. In many ways, this is a little/big picture question or a micro/macro issue. If we look at the big existential picture, at the aspects of our life from a more macro viewpoint, children do make us happier. (Please know that I avoided Economics like the plague during my collegiate years and I have no clue what I am talking about when I toss about the terms micro and macro.)
A few days after I read the article, I saw Husband holding the issue of New York. And I said something like, "Step away from the magazine." I said this because, as many of you know, we have been talking about adding to our brood. I worried, and understandably, that this piece of writing would further muddy the debate we've been having about whether to try for a third child. And maybe it should.
But it hasn't. For me at least. Despite this article, despite the studies, despite the surplus of worries and frustration in my head and heart, despite the exasperation lining the edges of my day-to-day existence, I want more. More creatures. More of that magical misery.
Am I a glutton for punishment? Perhaps.
But I am also a glutton for purpose. For love. For life.
(I am also a glutton for good conversations. So let's go.)
- Did you read the piece in New York? What did you think?
- Do you agree that parenthood entails moments of magic and moments of misery? That it is perhaps the hard stuff, the struggles, that make the magical moments so magical?
- Do you think that we as a society have become too obsessed with happiness?
- Do you believe that there is an important distinction between moment-to-moment happiness and bigger picture happiness?
- Do you think I am nutty for wanting to add to my family?
- If you have kids, are you more or less happy now that you have them?
- If you do not have kids, do articles like the one in NY Mag scare you a bit?